Director Todd Haynes‘ thoughtful, meticulous, enthusiastic DVD commentary for I’m Not There isn’t going to convince anyone who didn’t like this blazingly original Bob Dylan biopic that it’s much more than a clever but cold experiment in film history and theory. In talking about this audacious movie — which used six actors to portray Dylan at various stages of his career — Haynes notes that he was ”trying to incorporate the language of ’60s cinema in the way each of the stories are told.” Haynes points out scenes that he framed as homages to Jean-Luc Godard films like Masculin-Féminin. He also flags moments that he says he cribbed from older movies like Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe and Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd.
This is meaty stuff for those who are already Haynes fans (count me in), but does it make more casual DVD viewers, or even casual Dylan buffs, any more likely to watch this two-hour-plus movie? I think so. Let me put forth an idea that will probably appall cinema purists and even fellow Todd Haynes fans: When you watch I’m Not There on DVD, you can fast-forward through the parts that some initial viewers thought were slow or lumpy. I’m thinking particularly of Richard Gere playing Dylan during the late ’60s/early ’70s — the post-motorcycle-accident, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid era — which Haynes renders in leisurely paced scenes, alternately pastoral or phantasmagorical. If those moments seem tedious to you, skip ’em — it’s not as though you’re not going to be able to follow the arc of the Dylan story, and why deprive yourself of the rest of the movie, with its fascinating takes on Dylan’s ever-changing personas via Cate Blanchett (as the mid-’60s, rock-star Dylan) and Heath Ledger (playing an actor with a troubled personal life playing Dylan — Haynes is nothing if not self-conscious)?
I’m Not There holds up on DVD not merely as a bold experiment but as a moving creation, the latter enhanced by this release’s extras. In addition to Haynes’ engrossing commentary, there’s a fine mini-documentary about the movie’s enthralling soundtrack, for which contemporary acts like Sonic Youth recorded exemplary Dylan covers. If the ”Auditions” extra doesn’t give us the one we really crave — seeing Blanchett morph into Dylan — it includes charming scenes of an 11-year-old Marcus Carl Franklin trying out his best early-hobo Dylan. We also get to see the rather famous one-page project summary Haynes was asked to write for Dylan to secure (successfully) the singer-songwriter’s permission to use his music.
Haynes says he was, at bottom, trying to ”embrace what was radical about Dylan” and show his ”genuine weirdness.” In these areas, I’m Not There is all there. A-