I’m Not There: Two-Disc Collector’s Edition (Alliance, 2007) D: Todd Haynes, w/ Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere. Rating: NN; DVD package: NNN
Todd Haynes ought to be congratulated for trying to construct something other than the typical biopic. Then he ought to be sent to stand in the corner, first for making such a mess of it, second for explaining everything in excruciating detail, thereby robbing hardcore Dylanologists of the fun of winkling out every little reference for themselves, the only enjoyment anybody’s likely to find here apart from some good, but sadly incomplete, performances.
The problem with entertainment biopics, apart from the fact that any life fits poorly into feature film constraints, is that they’re all the same: poor beginning, meteoric rise, drink, drugs and rehab or death. Haynes has a different agenda. Fascinated by Dylan’s refusal to explain himself or conform to categorization, he examines various aspects of the singer’s life by creating six different characters, none of them exactly Dylan, and intercutting their stories. (Non-specialists are advised to check the introductory essays before tackling the movie.)
Only two of the characters are particularly interesting. Cate Blanchett portrays Jude Quinn, Dylan as massively stoned asshole on tour in 1966 England. She’s quite convincing as a guy and full of twitchy energy as she mimes her way through a kick-ass Ballad Of A Thin Man (one of the movie’s three great musical moments).
Too bad Haynes brings in a literal Mr. Jones (“You know something is happening, but you don’t know what it is”) and delivers the Jude Quinn sequences in Fellini’s 81/2 visual style. Haynes lacks Fellini’s depth or warmth, so these scenes are rock-video shallow. Elsewhere, he uses Godardian technique to explore Dylan’s failing marriage. He doesn’t bring that off either.
The other interesting character is Richard Gere’s Billy the Kid. His story has nothing to do with Dylan’s life, but its setting, homespun surrealism and Dylan song (Going To Acapulco) suggest a movie that might have stood on its own and better fulfilled Haynes’s stated wish to evoke the spirit of a Dylan song.
Apart from an excellent documentary on making the music, the sole voice we hear in the extras is Haynes’s. His fascination with Dylan and his work comes through clearly, but the voice of Haynes the artist is missing.
EXTRAS Disc one: Four critical essays, director commentary, onscreen lyrics. Widescreen. English, French, Spanish subtitles. Disc two: Outtakes, deleted, extended and alternate scenes, Heath Ledger tribute, premiere doc, soundtrack doc, extended Haynes interview, on-set article, original proposal, Dylan discography, filmography, bibliography, Haynes’s notebook. Widescreen.