Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Turn and face the strange…

Todd Haynes Bob Dylan biopic eschews conventional storytelling in favour of something more rambling and abstract, as befits the man himself. The story is not drawn from Dylan’s life so much as it is drawn from his songs, though most of the major points that might have formed the basis of a Walk the Line style bio-pic are at least touched upon.

The one thing everyone knows about I’m Not There is that it’s the film in which Dylan’s shifting persona are portrayed by six different people, starting with a young, black actor, then moving onto Batman and the Joker, Richard Gere and Cate Blanchet. However, different and daring as that may sound, what the film lacks, perhaps not surprisingly, is a common voice. There is no thread trying to tie the characters together, or even a Rosebud style Maguffin to unite them. There are no characters common to more than one of the stories, no obvious bleedover where we can see elements of one present in another. They operate as separate vignettes. Perhaps those holes were left there on pupose?

Cate Blanchet has been getting most of the attention and quite rightly so. A statuesque Aussie actress would not be most people’s first choice to play Bob Dylan, but her performance as Dylan’s most recognisable and iconic persona is note perfect. It helps that her section happens to contain many of the film’s best set pieces: a Benny Hill meets Hard Days Night cameo from the Beatles, Allen Ginsberg in a golf buggey and the only straight out musical number in the whole film. Other aspects/actors are less well served. Richard Gere as a reclusive wild west hero called Billy, seemingly trapped in a bizzare fantasy town, hits a particuarly bum note.

As a whole the film doesn’t sow together to form a fully satisfying experience, but there are enough moments to suggest where else it might have gone, before retreating. As a result each audience member leaves with their own impression of what they think they saw. This will thrill some and annoy others. I was entertained throughout.


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