I'm Not There (DVD)

A biopic of Bob Dylan that doesn't mention Bob Dylan or, indeed, do anything truly biographical? Can anyone spell "pretentious"? To give Todd Haynes some credit, he never claims that I'm Not There is a biopic. No. It's "Suppositions on a Film Concerning Dylan". And it features six actors — five blokes, one Blanchett — as different aspects of Dylan's personality and career. So we ask again. Can anyone spell pretentious? Or can anyone think of a stronger word? Perhaps one that means "so far up his own arse he can check his own fillings?"

Actually, to give Haynes more credit, I'm Not There is a bold attempt to work as many angles as possible and, for a subject as eccentric / with such a varied life as Dylan, the scattergun approach may be the best chance of comprehensiveness. The problem though is to get the most from the film, and to make sense of the ever-shifting timeline, the viewer needs more than a passing knowledge of Dylan's life and works.

The other problem is that Cate Blanchett is so mesmerising as "Jude Quinn" — essentially, the much pilloried "electric" Dylan — you just want more of her. Haynes clearly feels the same, which means that the other actors "playing" Dylan (perhaps playing "Dylan"?) get less screen time to make an impact and thus the audience gets less chance to make sense of these separate characters. In the case of Richard Gere, whose good work is undermined by the sheer bloody weirdness of his character ("Billy The Kid") and the surreal Western setting, this is a good thing. In the case of Ben Whishaw, as "Arthur Rimbaud" — a heavy-handed reference to Dylan the poet — and young Marcus Carl Franklin as "Woody Guthrie" — an even heavier-handed reference to Dylan's musical influences — it's a bloody shame. The fact that both also get less than time than Gere is a travesty and typical of this deeply uneven and frustrating film.

EXTRAS *** Commentary track with writer/director Haynes; a conversation with Haynes; a featurette on the making of the soundtrack; a tribute to the late Heath Ledger; and a "Dylanography".

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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