Reviews of I'm Not There.
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An intricate musical mockumentary drama western may be the only means in which to express the life and music of Bob Dylan. A man with such artistic influence requires a creatively indirect homage like I’m Not There rather the traditional structure of biographical moviefilms. The timeline isn’t something to belabor yourself with. Each representation of the subject is unparalleled, their crises and climaxes occuring apart from one another, while they still connect and overlap with poetic precision. Todd Haynes arms each narrative with a visually distinct style, ranging from the rock documentary featuring Christian Bale or the Fillini-inspired retro show for the transcendental Cate Blanchett. Each Dylan player is perfect, but there are tremendous perfomances elsewhere, like the lovely Charlotte Gainsbourg and the familiar authoritarian Bruce Greenwood.
- Currently 4.0/5 Stars.
There is only one thing I know about Bob Dylan, that he’s a storyteller. His storytelling is not limited to his peerless songwriting category, but also reveals itself in interviews and public appearances. Here is a man who refuses to be defined. When reporters, documentarians and Dylanologists attempts to do so, he tells more stories, or, to put it less charitably, he lies. Though it’s not always obvious in what way.
There is one thing I know about Todd Haynes’ Dylan biopic, I’m Not There. It’s that it is not a Dylan biopic. His stories and legends are the canvas Haynes is working with, but, like Citizen Kane, the film is actually about the contradiction of trying to sum up a life in a two hour film. That six actors play Dylan representations is not a gimmick in trying to discover the enigma of Bob Dylan. It is the point of this daring and thought provoking film.
A young African-American boy named Marcus Cark Franklin plays “Woody Guthrie.” Though the real Guthrie was well known to be a major influence on Dylan, those looking for realism will note that it is unlikely that Dylan was a freight train riding black kid. It is also highly doubtful that he was swallowed by a whale. These sequences work because I’m Not There is as much about the Bob Dylan myth as the man.
Equally surreal is Richard Gere’s appearance as “Billy the Kid” to represent Dylan’s current incarnation. In reality, he’s still performing and writing vital music, but he’s not part of any current musical movement and not the celebrity idol he once was. The Gere sequence shows Dylan as a man comfortable in his own skin, but not of his own time.
One might imagine that he’s rather see himself as an aging outlaw than the highly unlikable version portrayed by Heath Ledger as “Robbie Clark,” arrogant movie star and failed family man. Christian Bale plays folk singer turned born again revivalist, “Jack Rollins” and Ben Whishaw is “Arthur Rimbaud” elusive interview subject.
The most dynamic performance however belongs to Cate Blanchett who, as “Jude Quinn” has one of the most shocking and memorable entrances in recent film memory. Blanchett erases all questions of gender by embodying the version of Dylan that we think we know best, the 1965 era superstar who revolutionized the folk and rock world by going electric. She also embodies Dylan’s caustic orneriness when dealing with the press.
As director, Todd Haynes weaves all these disparate elements into a coherent narrative that takes wonderful advantage of Dylan’s song catalog and perfectly mimics the look of its various eras. One need not be a Bob Dylan fan to appreciate the remarkable achievement that is I’m Not There (though you’d get some of the inside references) because, as the title alludes, it’s not really about one man, but all of us.
- Currently 5.0/5 Stars.
Bob Dylan é um mito da música popular americana. Apesar de o conhecer desde sempre, confesso que apenas comecei a ouvir a sua música com maior atenção há pouco mais de quatro ou cinco anos. Fiquei imediatamente apaixonado pela sonoridade e, principalmente, pelas letras das músicas, que mais pareciam obras poéticas, com fortes mensagens de protesto. Dylan escreve como poucos no mundo da música. Temas como filosofia, politica e principalmente consciência social, são recorrentes nas letras das suas músicas. Outra característica bem conhecida de Dylan, é o facto de ter passado por fases bastante distintas ao longo da sua vida, sendo que, em cada uma dessas fases, a sua forma de ser e agir mudava tanto que por vezes nem parecia ser a mesma pessoa.
