Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 05.12.2008
The most fascinating, confusing, and thoroughly enjoyable character
study of 2007 comes to DVD
Directed by: Todd Haynes
Written by: Todd Haynes & Oren Moverman
Christian Bale - Jack Rollins/Pastor John
Cate Blanchett - Jude Quinn
Marcus Carl Franklin - "Woody Guthrie"
Richard Gere - "Billy the Kid"
Heath Ledger - Robbie Clark
Ben Whishaw - "Arthur Rimbaud"
Charlotte Gainsbourg - Claire
David Cross - Allen Ginsberg
Bruce Greenwood - Keenan Jones/Pat Garrett
Julianne Moore - Alice Fabian
Michelle Williams - Coco Rivington
Kim Gordon - Carla Hendricks
Alison Folland - Grace
Mark Camacho - Norman
Benz Antoine - Bobby Seale/Rabbit Brown
Craig Thomas - Huey Newton
Eugene Brotto - Peter Orlovsky
Richie Havens - Old Man Arvin
Kim Roberts - Mrs. Arvin
Tyrone Bensin - Mr. Arvin
Yolonda Ross - Angela
Peter Friedman - Barker/Morris Bernstein
Joe Cobden - Sonny
Kristen Hager - Mona
Fanny La Croix - Actress playing Alice Fabian
Dennis St John - Captain Henry/The Admiral
Kris Kristofferson - The Narrator
Domestic Gross: $4,017,609
Worldwide Gross: $10,355,149
DVD Release Date: 5/6/2008
Running Time: 135 minutes
Rated R for language, some sexuality and nudity
When it comes to the musical world, there are certain iconic figures
in the past fifty years that are unforgettable. Their images are
etched into the subconscious of pop culture, and anyoneANYONEwith a
more-then-cursory knowledge of popular music has an immediate image
that comes to mind when they picture them. There's Elvis Presley
gyrating his hips on The Ed Sullivan Show, John Lennon in is
round-rimmed sunglasses, Jim Morrison on the cover of The Doors
Greatest Hits, Jimi Hendrix burning his guitar in Monterey Pop. One
person who no one would ever deny fits in that list is Bob Dylan. The
Minnesota native who's helped change the face of American music with
his contributions in the last five decades is an indelible part of
music history, and few people can be shown the cover of the seminal
"Blonde on Blonde" without instantly recognizing it. And it is
exactly thisthe image of Bob Dylanthat writer/director Todd Haynes
has thrown on its ear with the unconventional biopic I'm Not There.
Taking six different eras of Dylan's life and casting them with six
widely different actors, Haynes creates a film that, while not a
totally accurate picture of Dylan's life is certainly a fascinating one.
The film depicts six different interpretations of Dylan. The first is
an eleven-year-old African-American scamp who calls himself Woody
Guthrie, played by Marcus Carl Franklin. He stows aboard a train with
a guitarthe case of which contains Guthrie's own phrase "This
machine kills fascists"and has escaped from a juvenile correction
facility. He sings Dust Bowl songs while being cared for by white
Southern liberals, giving a sidelong smile as he has to be reminded
that it's 1959 now, not the Depression. Christian Bale's tale is that
of Jack Rollins, the social-conscious-capturing and tormented folk
singer who becomes a face in the Greenwich Village scene of the 60's.
His tale is presented in a documentary form, including an appearance
by Julianne Moore as Alice, a fictional representation of folk icon
Joan Baez. Rollins walks away from the folk scene, stating "All they
wanted from me was finger-pointin' songs." Later in the film, Rollins
will turn up again, becoming the born-again "Pastor John" who sings
gospel in a small-town church. Rollins, in an odd turn of the movie,
is played in a movie by Robbie Clark (Ledger), a hot young method
actor. Clark's story covers Dylan's failed relationships with Suze
Rotolo and Sara Dylan, who are combined into one woman named Claire
(Gainesburg). Cate Blanchett gets the meatiest role as she portrays
Jude Quinn, the radiant electric 60's rock Dylan who at the height of
his (her?) fame was demonized by old fans as "selling out. Ben
Whishaw portrays a young poet, calling himself "Arthur Rimbaud" after
the decadent French poet, suffering through a rather rough
interrogation about his career. And finally, Richard Gere plays the
older Dylan as an elderly Billy the Kid in a strange sort of Wild
West town, who faces off with his arch-enemy Pat Garrett (Greenwood).
