14 September 2007 | JediMoonShyne2
'I'm Not There' Todd Haynes, 2007
The biopicture can be a difficult kind of picture to picture. Even more so when you have no intention of divulging the name of your subject. And dare I say it, yet further still when you insist on casting at least six people to play the lead role. This is the charm behind 'I'm Not There' - Todd Haynes' tribute to the life and times of Bob Dylan that recently lit up the Festival di Venezia. Biographic cinema is a frightening beast, some films are stuffed full of information while others attempt to exactly mimic their respective studies. There are however very few that play with their quarry, flitting from fact to fiction so quickly that in the end we know not what to believe. In reality, the life of Robert Dylan was exactly this mess of lies, grandeur, childishness, arrogance and genius. One of almost unbelievable occurrences that when whispered about long enough become carefully set in stone. Todd Haynes understands this fact and so goes after it with a stance of almost awed respect, yet as an onlooker - crafting a mockumentary that is so rich in character and love and attention to detail that we can't help but be drawn in. I've heard early reviews stating that 'I'm Not There' will make the Dylanites gush and the normal folk sleep. The fact is this couldn't be further from the truth - being a person that is indifferent to the music appears only to heighten the enjoyment.
Somewhere during the last five years, writer/director Haynes came upon the slightly trampled idea of conducting a Bob Dylan biography movie. Nothing original in itself, though with one idea to make it slightly different from what the likes of Scorsese had attempted a few years back. He would use multiple actors for 'I'm Not There', six in fact - to portray the iconic figure. And what an inspired decision it is. The unrecognisable and slender form of Cate Blanchett steals the show, melting into her eye-rubbing, nose-twitching, lip-conscious take that is only too quick to lash those in proximity with a witful tongue. Almost as idiosyncratic is Ben Whishaw's sarcasm-laced drawling poet Dylan. Who prompts guffaws when tiresomely declaring his name as "R-I-M-B-A-U-D" to an arresting police officer. The eccentric duo are displayed primarily in overexposed black and white, and complementing this in Technicolor are the equally impressive Christian Bale and Heath Ledger. Whom fall upon the unwashed, shaded rocker Dylan with equally strong performances. To complete the musical sextuplets are Richard Gere and the delightful Marcus Carl Franklin, these two are the tall-tale Dylans. A jaded western cowboy and a blues-singing black child respectively, both adding another more fictional dimension to the character. They are almost opposite ends of the Dylan-spectrum, and are introduced at the opening and closing of the film to further embolden this point. Franklin in particular impresses, tugging at the humor strings again with his dry recollections of a life on the musical road.
The host of supporting actors/actresses in 'I'm Not There' do well to further the films themes. With Charlotte Gainsbourg and Julianne Moore taking up the posts of drama and documentary accordingly. Each plays one of the two most important women in Dylan's life, with Gainsbourg (Sara Lownds) cooking up a memorable on-screen chemistry - or lack thereof - with Ledger's character. She is instantly attractive across a smoky diner, yet this attraction soon wanes as romance stagnates. Never-ending tours take their toll and the once exciteful, scooter-riding relationship crumbles. Moore's character (Joan Baez) is more reflective, playing her whole part as if interviewed enthusiastically many years on. My only problem is with the later segments of 'I'm Not There'. Particularly those featuring the bearded and bespectacled Richard Gere. Many know the story of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, and this part is essential when regarding the plot. My qualm is that it feels almost tacked on as an afterthought, trotting outside the clear themed borders that the film has laid out so meticulously. This only adds to the ballooning length of the film, and so did begin to drag during these Wild-western plot points. That said, this hardly takes away from an experience that is both visceral and enlightening. Comedic and pensive. Wild and tender. A life, in all possible senses of the word.