A inconstância existencial de Dylan talvez seja a razão pela qual o realizador Todd Haynes resolveu ter uma abordagem totalmente diferente do que estamos habituados nos “biopics” que temos visto nos últimos tempos. Seis actores foram escolhidos para interpretar personagens que representam Dylan, mas que nem sequer têm o seu nome. Esta escolha, apesar de arriscada, foi a mais acertada pois seria complicado, a apenas um actor, retratar alguém tão complexo e mutável. Ben Whishaw, Christian Bale, Richard Gere, Marcus Carl Franklin, Heath Ledger e Cate Blanchett foram os actores escolhidos para representar as várias fases (ou personalidades) de Dylan. Os segmentos, de cada uma destas personagens, não são contados em separado, as histórias vão-se cruzando e sendo contadas alternadamente ao longo do filme. Esta foi uma opção que, na minha opinião, foi muito bem pensada e conseguida, pois reflecte que as fases, pelas quais Dylan passou ao longo da sua vida, também não foram blocos isolados e separados no tempo.
Sendo este um filme biográfico de um cantor, era inevitável que a música desempenhasse um papel fundamental no filme, sendo, em certas partes, quase que um protagonista do mesmo. Grande parte dos êxitos, que fizeram de Dylan o mito que é, estão aqui presentes. Músicas como “Like a Rolling Stone”, "The Times They Are A-Changin’”, “Just like a Woman” e “I’m Not There" são reproduzidas no filme, umas vezes na voz de Dylan, outras nos actores que o interpretam. A ligação entre imagem, música e os diálogos é por vezes tão perfeita e poética que é impossível não nos sentirmos deslumbrados com o que se vai passando diante dos nossos olhos.
Não é de admirar que Todd Haynes tenha obtido o consentimento de Dylan (muitos já tinha tentado obter essa aprovação, mas a resposta foi sempre negativa) para fazer um filme sobre ele. Dylan deve ter visto em Haynes a pessoa ideal para fazer jus à sua vida. Todd Haynes faz um trabalho irrepreensível a todos os níveis. Desde o argumento inovador, escrito pelo próprio, passando pela escolha dos actores e a cinematografia (que alterna entre o preto e branco e a cor), tudo parece estar reunido de forma perfeita.
Com tantos protagonistas, é difícil escolher um nome que se destaque dos restantes. Talvez Cate Blanchett, por ser uma mulher num papel de um homem, e por ser (incrivelmente) a que dá vida à personagem mais parecida, em termos físicos, com Dylan. Este é um elenco repleto de estrelas e de bons actores, sendo que é de destacar que até as personagens mais secundárias (neste caso todos os “não-Dylan”) estiveram muito bem.
Este é um filme enigmático, complexo e poético, tal como a figura que representa. A forma como a história de Dylan é contada é pouca ortodoxa, intensa e bastante alucinante, quase como se de uma letra de uma das suas músicas se tratasse. É, em suma, um filme refrescante, que traz uma lufada de ar fresco ao género, devendo ser visto por quem gosta, ou quer conhecer, Bob Dylan, mas principalmente pela originalidade que apresenta.
- Currently 5.0/5 Stars.
Ya lo sabemos: el espiritu de Haynes es muy inquieto, constantemente en movimiento y para nada convencional. Lo que mas le gusta es hacer dificil lo facil y cualquier gesto de normalidad filmica o narrativa queda completamente enterrado cuando se pone a filmar. Debe ser uno de los pocos directores comprometidos a llevar a las historias comunes por terrenos desconocidos, a experimentar con las posibilidades narrativas.
En “I’m Not There” vuelve un poco sobre la formula que ya habia aplicado a su versión del glam rock en “Velvet Goldmine”, pero aca cambia a Bowie y a Iggy por seis Dylans distintos. A simple vista, la idea de retratar a seis Bob Dylan teniendo como marco distintas etapas de su vida, donde cada actor es un Dylan diferente, pero conectado de alguna manera mistica, puede resultar un poco inocente, incluso hasta tonta. Pero Haynes, ni lerdo ni perezoso, toma esa idea camaleonica tan propia la músico y la expande por toda su pelicula. Lo que cambia en “I’m Not There” no son solamente los actores, sino que es todo el dispositivo (algo en lo que Haynes ya habia incursionado en “Poison”, una de sus primeras obras), el formato filmico y la forma de narrar la historia. No solo Dylan es el que cambia, es tambien Haynes, que muta de historia a historia.