Haynes is no stranger to experimental film-making or music-based
movies. His bizarre first film, 1987's Superstar: The Karen Carpenter
Story told the life of 70's pop vocalist Karen Carpenter, up to and
including her death due to anorexia, by the use of modified Barbie
dolls. Clearly, this film isn't quite as surreal, at least
superficially. It's a very unconventional biopic, to be sure, but
somehow Haynes is able to weave the stories together into what almost
becomes a Dylan-esque song in its own right. By creating wildly
divergent fictional characters to portray Dylan in the different
periods of his life, Haynes is able to create a series of stories
that are as a whole confusing, particularly for individuals who are
not very clued into the musician's life. But each one is transfixing,
and in a large part, that has to do with Haynes's writing, paired
with Dylan's music.
Another part of that has largely to do with the actors cast to play
each role. Each of them is amazing in their varied portrayals.
Franklin, in what is clearly the most divergent of the roles,
explodes with charm and a devil-may-care attitude. And somehow, he
manages to evoke the spirit of Dylan, right down to the man's smile.
Whishaw is a bit more familiar (and also good) as "Rimbaud," though
Bale is the one who has the most literal interpretation. Bale, who's
one of the more gifted actors of this generation, is absolutely
terrific as Rollins, capturing Dylan in the very essence and nature
of the man. Ledger's performance is very natural, and he does a good
job of carrying off what is perhaps the most critical part of Dylan
in the film. And Gere is, in what is the least sensical part of the
movie, completely solid in another role that, along with last year's
The Hunting Party and The Hoax, reminds us that the man is a great
actor. Of course, much of the accolades around the acting have gone
to Cate Blanchett, and deservedly so. Blanchett's portrayal of Jude
is incredible, and she gives a twitchy, intense performance that
draws you in. One of the most ironic parts of the film is that the
best portrayal of Dylan is done by a woman, and done unbelievably well.
One thing to make clear: I'm Not There is not a movie for everyone.
The less of a fan you are of Dylanor at least, the less you know
about himthe less you'll understand many of the movie's allusions.
Obviously, it won't make sense to a lot of people why young Dylan is
portrayed by an African-American who's taken the name of a folk hero.
For those that know that Dylan had a tendency at one time to make up
stories about his childhood, this makes more sense. The Billy the Kid
segment is another bit that doesn't seem to make any sense, until you
remember that Dylan journey into seclusion after his 1967 motorcycle
accident. There are many allusions to Dylan's life and work sprinkled
about the film, and it would take a true Dylan scholarone better
then Ito point them all out and tell their significance.
In the end, I'm Not There is less a biopic then it is a character
study of a man and, particularly, his legend. While not everything
works, and it's not a piece that everyone will enjoy, it's certainly
one of the most imaginative and interesting movies that came out in 2007.
Film Rating: 8.0
Todd Haynes gave I'm Not There, much like he did his last film Far
From Heaven, a very stylistic look. The Jude segment is a grainy
black-and-white; the Billy the Kid portion earthy-colored and
somewhat worn. The Robbie Clark is done in a 70's style of filming.
All of these, plus the others, come out beautifully in the 2.35:1
anamorphic widescreen transfer. Of equal importance is the soundthis
is a music-based film, after all. The 5.1 Surround is nicely done,
and all of the songs and sounds come in nicely.
Technical Rating: 9.0
Being a two-disc release, you would expect that this DVD has some
decent features, and you're not disappointed. One thing that is a
nice touch is, as well as the standard scene selection, you're given
a "song selection," which will take you to one of the many Dylan
songs in the movie. There's also a subtitle track specifically for
the lyrics, which is another nice touch.
Commentary Track: The commentary track is done by writer/director
Haynes, and the easiest thing that can be taken from it is the man's
appreciation of Dylan. He goes into a grand level of depth about the
movie, and this goes beyond the standard commentary tracks that
people tend to provide, and it goes a long way toward answering
questions for the less-knowledgeable Dylan fans about the film.
Dylanology: If you ever thought you didn't know enough about Dylan or
this movie, check this out, because it's about everything you'll ever
want to know. All in text or still form, there's an interview with
Haynes, galleries, introductions of the characters, and more.
Tribute to Heath Ledger: About three minutes long, this is a memorial
in footage to the actor, who of course sadly passed this year.
Deleted/Extended Scenes: There's about nineteen minutes here, and
while it's mostly all good stuff, it's difficult to appreciate on its
own. The film is simply too chaotic to look at individual scenes and
understand how they would fit into the whole.
Making the Soundtrack: A nice little featurette with some interesting
points made, and a chance to hear some great Dylan pieces all over again.
Auditions: The audition tapes of Marcus Carl Franklin and Ben Whishaw
are included. Always fun to watch.
The Red Carpet Premiere: About what you'd expect from the title, this
is a three-minute featurette about the films premiere in New York. I
never find these interesting, and this is no exception.