‘I’m Not There’ a creative biopic

Ben Raymond

By Ben Raymond

Staff Reporter

Oscar-nominated writer/director Todd Haynes’ new Bob Dylan biopic “I’m Not There” took seven years to complete. It took seven years of thinking, writing, pre-production, chaos, casting, recording, filming, re-filming, editing and re-editing. It took seven years of manic devotion and frenzied artistry.

The result: an inventive and wholly new spin on filmic storytelling as daring and dynamic as Dylan himself.

Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger and Ben Whishaw star as Bob Dylan. Male, female, white, black and ranging in age from 12 to 58, the ensemble is a hodgepodge of phenomenal talent.

Also starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, Michelle Williams and Julianne Moore, “I’m Not There” boasts an exceptional cast of marquee names giving top-drawer performances.

It’s easy to see why so many of Hollywood’s finest actors wanted to work with Haynes. He is a charismatic and passionate character and surely one of the friendliest interviewees a young journalist could ask for. His vivacity and eagerness to respond to questions were infectious. An impassioned man and a fluent speaker, his personality is obviously a big reason for his success.

Haynes’ direction is a stylish, no-compromises reinvention of the biographical picture. Aggressively non-conformist, Haynes uses his experience, talent and passion for his craft and subject to create a sprawling and intensely personal film.

The most outstanding feature of Haynes’ writing and direction is the consistent cohesiveness maintained between Dylan the man and Dylan the musician. Unlike previous music-based biopics, “I’m Not There” glues together story and sound – the music becomes an integral part of the storytelling itself, rather than a disparate compliment to it.

On this Haynes remarks, “Cinema is such a non-cerebral medium. And so is music. It made sense for me to present them both in unity – emotionally, visually, cinematically, even painterly in the film.”

It is this harmony of man and music that separates “I’m Not There” from the “been-there” formula typical of the modern biopic.

Hollywood’s newfound infatuation with the biopic is now reaching critical mass. It seems every month yet another semi-famous, ever-troubled, alcoholic and/or wife-beating icon has their life reanimated on the silver screen.

Despite being terribly worn-out, the biopic subgenre will have a formidable shelf-life if the trend of awards attention continues. Eight out of the last 12 Oscar-winning actors and actresses (Crowe, Connelly, Theron, Foxx, Hoffman, Witherspoon, Mirren and Whitaker) have earned the prize for their portrayal of a real-life figure.

Two of them, Jamie Foxx for “Ray” in 2004 and Reese Witherspoon for “Walk the Line” in 2005, won for music-centric biopics in particular.

It’s safe to say we can add Blanchett to the list. Although she will likely be placed in the supporting category, Blanchett is a shoe-in for an Oscar. Her performance is undoubtedly the highlight of the film.

She talks like Dylan, walks like Dylan, even looks like Dylan. From his careworn country twang, to his spasmodic, skipping walk, to the indifferent stare caught between his half-shut eyes, Blanchett captures Dylan with an almost eerie completeness.

Blanchett even stuffed a sock down the front of her pants so she could better “walk like a man.”

The film intensifies the moment she appears on screen, and when she’s off, you can’t wait for her to return. Her performance is nothing short of extraordinary.

The film is all kinds of unique. The most obvious of its innovations is Haynes’ brilliant idea to use six different actors to play Dylan.

The object of this is twofold: to portray Dylan at different times in his career and, more remarkably, to quite literally personify Dylan’s varied self-made personae.

One might say this isn’t creative, just gimmicky.

One would be wrong. Haynes should be applauded for so intrepidly breaking convention.

Although some of the stories are more compelling than others (Gere’s scenes are somewhat dull) and casual Dylan admirers will be hopelessly confused, purists and those willing to pay due attention will see Haynes found the one and only way to do Dylan justice.

“Wherever the music and Dylan’s life mirrored each other… wherever his music most reflected his life are the stories I chose to tell,” Haynes says.

Although flawed, “I’m Not There” is an original and memorable capture of a formless and elusive American icon.

“I’m Not There” hits theaters Nov. 21.