I'm not There

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Venice International Film Festival

VENICE, Italy -- Todd Haynes' highly impressionistic docudrama "I'm Not There" is "inspired by the life and work of Bob Dylan," though pop's leading troubadour is not mentioned, barely seen and not heard very much in the production.

Instead, an eclectic mix of actors including Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett and Richard Gere portray characters whose lives run parallel to or are informed by Dylan's life. There's plenty of the singer-songwriter's music on hand but sung by others. Filled with incidents that echo famous moments in Dylan's life, the goal is to summarize all the disparate elements in his career.

A long film, at 135 minutes, it's difficult to see who the prime audience will be for the picture, screened in competition at the Venice Film Festival. It's a curiosity that could delight or turn off loyal Dylan fans and may prove too oddball to draw in younger and mainstream audiences.

The guiding principal of Dylan's life is declared right at the start as a character who calls himself Woody Guthrie, an 11-year-old black guitar picker played by Marcus Carl Franklin, is advised to "live your own time, child, sing about your own time."

Woody rides the rails and tells stories about the days of the Depression, but in another incarnation, Jack Rollins (Bale), he starts to create the songs that stunned and inspired a generation.

The film jumps all over the place, introducing Arthur (Ben Whishaw), a view of the man as young poet, and then as an actor named Robbie (Ledger), who shows his romantic side. Many scenes are given over to Jude Quinn (Blanchett), the colorful, wisecracking Dylan from the '60s. But then it's back again to Bale, only now he's Pastor John, in a role that illustrates the performer's Christian conversion and decade as a gospel singer.

Finally, there is a passage about Billy the Kid (Gere), who survives his encounter with Sheriff Pat Garrett to live a quiet life in a place named Riddle until events conspire to bring him to public attention again.

Haynes directs all of these people and places with great flair, helped immensely by cinematographer Edward Lachman and his mostly inspired cast. Whishaw, an intense young British stage actor, speaks directly to the camera, while Bale inhabits both the younger Dylan and the religious convert with typical concentration.

Gere is effective in the Western sequence, though that segment's relevance is difficult to grasp. True, Dylan co-starred in Sam Peckinpah's film about William Bonney.

The star of the show is undoubtedly Blanchett, who has great fun playing Dylan as a showboat who quite knowingly goes about creating his reputation for rebellious independence.

Randall Poster and Jim Dunbar put together the musical soundtrack, which features the obscure Dylan title track from "The Basement Tapes," which he recorded with the Band at Woodstock in 1967. There's also a new cover version by Sonic Youth.

The film is said to have the endorsement of Dylan, which must have taken some courage given the ragged edges of his life on display. But the film fits well with his singular ability to reinvent himself while really putting us nowhere nearer to fully understanding the man.

I'M NOT THERE
Killer Films
Director: Todd Haynes
Writers: Todd Haynes, Oren Moverman
Producers: Christine Vachon, James D. Stern, John Sloss, John Goldwyn
Director of photography: Edward Lachman
Production designer: Judy Becker
Music: Randall Poster, Jim Dunbar
Costume designer: John Dunn
Editor: Jay Rabinowitz
Cast:
Jack/Pastor John: Christian Bale
Jude: Cate Blanchett
Woody: Marcus Carl Franklin
Billy: Richard Gere
Robbie: Heath Ledger
Arthur: Ben Whishaw
Claire: Charlotte Gainsbourg
Allen Ginsberg: David Cross
Keenan Jones: Bruce Greenwood
Alice Fabian: Julianne Moore
Coco Rivington: Michelle Williams
Running time -- 135 minutes
MPAA rating: R
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