Con respecto a esto, vale decir que las historias no estan nunca conectadas de una manera obvia, ni tampoco una de continua de otra, sino que mas bien es todo mucho mas complicado: se trata de una yuxtaposición de historias, de un enredo de ideas que a veces resulta un poco excesivo.
Es esta sensación de exceso lo que, justamente, y en comparación con “Velvet Goldmine” en la cual el exceso estaba históricamente justificado, lo que termina haciendo de “I’m Not There” una pelicula que agobia por momentos. Tenemos a Rimbaud, al Dylan electrico, a Woody Guthrie, a Billy the Kid, al actor, al Dylan folk de los inicios, todo que se mezcla, que va, viene, se queda, se estanca… La historia de Ledger / Gainsbourg es mucho mas interesante que la de Richard Gere, por ejemplo, y esta última me resultó muhco mas llevadera que la Guthrie. Y es justamente cuando uno empieza a comparar las hisotrias donde el dispositivo, la buena idea de Haynes, comienza a trastabillar. Pero, por suerte, esto es solo por momentos.
Tambien resulta interesante, y continuando con esta idea de lo camaleonico que esta por todos lados, ver como Haynes, dependiendo la epoca que filma, se adpata al estilo de la misma. Por ejemplo, la ya nombrada historia de Ledger/Gainsbourg esta ambientada en la década del 60’s, con la guerra de Vietnam como acompañamiento de su relación, esta filmada con un pulso mucho mas ritmico, con escenas que remiten al cine de la Nouvelle Vague (con “Masculino-Femenno” y demas Godard, que, dicho sea de paso, es otro camaleón, a la cabeza), mientras que la de Richerd Gere sin duda apuesta a la idea de un western contemplativo, haciendo referencia directa al cine de Peckinpah. La historia del Dylan electrico-rock star, interpretada por Cate Blanchett, hace alusión al rockumentary, teniendo a “Don’t Look Back” como referencia principal (incluso respetando esa idea de imagen granulada, rapida, como tomada camara en mano del documental de Pennebaker).
En definitva, creo que Haynes sigue siendo unos de los directores mas interesantes del cine contempóraneo. Sus peliculas son siempre complejas, que dan mucho lugar al análisis y que demuestran un entendimiento del cine que pocos tienen. Si uno puede hacer una pelicula como “I’m Not There”, con tantos ribetes e ideas que explotan por todos y encima tomando a la figura de Dylan, tan temerosa para representar, y salir ileso, eso ya dice mucho.
- Currently 3.0/5 Stars.
When I first saw it I just loved it, the second time the magic was a little bit gone, but it still stays the best “biographical” movie I’ve ever seen. There is no straight narration, dates, dramatic triangle etc. that is so typical for other movies of famous people who are made in the same pattern and are just boooooring. I think it was made for Dylan fans, because you really have a lot of symbolism, hints, unexplained happening that is probably making the movie boring for an Dylan “amateur”. The concept, soundtrack, actors and the dynamic of the movie are great.
- Currently 5.0/5 Stars.
I’m a very late Dylan fan as I got into him when I first saw the documentary Scorsese did on the enigma. After that, I was captured and started purchasing his albums and his Chronicles book; having read the book, I began sifting through his influences to find any I would be drawn to myself. I would never dare say I know a lot about the man – and I think anyone that does would find himself eating his own words. But in terms of what’s been well-documented, I’m Not There feels as comprehensive of his early career as it could get. But I would agree with some other reviewers that to get the most out of this would be have some considerable background on him going in. This really feels like a Dylan film made for Dylan fans what with all the subtle references as well as obvious ones. It’s very likely the connections one makes whilst watching this will dictate how much one will enjoy it.
- Currently 5.0/5 Stars.
