Creativity is thrilling to watch unravel and inspirational to experience as it happens. I walked out of Todd Haynes' new film, I'm Not There, simply in awe and hard-pressed to fully comprehend what I just saw. I knew only that I was fully entertained and energized about what I witnessed at the Film Forum. The story was non linear as it jumped from decade to decade without warning while it's subject matter -- Bob Dylan -- was played by six different actors. I've been a huge fan of Todd Haynes for years. I consider Safe one of my favorite films and Far From Heaven --oh Lord, forget about it. Amazing.
In addition to six different actors playing the lead, Todd Haynes chose to film it in various styles. From the documentary-style of Christian Bale's folk singer turned evangelical to the surreal black and white cinema verite style of Cate Blanchett's Jude character dealing with sex, drugs and rock'n'roll of the '60s. Marcus Carl Franklin who plays the Dylan character, Woody, was a real standout for me. You meet him as he jumps aboard a speeding train and tells his story to two fellow hobos. He is wise beyond his years and in one scene a woman whose family has taken him in simply says "Sing about your own times." Was this what Dylan was told when he began his career as a Woody Gutherie-like folk singer? The film doesn't come out and portray actual incidents apart from a reinterpreting of Dylan's move from folk to rock at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1965. Here it is shown as actual machine gun fire onto the crowd. Instead the film interprets and re-imagines the music and life of the singer songwriter and what perhaps influenced him. It was especially fascinating to me to see how the world related back to the various Dylan characters. In particular to Cate Blanchett's Jude and the violence and adoration of his fans.
My friend, Katharine, gave me a copy of the soundtrack the other day and I've been listening to it non-stop. Richie Havens' version of "Tombstone Blues," Jim James and Calexico's "Going to Aculpolco," "Ballad Of A Thin Man" by Stephen Malkmus and The Million Dollar Bashers and John Doe's "Pressing On" all featured in the film are true standouts. Other great tracks include Mason Jennings "The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll" (was that the character that told Woody in the film to sing about his own times?) , Cat Power's "Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again" and Antony & The Johnson's version of "Knocking On Heaven's Door" are all terrific. The two-CD set features 18 tracks by such artists as Sonic Youth, Los Lobos, Iron & Wine, Willie Nelson and Yo La Tengo. It also contains the original version of the title track "I'm Not There" by Bob Dylan which was only available as a bootleg recording before this soundtrack. Todd Haynes also helped produce this soundtrack which is a great companion piece to the film.
Christine Vachon who help produce the film is quoted as saying, "The film is going to be inspired by Dylan's music and his ability to re-create and re-imagine himself time and time again," and that does a succinct job of wrapping up what it is about. Under Todd Haynes' direction it is a truly remarkable and unique film experience.
When I left the theater I walked north through Washington Square park in the cold and golden light of the late afternoon. I felt almost like I stepped out of Dylan's "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" album cover. I walked through a part of New York that was important in the folk music movement and to Dylan himself. As the film suggests, Dylan is part of all of us. There and then not there.