21 August 2010 | wes-connors
(I Don't Want to) Chain You Down
Unless you know something about the subject of this biography, you're bound to be confused by "I'm Not There". It is "inspired by the music & many lives of Bob Dylan." For the unenlightened, Mr. Dylan was famous, long ago ("for playing electric violins on desolation row"). The film, by writer/director Todd Haynes is excellent, but inaccessible. And, strangely, if you know anything about the subject, you're going to learn approximately nothing knew. To help navigate, there were four main Dylans
FIRST and famed-mostly, Dylan was a "Rock Star". This period is played out by Cate Blanchett as "Jude Quinn". This character sports a fictitious name, but like much of the movie, comes (not from McCartney's "Jude" but) obviously from Dylan's oeuvre - the Christian "Jude" and "Quinn the Eskimo". This Dylan has the clearest Beginning and End points of any. He was "born" when startling his folk audience by "going electric" (guitar) and "dies" in a motorcycle accident at the peak of his fame.
SECOND most famous, and highly influential, Dylan was the "Folk Singer" replaced by the above. Here, it's Christian Bale as "Jack Rollins". This Dylan was quite popular on his own, but was much "covered" by other folk artists and rock bands. During this time, Dylan was more like a very big cult, and his songs were more widely heard when other people made hit records from them. The songs were more Political (protest) during this time, getting vague later (with exceptions, like "Hurricane").
THIRD time around for Dylan was his "Cowboy" persona, essayed herein by Richard Gere and named "Billy the Kid" after the outlaw anti-hero Dylan play-acted. This was the Dylan emerging after the motorcycle accident. Dylan left a bunch of unreleased tracks (known as "The Basement Tapes") and "reinvented" himself as a more countrified mellow rocker (listen to "Lay Lady Lay"). Here, the "stages" of Dylan's art become more blurred as he no longer commanded the attention he did earlier.
FOURTH biggest change, after a long run without defining boundaries, was the "Born Again" or "Christian" Dylan. This startled some people, but (as the film points out) it shouldn't have been unexpected. In fact, the "Fame"/"Drugs"/"Jesus" continuum is very common among music stars, as anyone watching MTV's 1990s biographies could plainly see. For this film, Mr. Bale (uniquely) plays two Dylan incarnations, revising his earlier "Folk Singer" character "Jack Rollins" to become "Pastor John".
BUT, that's not all. There are three less public parts of the quadraphonic Dylan covered by Mr. Haynes
FIRST is Dylan's mysterious boyhood masquerade as "Woody Guthrie" played by Marcus Carl Franklin. He is the kid on the train, sporting the Fascist-Killing-Guitar-in-the-West. Of course, Woody Guthrie was a real person, and he had a tremendous influence on Dylan. While cute and well done, this section is not revelatory, which could be why the film project had "the real" Bob Dylan's blessing. The real Dylan, who appears briefly near the end, did not appreciate biographers peeking into his personal history.
SECOND is Dylan "The Poet" named "Arthur Rimbaud" and played by Ben Whishaw. Like the above, but more of a conglomerate, the character is a real French poet named Arthur Rimbaud who influenced Dylan (and many other rock stars). The Dylans are presented in sort of an overlapping chronological order - which may not make sense to the uninitiated - but this one is used more like a muse for the others, accentuating Dylan's reputation as a true "Tarantula" of a Poet, even without the music.
THIRD and perhaps most esoteric is Dylan "The Actor" played by Heath Ledger as "Robbie Clark". Dylan did do some movies. Mortals do not forgive. Even an epic focusing in his relationship with a certain sad-eyed of the lowlands. Rather than show Dylan acting in a movie, this "Actor" section perversely shows the more camera-shy Dylan. It seems highly fictitious, but you've got to appreciate "Dylan" telling what looks like "Patti Smith", "chicks can never be poets." (!) And, "I Want You" is a terrific vignette.
In sum, "I'm Not There" is an excellent film for obvious believers, with minus zero insight into its subject. Bobby Zimmerman could hardly disapprove. By the way, the fact that the vinyl "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the
" was amusingly continued in the "Blonde on Blonde" gate-fold jacket as "
Memphis Blues Again" is no excuse to edit the song. And, changing the lyric, "Here is your 'throat' back, thanks for the loan..." to "Here is your 'mouth' back, thanks for the loan..." really sucks. Moreover, it's sacrilege.
******* I'm Not There (9/3/07) Todd Haynes ~ Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger, Richard Gere