The streets of I’m Not There (which takes its title from a previously-unreleased outtake from 1975’s ‘The Basement Tapes’) are paved and crossed by a plethora of characters, all whom with their own progressions, recessions, and arcs: Woodie Guthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin), who parades his “fascist-killing” geetar aboard boxcars; Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Whishaw), the “it aint’ me, babe” poet incessantly hassled by reporters; Jack/Pastor John (Christian Bale), born again after years as a Phil Ochs-like folkster; Robbie Clark (Heath Ledger, in his last role before his death), a part-time husband and full-time movie star; Jude Quinn (Oscar nominee Cate Blanchett), a manic-haired fame-hater drowning in a Fellini-esque world of Warhol; and Billy the Kid (Richard Gere), an outlaw living in the hills.
The film—an unavoidable case of schizophrenia and contradiction—shifts style and film stock as often as it does characters: color melds with black and white, 35mm with 16mm, and documentary with western. But even through the flood of mutations and layers, Haynes never once attempts the impossible: to serve revelations of Robert Allen Zimmerman…but at least the director knows it’s impossible.
All of the events and parallels in I’m Not There are—to Dylan aficionados, at least—spare parts: looks are mimicked (Jude gets closest), dialogue is lifted directly from lyrics and interviews (Arthur’s segment is near-identical to mid-‘60s footage), tributes are attended to (Woodie, despite being a black 11-year-old is the personified admiration for the folk musician), and timelines are accurate (Jack/John presents Dylan’s three-album gospel transformation).
But this isn’t to suggest we can’t dig into the story and characters: Robbie, while filming a biopic on Jack, is weighted with pressure, a Dylan shadowed by another Dylan, all while ‘Blood on the Tracks’ is being mentally penned. And in the most criticized (though deepest) portion, Billy the Kid isn’t so much a send-up of Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (which Dylan appeared, though as neither Billy or Garrett) as it is an imagining of Dylan’s desired seclusion he’s never quite experienced.
These six (or seven) personas aside, starlovers, buffs, and the bored will make time to pick out the small-role notables: Joan Baez, Edie Sedgwick, and Sara Dylan-inspired characters (Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams, Charlotte Gainsbourg), Allen Ginsberg (David Cross), the Beatles (who immediately get Dylan high in a Richard Lester-styled moment), and Brian Jones (from then-“covers band” the Rolling Stones) all turn up for glimpses-and-scenes-at-a-time.
Their role in the life (lives?) of Dylan are easy. The hard part to cope with for fans like myself is that we’ll never really know who Bob Dylan is, was, or will be. We’ve grown to accept it, and are assigned the duty of warning those who downright loathe the “nasally” vocals and standoffish persona of Dylan. I’m Not There is not a film for everyone…but is it really even for any of us?
Audio Commentary by Director/Co-Writer Todd Haynes: Haynes is non-stop in this commentary, offering valuable knowledge on Dylan’s history, the story’s origins, inspirations, character analysis, and much, much more. A few bits are repeated on Disc Two, but not nearly enough to skip this must-listen track.
On-Screen Song Lyrics, a Song Selection, and Sneak Peeks round out Disc One.
Audition Tapes (4:35): Marcus Carl Franklin’s (Woodie Guthrie) and Ben Winshaw (Arthur Rimbaud)’s are included, intercut with corresponding footage from the film.
Deleted Scenes (2:08): There are two here: ‘Silver Club Bathroom,’ which puts us back into the Factory-esque atmosphere and ‘Mrs. Baker,’ an extra scene with Billy the Kid.
Alternate/Extended Scenes (19:20): All four are for the songs Tombstone Blues, Hattie Carroll, Goin’ to Acapulco, and Pressing On.
Outtakes (4:13) offers a goofy montage of line flubs, animal antics, Todd Haynes, and more.
A Tribute to Heath Ledger (3:15) is a heart-felt video of the late actor on set, backdropped with Dylan’s ‘Tomorrow is a Long Time.’
The Red Carpet Premiere (2:41) gathers Todd Haynes and his cast at the November 13, 2007 premiere in New York City.
Making the Soundtrack (21:03): Music producers John Henry, Lee Ranaldo (of Sonic Youth), director Todd Haynes, actor Marcus Carl Franklin, and others give an inside look at the evolution of the soundtrack. Along with other topics, the men provide insight on the talent involved, updating/choosing the songs, and the rare track ‘I’m Not There,’ which hadn’t been released until last year.
A Conversation with Todd Haynes (42:31): More of a series of conversations, the director sits down to discuss his film, devoting much of the time to dissecting each character. Despite the numerous press junkets covering the same topics (though there’s no overlapping in the featurette), Haynes is enthusiastic throughout, making the 40+ minutes breeze by.
Finally, the Dylanography hosts an interesting NY Times Magazine write-up titled ‘This is Not a Bob Dylan Movie,’ Todd Hayne’s one-page letter to Dylan proposing the idea of I’m Not There (which subsequently led to the film), Discography, Filmography, Bibliography, the Filmmaker’s Notebook (with notes and storyboards), and Still Galleries.
Rounding out Disc Two is a Trailer Gallery, with two theatricals and several unreleased ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’-inspired trailers.