Ironically, this film is sacrilege. It was tempting, I am sure, to
assume that one could make a film to represent Dylan, the way dylan himself is: nothing sacred, constant flux, whirlwind genius, in sum, an American enigma.
But Todd haynes is not Dylan, nobody is, and any attempt at imitation of the spirit of the that man trivializes. I don’t know whats worse, this movie or the first time I heard the Beatles in a commercial jingle selling potatoe chips. The inner sensation of violation is the same. I saw it in Manhattan at the Film Forum and wanted to scream Judas to the screen. Dylan proved everyone wrong, with time, but Todd haynes won’t. Because Todd Haynes is an imposter, a conscious artist trying
to do something big when with Dylan, the simple stories and songs are enough.
Scorcese’s film is grander in this aspect and nothing can top
Don’t Look Back in its understated simplicty with moments of poignancy.
I can’t believe the NY times, the entire art scene gave this movie such hype and credibility. Hyper- constructed art projects are ridiculous, they are vain glorious, self referential, camp, and try to hard.
Susan Sontag is rolling over in her ashes. Did nobody read
Notes on Camp?
I re-read it last night in a fit of rage. The part of about the Jews
and the Gays is striking. How both groups looked to culture, to find a niche within it, to gain acceptance in mainstream society. The Jews as vanguards of morality, explaining their affinity to liberalism and communism, while the Gays became vanguards of aesthetics, explaining, well, explaing them. I have never put together how important the City was for their existence and how without the urban enviroment they could
never survive in America.
The city the city, I am going down with this ship. I am getting office space in the Freedom Tower.
Todd Haynes has crafted a unique and imaginative – if very flawed – spin on the traditional musical biopic. The inventiveness and skill of the cinematic style aside, it’s too long and often very pretentious – the Richard Gere segments are particularly misguided. Superb performances by everyone involved, and, of course, great music – but I think the film tried so hard to make its point through abstract style that it lost the point it was trying to make, resulting an an interesting, but overall unsatisfying film.
- Currently 3.0/5 Stars.
The DVD of Todd Haynes’ brilliant and baffling Bob Dylan film, famous for its use of six different actors playing six different personalities in the Dylan biography, is notable for Haynes’ well researched commentary track, which not only explains the many different filmic references throughout the film (Godard and Fellini being most recognizable), but serves as a tour guide through a narrative so complex and intricate it’s often overwhelming on initial impact. Haynes is insightful in describing the many Dylan works referenced for the project (“No Direction Home”, “Don’t Look Back”, “Eat the Document”, “Invisible Republic”, to name a few), and genuinely moving while reminiscing about his time with Heath Ledger, the track obviously recorded in the immediate wake of Ledger’s sudden death, a note that makes Ledger’s turn as a selfish actor going through a devastating divorce all the more poignant and unforgettable. My first recommendation for this film was for Dylan purists only, but having seen it a couple times now, it plays more universal, less bio-pic than pop cultural hedge maze, and with Haynes’ ace commentary track helping us through the narrative intricacies, it can achieve a proper place in the weighty life project that is understanding Bob Dylan.
- Currently 4.0/5 Stars.
Across the Universe is not the only film this year to use a musician’s work as the backbone to a story. Todd Haynes has used the life and music of singer Bob Dylan in order to composite a tale of his many selves in I’m Not There. I know little about the director, besides the names and accolades thrown towards his previous two theatrical works, and besides liking Dylan’s songs, I’m not privy to a huge wealth of information on him. There were some rudimentary tidbits, which I found hidden in my head during the film from my Rock’N’Roll Music History class in college, but I think if I knew more I would not have enjoyed the surrealistic journey close to as much as I did. This is not a masterpiece in the complete sense of the word. As an experiment, however, it is a fascinating look into the life of a man that changed his image so often and never conformed to be the person that his fans wanted him to be. Having six characters play him at different periods of his creative journey shows the inventiveness put on display. There is nothing mainstream about the film, and that is a good thing. If I were to have one complaint, it would be the fact that it almost was not surreal enough. It was the overlapping that intrigued me—the versions of his life through a young boy’s love of Woody Guthrie and the anonymity of an older man’s Billy the Kid. No disrespect to the four other personas, but they were just a tad too much impersonation, not enough creative representation.
