I'm Not There (15)

2.00

Todd Haynes's hotly anticipated I'm Not There seems to take pride in what it is not it's not a straight biopic, not a rock movie, not a proper narrative, not a love letter, not a crowd-pleaser, not even a film that mentions the name "Bob Dylan". Not a lot of fun? Well, that's a moot point. It is an ambitiously conceived and lovingly textured piece of work, a movie of images and distorted facts that will hang about your consciousness long after you've seen it. In that way it more readily approximates to the recollection of a dream whose meaning can be glimpsed in fragments but then suddenly recedes and dissolves. A bit like the man himself.

Haynes constructs this dream portrait from the inside out. Instead of using one or two actors to impersonate the younger and older Dylan he shuffles together six pseudonymous characters four men, a boy, and a woman to cover not only those changing times but his different personas and moods. It is a kind of cubistic approach, which allows you to see one object from several distinct angles. One of the six Dylans, played by Ben Whishaw and filmed head-on in black and white, gives his name as "Arthur Rimbaud" and quotes his famous line "I is Someone Else".

We are in a hall of endless distorting mirrors, where identity is provisional and appearance is deceptive: whichever Dylan you think he is, he's not. So there's no need to adjust your eyes on seeing the fledgling singer as a 12-year-old black kid (Marcus Carl Franklin) who calls himself Woody Guthrie, after Dylan's folk-singer hero, and rides boxcars. This is the self-mythologising Dylan, who often lied about where he came from but didn't seem to care when those lies got found out.

The other characters are easier to cross-reference with the historical Dylan. Christian Bale plays Jack Rollins, the Greenwich Village protest-folkie, and later doubles, quite movingly, as the evangelical Pastor John. Heath Ledger plays a hotshot actor of Nixon-era America who represents the failed husband and lost soul Dylan became; might he also be Haynes's sly comment on the paradox that Dylan, whose life became a performance, never really excelled as an actor?

Richard Gere plays Billy the Kid, a grizzled Peckinpah-like recluse glimpsing the world going wrong from his hilltop fastness, then completing the circle when he breaks out of jail and jumps on a boxcar. The film delivers its real casting coup in Cate Blanchett's impersonation of the wired, trippy, tricky Dylan of 1965-66, when he smote the folkie hordes with his electric axe. It took me a while but I eventually fell for her performance, first for the scarecrow gangliness so familiar from DA Pennebaker's seminal tour-documentary Don't Look Back (Haynes nods to the influence by filming these sequences in black and white), then for the minutely observed repertoire of tics eye-rubbing, chain-smoking and the rapidly diminishing charm. Blanchett doesn't nail the rough croon of Dylan's voice (I'm not sure anybody ever has), but she does get the best line of the movie, introducing a blond-haired rocker at a party to his manager: "This is Brian Jones... from that groovy covers band". The Beatles also get short shrift.

Jones is one of very few here to be mentioned by his real name Allen Ginsberg, for some reason, is another. The rest wear the flimsiest of fictional veils. Julianne Moore (so good in Haynes's previous Far From Heaven) plays as near to Joan Baez as dammit, Charlotte Gainsbourg is Dylan's neglected wife Sara, Michelle Williams the doomed Edie Sedgwick, and Mark Camacho an absolute dead ringer for Dylan's manager Albert Grossman. Some of these feature as talking-head interviewees describing the Dylan they knew, in the manner of Woody Allen's Zelig, another man who wasn't there.

Fans will enjoy spotting the connections between fact and fiction, and the quotations from songs, but I do wonder what it will mean to anyone else. We have to accept that there are some out there only mildly interested in Dylan, and some who care nothing at all.

And now I have to admit that, even as a diehard fan, I found myself drifting through quite a lot of it. All praise to Haynes and his co-writer Oren Moverman for their refusal to ride the conventional rails of the biopic, and for the imaginative overlap of Dylan's music I especially liked the way songs from one period of his life kick in to soundtrack another, for example the 1997 "Cold Irons Bound" cropping up during the drug-addled, paranoid mid-Sixties. But, sadly, film-making ingenuity does not guarantee attention, or gratitude, and two-hours-plus of fragments, dream-scenes, surreal squibs and mini-montages becomes slightly wearying. Haynes has spent so much time in the editing room that you sense that the film has been chopped and diced and left without a real centre. That might be the point It's Not There and it could be argued that Haynes is not only being more innovative as a storyteller but also more truthful to the maddening, elusive, protean nature of Dylan himself. I have a feeling that I'm Not There will be more interesting to think and talk about than it is to actually watch. As the man once sang, "Something is happening here, but you don't know what it is..."

Even if you think you do know what it is, this fantasia on the lives of Dylan is far from an unqualified pleasure.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus brought her Bangerz tour to London's O2 Arena last night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
film
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
    Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

    From strung out to playing strings

    Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
    The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
    Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

    Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

    The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
    On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

    On the road to nowhere

    A Routemaster trip to remember
    Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

    Hotel India

    Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
    10 best pencil cases

    Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

    Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
    Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

    Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

    Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
    Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

    Pete Jenson: A Different League

    Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
    This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

    The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

    Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis