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  I'm Not There Like A Rolling Stone?
Year: 2007
Director: Todd Haynes
Stars: Cate Blanchett, Ben Whishaw, Christian Bale, Richard Gere, Marcus Carl Franklin, Heath Ledger, Kris Kristofferson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Julianne Moore, David Cross, Bruce Greenwood, Michelle Williams, Kim Gordon, Don Francks, Roc LaFortune, Richie Havens
Genre: Weirdo, Biopic, MusicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Woody Guthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin), so he claims, jumps aboard a moving train boxcar with his guitar, marked "This Machine Kills Fascists" on the case, and finds that the compartment is already occupied by two hobos. They are surprised to see such a young kid riding the rails and question him about his life, but what Woody really lives for is his music. When he finds shelter on his journey with an accommodating family, he plays them a folk song, but is given pause for thought when the mother tells him he should be singing material about his own experiences. And so Woody becomes Arthur, becomes Jude, becomes Jack...

Writer and director Todd Haynes has always had a deep love of music, and an especial interest in the lives of those who make it, after all, his first film was an offbeat take on the life of Karen Carpenter acted out with Barbie dolls, and later in his career he made the story of glam rock, seen through an equally eccentric lens. So it was with I'm Not There, which in other hands could have been a simple, straightforward biography of legendary musician Bob Dylan much in the same way that Martin Scorsese's documentary version of his life No Direction Home had been.

Yet Haynes was not interested in just recreating episodes in the artist's life in the way that then-recent music biopics Ray or Walk the Line had been, he had something more artistic in mind himself. When it was revealed that he planned to use six actors to play Dylan at various stages in his life, the fans, who are legion, started grumbling and the reaction was a kind of mild incredulity that Haynes was going to get so pretentious with the life of their idol, but he had a method in his madness, and that was that Dylan was something of a chameleon, so why not reflect that in the casting?

So how does it play? It should be noted that these are not straight restagings of passages in the star's existence, and have a loose, at times vague connection to him, but every now and then even the most casual viewer will see an aspect of this and at least recognise something, even if it is only the physical appearance of one of the lead actors. For the greater part, the temptation to make this an MTV video treatment of Dylan's hits - or cult obscurities - is resisted, but various bits and pieces are referenced, whether they be going electric, the motorcycle crash or the conversion to Christianity later in life.

The most controversial item of casting was to make Cate Blanchett the mid-sixties Dylan, but as with some apparently ridiculous ideas this is one which serves to be refreshing, and if she opts to go for the nasal voice as an impression, unlike her co-stars, there's something pleasing in its idiosyncrasy, a comment that could apply to the rest of the film as well. Richard Gere is Dylan as an older Billy the Kid, one who escaped death in a tribute to the Sam Peckinpah film Dylan appeared in and scored, Christian Bale is both the folky version and the born again one, the romantic life is covered by Heath Ledger accompanied by Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Ben Whishaw takes care of the sloganeering in fake interview segments. As Haynes hoped, each brings a different facet to the role, neatly summing up how hard to pin down the subject is, although the overall effect is one that probably means more to its creator than any of the audience. Still, it's never less than captivating, even if it cannot escape the conventions of the biographical story entirely.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Todd Haynes  (1961 - )

Intriguing American arthouse writer-director whose student film Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story created a big fuss, and is still banned to this day. The episodic Poison was a disappointing follow up, but Safe was heralded as a triumph. His document of glam rock, Velvet Goldmine, wasn't as well received, however Far From Heaven, a 1950's-set melodrama, was Oscar-nominated, as was the similarly-set romance Carol. In between those were an offbeat take on Bob Dylan, I'm Not There, and a miniseries of Mildred Pierce. He followed them with the apparently out of character children's story Wonderstruck.

 
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