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I'm Not There is a 2007 biographical/musical film directed by Todd Haynes, inspired by iconic Americanmarker singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. Six actors depict different facets of Dylan's life and public persona: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, and Ben Whishaw. At the start of the film, a caption reads: "Inspired by the music and the many lives of Bob Dylan". This is the only time Dylan's name appears in the film.

The film tells its story using non-traditional narrative techniques, intercutting the storylines of the six different Dylan-inspired characters. The title of the film is taken from the 1967 Dylan Basement Tape recording, "I'm Not There", a song that had not been officially released until it appeared on the film's soundtrack album. The film received a generally favorable response, and appeared on several top ten film lists for 2007, topping the lists for The Village Voice, Entertainment Weekly, Salon and The Boston Globe.

Plot

The film opens with Jude Quinn (Cate Blanchett) (representing Dylan circa 1966) walking on stage to perform at a concert, before cutting to him riding on a motorcycle and then crashing. The film then cuts to Quinn's body on a mortuary slab and an autopsy begins. (This opening sequence refers to Bob Dylan's motorcycle accident in July 1966).

Woody Guthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin), an 11-year old African American boy, is seen carrying a guitar in a case labeled "This Machine Kills Fascists" as he travels the country, pursuing his dream of becoming a singer. (Folk singer Woody Guthrie had an identical label on his guitar.) Woody befriends the African-American Arvin family, who give him food and hospitality, and Woody in turn performs Bob Dylan's 1965 song "Tombstone Blues", accompanied by Richie Havens (as Old Man Arvin). At dinner, Mrs. Arvin advises Woody: "Live your own time, child, sing about your own time".

Later that night, Woody leaves the Arvins' home, leaving behind a note thanking them, and catches a ride on a train, where a group of thieves attempt to rob him. He jumps from the speeding train and dives into a river, where a white couple rescue him and take him to a hospital, before bringing him home. They receive a phone call from a juvenile correction center in Minnesotamarker from which Woody had escaped. The phone call prompts Woody's swift departure, and he takes a Greyhound bus to Greystone Park Hospitalmarker in New Jerseymarker, where he visits (the real) Woody Guthrie. Woody leaves flowers at Guthrie's bedside and plays his guitar. (Over the hospital sequence, Bob Dylan performs his song "Blind Willie McTell".)

Ben Whishaw plays a young man who shares his name with the nineteenth century French poet Arthur Rimbaud. Arthur is solely seen in an interrogation room where he gives oblique answers to (unseen) questioners.

Christian Bale plays Jack Rollins, a young folk singer, whose story is framed as a documentary and told by interviewees such as fictional folk singer named Alice Fabian - described by some critics as a Joan Baez-like figure—played by Julianne Moore. Rollins is praised by folk fans who refer to his songs as anthems and protest songs, whereas Jack himself calls them finger-pointing songs. When Rollins accepts the "Tom Paine Award" from a civil rights organization, a drunken Rollins insults the audience and claims that he saw something of himself in JFK's alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. (Rollins's speech quotes some lines from a speech Dylan made when receiving the Tom Paine Award from the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee in December 1963.)

Christian Bale also plays Pastor John, a Born Again Christian preacher, who appears to be the Jack Rollins character several years later, having traveled to California and entered a church to engage in Bible studies. He becomes a preacher and is seen declaring his faith to his fellow church members, where he performs "Pressing On" - a song written and performed by Dylan on his 1980 gospel-influenced album Saved.

Heath Ledger plays Robbie Clark, an actor who is starring in a biopic about the life of Jack Rollins (the folk singer played by Christian Bale). This film-within-a-film is entitled Grain of Sand. (The film's title is a reference to the Dylan song "Every Grain of Sand".) We see how Robbie met his French artist wife Claire, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, in a Greenwich Villagemarker diner and they fell in love. (The scene in which Robbie and Claire run romantically through the streets of New York re-enacts the cover of the 1963 album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan which depicts Dylan arm in arm with his then-girlfriend Suze Rotolo walking down West 4th Street in Greenwich Village.) Robbie and Claire attend the premiere of the movie, which turns out to be a disappointment for Claire and the audience. Robbie and Claire's relationship begins to unravel, as Claire glimpses Robbie touching another woman at a party and is disturbed by his misogynistic attitude in comments such as "chicks can never be poets". At the end of their marriage, Robbie and Claire argue over custody of their children and Robbie and Claire file for divorce. The result of the custody battle seems to be in Claire's favor, but Robbie leaves taking his daughters on a boat trip while archival clips show Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho signing the Paris Peace Accords. (Bob Dylan was divorced from his first wife, Sara Dylan, on June 29, 1977 and the divorce involved legal wrangling over the custody of their children.) In the film, the relationship between Robbie and Claire lasts precisely as long as American involvement in the Vietnam War.

