I’m Not There: A Multitude of Voices

ALL I CAN DO IS BE ME, WHOEVER THAT IS.

Todd Haynes knows how to suck up to Bob Dylan. When contacting the legendary artist’s manager to obtain permission to use Dylan’s music in an upcoming film that would fictionalize the entertainer’s life in the 1960s and ’70s, he was told by the manager not to call Dylan “a genius” to his face. Haynes is too smart for that. The message he eventually sent to Dylan was headlined “I is someone else”, a quote from Arthur Rimbaud, one of the writers Dylan has always idolized.

Haynes went on to write, “If a film were to exist in which the breadth and flux of a creative life could be experienced, a film that could open up as oppose to consolidating what we think we already know walking in, it could never be within the tidy arc of a master narrative. The structure of such a film would have to be a fractured one, with numerous openings and a multitude of voices.” Bob Dylan took the bait.

“The multitude of voices” is represented by a large cast where most of the actors play Dylan at various stages of his life. In the beginning, he is an 11-year-old African-American boy (who calls himself Woody Guthrie and carries around a guitar in a case labeled “This machine kills fascists”, just like the real Guthrie). We also see Dylan as a young man (Ben Whishaw) by the name of Arthur Rimbaud, and as Jack Rollins (Christian Bale), a folk singer who is not entirely comfortable in that role. Dylan also turns into Jude Quinn (Cate Blanchett), an artist who’s hooked on drugs and outrages his folk-music audience by playing rock. Then there’s Robbie Clark (Heath Ledger), an actor who stars as Jack Rollins in a biopic titled “Grain of Sand”; that’s also when Robbie meets a French woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg) that he will later wed. And we’re also taken back to the Old West, where Billy the Kid (Richard Gere) confronts Pat Garrett (Bruce Greenwood).

Sounds confusing? Not really to Dylan buffs who will have fun spotting nods to the “Times They Are a-Changin'” period, his Christian experience, the film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973), etc.

References to many other directors
One can’t help but admire Haynes. Apart from the Dylan fetishism, the film also contains references to directors like Godard, Fellini and Peckinpah; Haynes is getting pretty good at this after imitating Douglas Sirk in Far from Heaven (2002). His film is always interesting thanks to Edward Lachman’s cinematography (that easily adapts to the visual styles of all the periods), the great music and the dedicated performances from a highly eclectic cast. Blanchett is the chief standout there; one wouldn’t think that a woman would give the most convincing performance as Dylan, but she completely embodies the essence of his character at that time. On a smaller note, I should also mention that Bruce Greenwood is excellent, not only as the old Pat Garrett but as a British journalist who’s irritating Jude Quinn.

In 1997, Bob Dylan told Newsweek, “I wake and I’m one person, and when I go to sleep I know for certain I’m somebody else. I don’t know who I am most of the time. It doesn’t even matter to me.” In light of that, Haynes sure came up with a clever and relevant concept for the film. But he also threw a bash that is hard to get excited about if you’re not a die-hard Dylan buff.

I’m Not There 2007-U.S.-Germany. 135 min. Color-B/W. Widescreen. Directed by Todd Haynes. Screenplay: Todd Haynes, Oren Moverman. Cinematography: Edward Lachman. Cast: Christian Bale (Jack Rollins/Pastor John), Cate Blanchett (Jude Quinn), Marcus Carl Franklin (Woody Guthrie/Chaplin Boy), Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw… Charlotte Gainsbourg, Bruce Greenwood, Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams, Richie Havens. Narrated by Kris Kristofferson.

Trivia: Colin Farrell was first cast for the role that Ledger came to play.

Venice: Special Jury Prize, Best Actress (Blanchett).

 

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