Haynes is definitely a gifted filmmaker. The compositions and transitions are remarkable and never static or boring. He keeps the tone consistent and never goes off track with the underlying theme he is conveying. Whereas a film like Across the Universe derailed at times, Haynes harnesses this one by always keeping us off-balance and not knowing what might happen next. The music didn’t tell the story; it enhanced it. Showing more the time period of our current Dylan stand-in, the music never took the lead to overshadow the actors onscreen. However, there are still some beautiful moments, like the funeral scene during the Billy the Kid thread. Although I liked the fact that the music didn’t taken control in order to manipulate the audience, it is still the sequence that does which sticks with me the most.
Our four major representations of Dylan are played by Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Ben Whishaw, and Heath Ledger. All do an amazing job, but their portrayals just seem too obvious. Maybe it was the technique used to show us their stories—I just wasn’t as interested in them as the final two variations. Whishaw is my favorite impression, a talking head narrating, as though in an interview, enhancing the other segments with background information. Bale’s section is the least successful, showing us his life as a Behind the Music segment, mostly from the mouth of Julianne Moore. It is too cold and calculated, with little to say except to give us the person for whom Ledger’s Robbie acts as in a film, leading him to meet his wife played by Charlotte Gainsbourg. His section is nice, showing us the transformation that fame and wealth and social relevance wrought on his soul. Gainsbourg shines and really it is her reactions to Ledger that resonate. As for Blanchett, her piece is the iconic Dylan—the badass who went electric and left all his fans behind him. She is great as the worked up, most likely drugged up, Jude Quinn telling the world that his music only needs to be relevant to him. He will not be a puppet for the world; if you hate his stuff, don’t listen to it.
What got me drawn in were the more expressionistic moments. Marcus Carl Franklin is quite a find here as a young drifter, wandering the world with his music. Innocent and pure, copycatting his idol Guthrie, he is at the cusp of Dylan’s first major transformation. With the death of the legend, he finally sees that it is time to become his own person and break through the barriers he has set up for himself. It was time to start singing about today’s problems and help create change in society. He is also one of three instances to cross over into another version’s story. Besides Ledger and Bale’s roles existing simultaneously and Bruce Greenwood’s oppressor manifesting in two separate stories, Franklin is seen entering Richard Gere’s Dylan world, the other remarkable metaphor for the singer’s life. As the real Billy the Kid, in hiding from the world and the authorities to live out his life in obscurity, he is brought back out to strike a change. One can’t buckle to the pressures of outsiders and critics, but instead push through and continue to be innovative.
These crossovers are great cinematic moments, helping bridge the gap between all six plot threads. Haynes made a bold move to tell the tale with fragmented personas overlapping and progressing. It is an idea that breeds surrealism and an ignoring of principles found in reality. I also loved his humor, bringing in the Beatles, Brian Jones, and a total mind-trip cameo by David Cross as Allen Ginsberg. I just wish Haynes would’ve gone full-bore into this parallel universe and not felt the need to every once in awhile bring us back to a realistic linear progression. The Bale/Ledger/Blanchett sequences do ground the story to be more comprehensible, but I almost would have rather been completely unaware of what I had just seen then leaving with the sense of understanding that I did. I caught a few references spiced in of song lyrics, and it’s that stuff that I wanted more of. I hope Haynes continues to go in directions that are against the norm because when he does, he creates some marvelous scenes. He is on the right track, giving us a psychological insight into the timeline of one of America’s greatest enigmas.
- Currently 4.0/5 Stars.
“Strictly for Dylan fans alone and its that kind of inclusive, elitist approach that makes I’m Not There so much more appealing. Hahaha.”
This is how a person reviews a film when it’s nice to talk about. The dust settles and you think (not so long or hard) and you see it again.
Hot damn you’ll forget this movie an hour after you see it. It’s as good as the first impression you get from a Dylan cover song only to realize that it isn’t the same as the original at all. Give up. Go home. See you later.
- Currently 3.0/5 Stars.