2007-12-07 / Community

MovieScope

'I'm Not There' - Bob Dylan, The Six-Faced Singer
Review By Robert Snyder

Recently, a group of musicians staged a concert at the Beacon Theater in Manhattan to celebrate the opening of "I'm Not There," the bizarre biopic about the life, or lives, of legendary singer/songwriter Bob Dylan. True to form, Dylan, himself, was not there.

The question is…does Bob Dylan really exist at all, as a flesh-and-blood human being? Then again, does any celebrity exist in reality?

Writer/director Todd Haynes ("Far From Heaven") makes an epic attempt to answer that unanswerable question with his uniquely fascinating film, featuring six actors of varying races, ages and genders playing Bob Dylan at different stages of his career. However, none is named, "Bob Dylan," nor "Robert Allen Zimmerman," which, according to legend, is Bob Dylan's real name.

Actor Cary Grant, whose real name was Archibald Leech, once said, "Everyone wants to be 'Cary Grant,' even me." It's doubtful everyone wants to be Bob Dylan, but these six actors do and they do an amazing job of portraying his multiple sides.

Marcus Carl Franklin is Woody Guthrie, a 12-year-old African-American using the famed folkie's identity, while riding the rails with hobos and a guitar in 1959 Middle America. Christian Bale's Jack Rollins is the Greenwich Village folk rock/protest Dylan, later emerging as a born-again Christian minister in '70s L.A. The Hollywood Dylan is played by Heath Ledger as Robbie Clark, an actor starring as the singer in the Jack Rollins biopic (go figure). The remarkable Cate Blanchett is the '60s rock star Dylan, gaunt and drugged and partying with the Beatles in swinging London. The poet Dylan is called, "Arthur Rimbaud," and played by a cynical, cryptic Ben Whishaw. Richard Gere is Dylan in his Billy the Kid gunslinger period, referring to the singer's bit part in the 1973 Sam Peckinpah film about the outlaw. That western, by the way, starred Kris Kristofferson, who is "I'm Not There's" narrator.

MTV-edited by Jay Rabinowitz with a dazzling mix of color and B&W, Haynes' film could have lost a couple of his Dylans, particularly Gere, who appears a bit lost. Most powerful and provoking is Blanchett, capturing the singer at his most abusive and self-destructive. The movie is at its weakest when, in some Bale sequences, it resembles an outtake from the Christopher Guest spoof, "A Mighty Wind."

What saves the film and the legend itself is the great music, mostly the classic recordings by Bob Dylan, whoever he is.

When it comes to the music, nothing is fake.

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