Cate Blanchett plays Jude Quinn, seen at a concert in a New England town, performing a rock version of "Maggie's Farm" to the outraged folk music fans. (Dylan performed this song at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, which provoked booing and controversy.) Jude is seen arriving at a press conference in Londonmarker and answering questions. (Some of these questions are quotes from Dylan's KQED press conference in San Franciscomarker on December 3, 1965.) Later, in his hotel suite, Jude is threatened by a hotel waiter brandishing a knife, who is knocked out by Jude's lover with a vase. Jude's operations in London are supervised by his manager, Norman (who bears a resemblance to Bob Dylan's 1960s manager Albert Grossman), played by Mark Camacho. In a surreal episode, Jude is seen gambolling at high speed in a park with the Beatles. (The speeded-up film echoes the style of Dick Lester's direction in A Hard Day's Night). Jude is then confronted by BBC cultural reporter, Keenan Jones, played by Bruce Greenwood (The name of this character echoes Dylan's song "Ballad of a Thin Man" with its chorus: "Something is happening here/ And you don't know what it is, do you Mr. Jones?").

Jude and his entourage meet the poet Allen Ginsberg, played by American comedian David Cross, who suggests that Jude may be "selling out" to God. Keenan Jones later questions Jude about whether he cares what he sings about every night, to which Jude replies, "How can I answer that if you've got the nerve to ask me?" and walks out of the interview. (Dylan made a similar response to a reporter from Time magazine in the D. A. Pennebaker's documentary of his 1965 English tour, Don't Look Back). The Dylan song "Ballad of a Thin Man" plays as Keenan Jones moves through a surreal episode in which he appears to act out the song's lyrics. Jones is seen obtaining a copy of Jude Quinn's high school year book. In concert, Jude performs "Ballad of a Thin Man", when one of his outraged fans shouts "Judas!" Jude replies "I don't believe you". (This scene re-enacts the "Judas!" shout at Dylan's Manchester concert on May 17, 1966. The moment is captured on Dylan's album Live 1966.) As the fans rush the stage in an apparent attempt to attack Jude, he narrowly escapes with his band. Back in his hotel suite, Jude watches Keenan Jones on television reveal that the true identity of Jude Quinn is "Aaron Jacob Edelstein" (In October 1963, Newsweek published a hostile profile of Dylan, revealing that he was originally named Robert Zimmerman, and implying that he had lied about his middle-class origins.). Jude later throws a party where his guests include Brian Jones, The Rolling Stones guitarist, and wealthy socialite and "queen of the underground" Coco Rivington, whom Jude insults. (The description of Rivington as "Andy's new bird" suggests that this character is modeled on Edie Sedgwick, a socialite and actress within Andy Warhol's circle.) As Jude's condition from drug usage worsens, he vomits in his friend's lap. Jude and Allen Ginsberg are later seen at the foot of a huge crucifix, apparently talking to Jesus. Jude shouts at the figure on the cross: "Why don't you do your early stuff?" and "How does it feel?!". After being whisked off in a car, Jude passes out on the floor while his friends stare down at him. Jude's manager, Norman observes: "I don't think he can get back on stage. He's gotten inside so many psyches - and death is just such a part of the American scene right now." Jude is last seen in his car directly addressing the viewer, "Everyone knows I'm not a folk singer".

