“I’m Not There”

“I’m Not There”
Genius Products/The Weinstein Company




Here’s the case for I’m Not There:

1) Pretty much the best cast ever.

For this reinterpretation of the mythos and chameleon-esque public personae of Bob Dylan, director Todd Haynes was able to literally pick and choose his cast from the crème de la crème of Hollywoods old and new. Richard Gere shows up as a Billy the Kid-era Dylan; Christian Bale does an astonishing turn as both troubadour and born-again Dylan; and Hell, even Sonic Youth member Kim Gordon shows up in a cameo role. And don’t even get me started on Cate Blanchett’s legendary – and Oscar-nominated – appearance as Highway 61 Dylan: It is truly and without hyperbole one of the greatest screen turns in modern times. And even that might be an understatement.

2) Pretty much the best soundtrack ever.

I’m Not There doesn’t just rely on the slate of Dylan songs covered by various musicians for the film’s occasion (Eddie Vedder, Stephen Malkmus, Willie Nelson, et al) – it allows for Dylan’s own recordings to ring loud and true. Not surprisingly, Haynes saves “Like a Rolling Stone” for the end (which works like gangbusters, by the way), but gems like “I Want You” and “Just Like a Woman” weave their way into the fabric of the film with perfect tonality and heft. And Jim James and Calexico’s version of “Goin’ to Acapulco” (performed almost in its entirety in the movie) could almost be better than the original.

3) Pretty much the best intellectual exercise ever.

This is not a film to cozy up to with a beer and fatigue on an exhausted Friday night – it’s a doozy of a challenge. Sure, this kept the vast majority of Americans out of theatres (it made a paltry $4 million at the box office), but for cinephiles hungry for something more than spoon-fed corporate entertainment, I’m Not There provides the kind of emotional and intellectual stimulation that no other movie in 2007 had the guts to broadcast.

I’m Not There never shies away from its graduate-thesis motifs and symbology; it does not dumb itself down for the consumption of the masses. Don’t get me wrong – the film is wildly entertaining on a very basic level (for reference, see the scene where Dylan meets the Beatles for the first time) – but I’m Not There’s cultural investigation (perhaps re-investigation?) is so singular that it stands tall above, well, most films.

4) Pretty much the best Cate Blanchett movie ever.

Did I mention already how mind-blowing Cate Blanchett is in this movie? If you hated it, thought it was too heady and impenetrable, that’s fine (your loss), but even if you rent the movie and find it not to your taste, at the very least fast-forward to Cate’s final scene in the back of a limousine – it’s outrageous how grand this woman is in the film. It makes me want to build a statue in her honor.

5) Pretty much the best Todd Haynes movie ever. (well…)

For those of you out there in the Todd Haynes appreciation society (I’ve been a member since ’91), it should come as no surprise that arguably the best part about Haynes vehicles is that after you finish watching one of them, you’re convinced that’s the one he’ll be remembered for. Watching Superstar is just about the most grandiose and fulfilling cinematic experience viewers are likely to have, but just wait until you watch Far From Heaven for the third or fourth time and you see just how deep the guy is able to delve into the film’s narrative universe (how did he do that?). And have you seen Velvet Goldmine lately? Sure, the lack of official Bowie and Iggy tunes keep the film from truly taking off into the stratosphere, but as flawed as the film may be, how the Hell did something that erotic and weird and bizarre and antic get made (even by indie Hollywood standards)? And Safe? Oh, MAN…

I digress in an attempt to portray the concept that if you glam on to the main thrusts of I’m Not There, it has a certain euphoria to it. I saw the film three times last year (before this DVD came my way) – once in a Hollywood screening room; again at an art house in Sacramento; and once more for good measure in a hole-in-the-wall rep house in San Francisco – and each time I felt like I was seeing Atlantis for the first time: Haynes’ mercurial sense of drama, timing and daring has never been better. And that’s saying something.

6) Pretty much the best DVD ever.

Well, this is an overstatement (to a certain degree). The audio and video presentations on this DVD are both excellent – turn it up loud; watch it on the biggest TV you can find – and the 2-DVD set has a boat-load of bonus features. We get text-based introductions to the film – including the template Haynes submitted to Dylan himself in order to get his okay on the movie – as well as a typically engaging Haynes commentary track

The only problem is that things on the second disc – as dense as they may be – aren’t completely definitive. The extensive interview with Haynes here is exceptional, but most of it is recycled material from the guy’s commentary track. And the alternate and deleted scenes are interesting, to be sure, but there aren’t all that many of them.

But don’t let this deter you. Your DVD buddy Mike is staring at a pile of DVDs on his desk that need to be reviewed, but he’s saving them for next week’s update: For now, I feel it is my civic duty to spend as much energy as I can in recommending I’m Not There. You may hate it; you might not know enough about Dylan’s life and times to really ‘get it’ (that’s a cop-out response, but that’s a different issue); you very well may make mean comments about me pushing such an atypical film on you.

But in the spirit of Todd, I say: Oh, well.

Watch it. Buy it. Love it.

(cue “Like a Rolling Stone”)