Six Degrees of Dylan

‘I’m Not There’ satisfies in a cinematicallly schizophrenic sort of way.

By Nancy Ford

Cate Blanchette as Dylan.

The DVD cover wrap of I’m Not There, Todd Haynes’ dynamic paean to musical iconoclast Bob Dylan is deceptive when it states that six actors “are all Bob Dylan.” The six actors are not meant to portray Dylan, per se, but, rather, seven periods of his life. For example, Marcus Carl Franklin’s Dylan is an eleven-year-old, boxcar-riding itinerant musician—a young black boy calling himself Woody Guthrie, no less—who specializes in early folk songs, like the real Dylan professed having done in his early youth.

Dizzy already? Keep going.

The chameleon-like Cate Blanchette’s “Jude,” a character that reflects the Dylan who toured in the mid-’60s with The Beatles, delivers the most astonishing among these seven distinctively different entities. The gender non-specific Blanchette’s scrawny, strung-out reluctant poet laureate is emblematic of the time of Vietnam and race riots when America looked to music for answers as much as for entertainment.

Heath Ledger as Dylan.

Haynes deftly lifts some of the film’s dialogue directly from Dylan’s original interviews and archival press footage, lending a solid doc-feel to his screenplay. Listen for gems like “You never know how the past will turn out,” and Dylan’s forward-thinking, pro-gay sentiment, ”It’s not what goes into a man’s mouth that defiles him, it’s what comes out of it.”

But from the surreal, homoerotic tones of “Mr. Jones” to the seldom-heard “One More Cup of Coffee,” I’m Not There‘s soundtrack proves that the whining troubadour’s true message is still found in his music.

Reading the DVD’s special features commentary helps prepare the Dylantente’s palette before viewing this movie. But for the   Dylanphiles among us, I’m Not There is an orgasmic banquet. If its multi-actored, back-and-forth-in-time editing is dizzying, it’s dizzying in a good way. Like a tilt-a-whirl in a sideshow carnival, Haynes jerks us one way with Dylan’s magical mystery profane poet period, to his heretical electric era, to the born-again evangelical man of God, and back again. It is to Dylan what Across the Universe is to The Beatles.

I'mNotThereIf we’re left feeling dizzy, imagine how Bob feels every single day. Genius Products, LLC (

Photo captions: I’m Not There‘s exquisite imagery of recognizable LP covers and hat-tips to the ’60s folk/protest era accent all its actors’ brilliant performances, including a painfully introspective Heath Ledger in one of his final roles. Comedian David Cross as the unapologetically gay author Allen Ginsberg is surprisingly on mark as he lecherously pursues one of Dylan’s “personalities.” And the remarkable Julianne Moore, representing an amalgam of the Rambling Boy’s female contemporaries Judy Collins and Joan Baez, sounds almost too much like Baez when she speaks.


Leave a Review or Comment

Back to top button