Richard Gere portrays the outlaw Billy the Kid. Billy searches unsuccessfully for his dog, Henry, and then meets his friend, Homer. Homer tells Billy about Pat Garrett's destruction of Riddle County and the high incidence of suicide and murder. As the townspeople celebrate Halloween, a funeral takes place and a band performs Dylan's Basement Tapes song "Goin' to Acapulco" (sung by Jim James and backed by the band Calexico). Following the service, Pat Garrett (Bruce Greenwood) - who, earlier in the film played Keenan Jones, a journalist who had tried to interrogate Jude Quinn) arrives and confronts the townspeople. Billy dons a mask to disguise himself and tells Garrett to stay clear of Riddle County. Garrett then orders the authorities to arrest Billy and he is taken to the county jail. Billy escapes from the jail (with the help of Homer) and hops a ride on a train. Billy then sees his dog, Henry, one last time. Billy finds a guitar on the train that reads "This Machine kills Fascists", the same guitar that Woody Guthrie played at the beginning of the film. Billy's final words are "People are always talking about freedom, the freedom to live a certain way without being kicked around. 'Course the more you live a certain way the less it feels like freedom. Me? I can change during the course of a day. When I wake I'm one person, 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's like you got yesterday, today and tomorrow all in the same room. There's no telling what can happen."

The film ends with close-up footage of the real Bob Dylan playing his harmonica, a shot filmed by D. A. Pennebaker during Dylan's 1966 World Tour.

Cast

The above six characters represent different aspects of Bob Dylan's life and music.

Conception

Todd Haynes and his producer, Christine Vachon, approached Bob Dylan's manager, Jeff Rosen, to obtain permission to use Dylan's music and to fictionalize elements of Dylan's life. Rosen suggested that Haynes should send a one page synopsis of his film for submission to Dylan. Rosen advised Haynes not to use the word 'genius'. The page Haynes submitted began with a quote from Arthur Rimbaud: "I is someone else", and then continued:

"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, with its prime strategy being one of refraction, not condensation. Imagine a film splintered between seven separate faces — old men, young men, women, children — each standing in for spaces in a single life."


Dylan gave Haynes permission to proceed with his project. Haynes developed his screenplay with writer Oren Moverman. In the course of writing, Haynes has acknowledged that he became uncertain whether he could successfully carry off a film which deliberately confused biography with fantasy in such an extreme way. According to the account of the film that Robert Sullivan published in the New York Times: "Haynes called Jeff Rosen, Dylan’s right hand, who was watching the deal-making but staying out of the scriptwriting. Rosen, he said, told him not to worry, that it was just his own crazy version of what Dylan is."

In a comment on why six actors were employed to portray different facets of Dylan's personality, Haynes wrote:

A seventh character, a Charlie Chaplin-like incarnation of Dylan, was present in the script but was dropped before filming began.

Production and premiere

The production began filming in late July 2006 in Montrealmarker, Quebecmarker, Canadamarker.

The film premiered at the 34th Telluride Film Festival on August 31, 2007. It opened in theaters in Italymarker and played the Toronto International Film Festivalmarker in September 2007. It opened in limited release in the United Statesmarker and Canadamarker in November, and was released in Australia on Boxing Day 2007. It was rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for language, some sexuality, nudity and drug use.

Critical reception

I'm Not There received generally positive reviews from critics. The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 78% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 141 reviews. Metacritic reported the film had an average score of 73 out of 100, based on 35 reviews.

Writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, critic Anthony DeCurtis said that casting six different actors, including a woman and an African-American child, to play Dylan was "a preposterous idea, the sort of self-consciously 'audacious'—or reassuringly multi-culti—gambit that, for instance, doomed the Broadway musicalmarker based on the life and music of John Lennon. Yet in I'm Not There, the strategy works brilliantly." He especially praised Blanchett:

Numerous other reviewers have raved about Blanchett's performance: Newsweek magazine called the performance "so convincing and intense that you shrink back in your seat when she fixes you with her gaze." The Charlotte Observer called Blanchett "miraculously close to the 1966 Dylan." The film won the Grand Jury Prize and Best Actress honors for Blanchett at the 64th Venice Film Festival. Blanchett also won the Golden Globe Award for her performance, in addition to several critics awards. She was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award and an Academy Award.

Ed Siegel's piece in the Boston Globe called the film "A noble failure in grasping Dylan," but finds Haynes' film worthy to be considered part of "the wealth of high-quality material that Dylan has allowed to emerge in recent years." His article is equally focused on Dylan, whose ambiguity has inspired a variety of interpretations, compelling Siegel to suggest his own interpretation: "I'm All Here."

