Bob Dylan film style confusing, but it works
Trying to make sense of Bob Dylan’s career has always been a losers’ bet.
That’s why I struggled with the first half of the new Todd Haynes film, “I’m Not There,” which is a kind of Dylan biopic as envisioned by a institutionalized schizophrenic. Before going in, I had not seen any reviews, and in fact had read only one quote about the film, on a message board somewhere. It read:
“Once I remembered what being stoned felt like, it flowed over me and made no-sense sense.”
That turned out to be the wisest way to describe “I’m Not There.” It’s a fictional portrait of Dylan, fracturing his persona into five roles – or six, if you count his music (the best part). Even the dialogue seems to be taken from actual Dylan interviews. He is portrayed by an 11-year-old train-hopper (Marcus Carl Franklin), a mid-60s superstar Dylan (Cate Blanchett), the rebellious folk singer (Christian Bale), an actor who plays Dylan in a biopic (Heath Ledger), and an old man (Richard Gere), self-exiled in the mountains.
It may be the first film in which the protagonist is portrayed by five different people. It’s confusing at first, but it works, especially if you’re a Dylan fan.
There’s also a little bit of Richie Havens, who sings Dylan’s “Tombstone Blues,” an apparent reference to Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam speeches. There are also references to the breakup of Dylan’s marriage, reflected in his 1974 album “Blood on the Tracks.”
And there are seemingly dozens of other small treats for Dylan fans, including a wrestling match between the singer and The Beatles, set to the music of the Teletubbies.
There are also Dylan songs by Tom Verlaine, Jim James of My Morning Jacket and Dylan himself. Ironically, the best performance is probably turned in by Blanchett, who plays an androgynous Dylan at the height of his fame, beseiged by fans and the media, defending himself against charges that he had “sold out.”
The film was at once maddening and spellbinding; confusing and starkly literate. It’s the kind of thing where you don’t realize until the end that it truly added up to something special.
— Rick Chandler is the associate editor of Deadspin.com. Contact him at RickChand@GMail.com.