Let me say first and foremost, I am no Bob Dylan scholar. Nor am I a big fan. Frankly I've enjoyed much of his music, and some of it has left me cold. I am not old enough to have felt the impact he had on popular culture as I was about ten years behind his real heyday. That said; I do understand that he was the voice of his generation and that he is probably one of the greatest living American songwriters .
For much of his life, Dylan appeared more of an enigma than a man. The scruffy kid from Minnesota, whose real name was Robert Zimmerman, the sometime movie-actor, the riddle speaking musician who shocked the folk music world when he "went electric", the born again Christian, the grizzled elder statesman of protest music ... exactly who is Bob Dylan?
That's the question that Todd Hayne's film, I'm Not There, tries to tackle. Instead of being a straightforward bio-pic, the movie tells the tale of several Dylan-like characters whose lives intertwine. Never once is the name, Bob Dylan uttered . Instead we meet the personalities: There is Woody (Marcus Carl Franklin), the young African American boy riding the rails with hobos, who turns out to be a magnificently talented guitarist and singer (watch for the scene of Woody and two other guys playing and singing on a front porch - Richie Havens is one of the men, and he still sounds great!) ; then there is Arthur (Ben Whishwaw) the man being interviewed throughout the film; Christian Bale plays Jack, the folk singer who sets the world on fire until he vanishes from site (Watch for Juilanne Moore as Alice Fabian - obviously Joan Baez- who tells most of Jack's story); The late Heath Ledger plays, Robbie, a young actor who sells out and then brings his once happy marriage to an end; Cate Blanchett (who pretty much steals this movie) plays Jude Quinn, the folksinger who alienates his fans by plugging in and rocking out (watch for David Cross as Alan Ginsburg during this portion of the file, finally Cross has found his niche!); and finally there is Richard Gere as Billy the Kid, an outlaw hiding out in a strange little town out west.
True fans of Dylan will have a field day with this trying to figure out who is who and what is what. The rest of us may have to guess. I did figure out that Jude's infatuation with a young hot celebrity named Coco was supposed to be Edie Sedgwick, but after that I was at something of a loss (not really knowing all that much about the subject's actual life).
All in all, I'm Not There is still a fascinating, challenging film that somehow manages to bring Dylan's lyrics to life with out being over the top (see Across the Universe), and I for one was captivated by this original and complex piece.
And yes, Blanchett really deserved the Oscar for this one (which of course, she did not win).