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I'm Not There (2007)

The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 5/6/2008

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/2/2008

It's not a huge leap to think that filmmakers can be control freaks. Directors want to oversee every facet of their movie from the sets to the music to the FX. However, once the movie is done, an artist must release it into the world for it to be judged. The question is, does the artist care if the audience is able to take anything away from the movie? Many directors speak of leaving the meaning of their films up to the audience, but does the filmmaker give the audience enough ammunition to arrive at a conclusion? A director must assume that sometime, somewhere, a viewer is going to watch a movie with no prior knowledge of the film's subject-matter or content. Will that movie make an iota of sense to that viewer? This discussion can easily be applied to I'm Not There.

I'm Not There is Director/co-writer Todd Haynes' interpretive film about the life and time of Bob Dylan. Instead of being a direct biopic, such as Ray or Walk the Line, I'm Not There is very much an art film. Six different actors play either Dylan himself or characters based on facets of Dylan's personality or ideas from his songs. However, none of these characters are named Bob Dylan. Woody Guthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin) is a young black boy who lives a hobo life, traveling cross-country playing his music. Jack Rollins (Christian Bale) is a famous folk singer. Jack's story is told in a film where Robbie Clark (Heath Ledger) plays Jack. Robbie is a turbulent, emotional figure who marries Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Jude Quinn (Cate Blanchett) is a mid-sixties musician who has created a splash by seemingly turning his back on his folk roots by performing electric. He then goes to London where he's pursued by the press, meets Allen Ginsberg, and parties too hard. Throughout these stories, we see an interview with Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Whishaw), a young man who seems to be describing all of the other characters which we are seeing. In the latter half of the film, we are introduced to Billy the Kid (Richard Gere), who is living in Riddle, Missouri, a small town which is in turmoil and seemingly displaced in time.

With I'm Not There, Haynes has created an interesting alternative to the traditional biography. In essence, this a very well-made experimental film, as Haynes has eschewed the idea of simply telling the story of Bob Dylan's life, and has decided instead to weave real-life events with fictional characters and fantastic ideas. This is an extremely bold move and Haynes must be applauded for taking this step.

However, I'm Not There is a irrevocably flawed film. This film was made for audience members who already know something about Dylanís life and music. For me, Iíve always found Dylanís music to be annoying and overrated and I feel that his work had no influence on the music that I like. Thus, I know very little about the man, and because of this, I'm Not There was like watching someone elseís bad dream. The only thing that I truly know about Dylanís past was the fact that we was booed when he performed electric. So, I recognized that scene in the film. Otherwise, I found myself saying, ďIs this true?Ē throughout the movie. (That should have been the title of the film.) When Billy the Kid appears, I, of course, knew that this wasnít Bob Dylan and thatís where the movie really goes off the tracks -- although the fact that Heath Ledger is playing a character who is in a movie as a guy who is based on Bob Dylan is certainly confusing enough. Rarely are we given a sense of time or place in the movie. Haynes intercuts all of the stories -- so even if one of the character studies does become cohesive, that flow is quickly broken.

Rarely have I been as confounded by a film as I was by I'm Not There, and when this does happen, I canít help but wonder, ďIs this just me?Ē Apparently, itís not, as the DVD contains an ďIntroduction to the FilmĒ which explains who all of the characters are supposed to be or what they are based on. Here, we learn that some of the characters are based on Dylan and specific times in his life, while others are taken from ideas presented in Dylanís songs. I always try to avoid spoilers, so I didnít check out this information before watching the movie (and frankly, I donít think that it would have helped). All of this tells me that Weinstein Home Entertainment was concerned that viewers would have no idea what was happening in the movie. I canít help but think about those poor souls who saw I'm Not There in the theater and didnít have the luxury of helpful extra features.

While I'm Not Thereís story probably wouldnít make sense to Dylan himself, the movie does contain some strong acting. Itís easy to see why Cate Blanchett was nominated for an Oscar, but not so easy to ascertain why it was for Best Supporting Actress, as the Jude Quinn character has the most screen-time of all of the embodiments. I canít say that sheís impersonating Dylan, but she disappears in the role and thatís the sign of a great performance. (I guess that you could say that she isnít there...) Christian Bale isnít in the movie for long, but his performance also has an impact.

Itís not often that I feel out of my element, but I'm Not There had that effect. Fans of Bob Dylan, well, those who are familiar with both his work and his life, will most likely enjoy this movie, especially if they also admire David Lynch movies. All others should either avoid this movie, or understand that what you will be seeing isnít a biography, but rather, Bob Dylanís life filtered through an art-house filmmaker.

I'm Not There is actually here on DVD courtesy of The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The film is a combination of color and black & white film. Some of the black & white scenes are somewhat grainy, but otherwise the image is sharp and clear. There are no defects from the source material. The color portions show very crisp and realistic colors. I noted some mild artifacting in some scenes, but otherwise the picture looks fine. The disc offers a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Itís obvious that the main focus of the film is the music, which sounds fine here. Other than that, we donít get much in the way of stereo or surround sound effects, even in crowd scenes.

The I'm Not There 2-disc set contains several bonus features. Disc 1 opens with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director/Co-writer Todd Haynes. This is a good commentary, despite the fact that Haynes doesnít always provide as much information as we would like. He talks about the actors and the locations, while constantly commenting on how the action deals with Dylanís real life. "Intro to Film" contains four text pieces. "Who's Not There" Six Faces of Dylan" profiles the six characters in the film and identifies the periods which they represent. "Tangled Up In Clues by Ann Powers" and "Decoding an Entertaining Enigma" both analyze the way in which the film takes a different approach to the biopic. "Notes on I'm Not There by Greil Marcus" contains comments from Haynes and discusses the structure of the movie.

The remainder of the extras are found on Disc 2. "Trailer Gallery" contains 2 THEATRICAL TRAILERS for the film. It also offers a series of unreleased spots which are based on Dylan's famous Subterranean Homesick Blues video. There are six individual shorts featuring each of the characters, and two which have all six together dropping the flash cards. "From the Edit Room" starts with the "Audition Tapes" (5 minutes) for Marcus Carl Franklin and Ben Whishaw. The DVD contains two DELETED SCENES which run about 2 minutes, and are consequential. There are four ALTERNATE/EXTENDED SCENES which run about 21 minutes, and feature extended music numbers from the movie. There is a four-minutes "Outtakes" reel and a 3-minute "A Tribute to Heath Ledger" which contains several scenes with the late actor. "Look Back" opens with "The Red Carpet Premiere" (3 minutes) which contains footage from the New York premiere. "Making the Soundtrack" (21 minutes) has comments from Music Producers Joe Henry, Lee Ranaldo, and Joey Burns, as they discuss the fact that the music influenced the movie instead of vice-versa. "A Conversation with Todd Haynes (43 minutes) is exactly that, as the Director talks about the origins of the film and how it was made. "Dylanography" offers more text pieces, including "This is Not a Bob Dylan Movie" by Robert Sullivan and the original "Proposal" for the film which Haynes wrote for Dylan. We also get a Bob Dylan Chronology (timeline), Discography, Filmography, and Bibliography. The "Filmmaker's Notebook" contains storyboards and notations. Finally, we have STILL GALLERIES for all six characters.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long