Todd McCarthy, film critic of trade magazine Variety, concluded that the film was well-made, but was ultimately a speciality event for Dylan fans, with little mainstream appeal. He wrote: "Dylan freaks and scholars will have the most fun with I'm Not There, and there will inevitably be innumerable dissertations on the ways Haynes has both reflected and distorted reality, mined and manipulated the biographical record and otherwise had a field day with the essentials, as well as the esoterica, of Dylan's life. All of this will serve to inflate the film's significance by ignoring its lack of more general accessibility. In the end, it's a specialists' event."

Luke Davies, film critic for The Monthly, declared it "a beautiful failure of a film" with "so much to love in it" but is "unintentionally comical and inadvertently pretentious." Davies constantly referred to the film as being bitter sweet stating that there "is method in the madness" and that "even when confusing, the film is audacious". Davies labelled the film a "biopic as kaleidoscopic poem rather than historical interpretation." His criticisms aside, Davies doesn't deride Blanchett's performance stating she "is marvellous as Jude Quinn" and that she "seems to be having a ball portrating Dylan's delight at his game-playing with press and fans alike. She becomes the strong centre of the film, and the best thing about it." He percieves Blanchett's performance as an entity independent of the film, stating "her Dylan actually draws energy inwards, creating a split between the failed Haynes film, and the successful Blanchett mini-film." However, Davies says such joy is inaccessible for non-fans of Dylan saying "I'm Not There would be utterly incomprehensible if you knew nothing of the Dylan story" possibly because "it's an encyclopaedic poem of all that Bob Dylan passed through, in grand sweeps, over two decades."

Top ten lists

The film appeared on many critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2007.





Awards and nominations



DVD release

I'm Not There was released on DVD as a 2-disc special edition on May 6, 2008. The DVD special features include audio commentary from Haynes, deleted scenes, featurettes, a music video, audition tapes for Marcus Carl Franklin and Ben Whishaw, a gag reel, a tribute to Heath Ledger, a series of unreleased trailers featuring the six actors re-enacting the 'Subterranean Homesick Blues' promo film and a Bob Dylan filmography and discography.

Soundtrack

The film features numerous Dylan songs, both the originals and recordings by other artists, as both background music and accompaniment to the action. A notable example of a non-Dylan song is the use of The Monkees' " Steppin' Stone" during a party scene.

References

  1. Gray, 2006, The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, pp. 287–289.
  2. Part of Dylan's speech went: "There's no black and white, left and right to me any more; there's only up and down and down is very close to the ground. And I'm trying to go up without thinking of anything trivial such as politics."; see, Shelton, No Direction Home, pp. 200–205.
  3. Gray, The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, pp. 198–200.
  4. Heylin, 1996, Bob Dylan: A Life In Stolen Moments, p. 87.
  5. Dylan's 1965 press conference reproduced in: Hedin (ed.), 2004, Studio A: The Bob Dylan Reader, pp. 51–58.
  6. "You walk into the room/ With your pencil in your hand/ You see somebody naked / And you say: 'Who is that man?'"
  7. Heylin, 2000, Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades Revisited, pp. 128–133.
  8. In his 1997 interview with David Gates of Newsweek, Dylan said: "I don't think I'm tangible to myself. I mean, I think one thing today and I think another thing tomorrow. I change during the course of a day. 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."
  9. Dylan, Chronicles, Volume One, pp. 243–246.
  10. Dylan, Chronicles, Volume One, p. 146
  11. David Gates, "The Roles They Are A-Changin’: In Todd Haynes's film, one Dylan's not enough" from Newsweek, November 26, 2007.
  12. Lawrence Toppman, "Everybody's 'There' except Bob D." from The Charlotte Observer, November 23, 2007.
  13. Best musical Im not there
  14. Travers, Peter, (December 19, 2007) "Peter Travers' Best and Worst Movies of 2007" Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2007-12-20
  • Robert Shelton, No Direction Home, Da Capo Press, 2003 reprint of 1986 original, 576 pages. ISBN 0-306-81287-8


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