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I did not grow up listening to the music of Bob Dylan. Dylan’s lyrics did not inform my politics nor shape my adolescence, nor blow my mind. I’m unfazed and amused by all the Dylanology and Dylanography and Dylanerbole that can be found in Todd Haynes’ generation. I’m Not There is made for you, and not for me.

Biography

Todd Haynes shatters Dylan into 6 pieces and reassembles him
Todd Haynes shatters Dylan into 6 pieces and reassembles him

“Inspired by the many lives of Bob Dylan,” I’m Not There interweaves six stories, each one a facet of the same man.

The structure of Haynes’ screenplay is an inspired way to tackle biography. We all have many faces. The “me” on my resume is different from the “me” my wife knows. Someone who knows my professional reputation knows a different me than the prosecutor who’s trying to pin me down in court. What Todd Haynes does is to let Bob Dylan shatter into six facets, polish the rough edges, and reassemble them into a mosaic portrait that looks a lot like Bob Dylan.

For facts and information, you might be better off with Wikipedia than this biopic. Haynes admits to taking liberties with the many Dylans in I’m Not There. Some of the characters are based on fictions Dylan himself told. But this Rashomon-like approach works well as entertainment. Each of the six is almost a caricatures, larger than life in some way, unburdened by the demands put on an objective reporter.

I’m Not Care

Watching the audio commentary, it becomes clear that this movie really is for the die-hard, fanatical followers of Dylan. Many details are thrown in from obscure bootleg tapes or footage from unreleased documentaries or unpublished notebooks from Dylan’s childhood. It’s like a game. Haynes points out, for example, that a certain extra is wearing the very Halloween costume Dylan described in some off-the-cuff remark. That kind of trivia might thrill the super-fans, and yet it doesn’t really add a thing to the enjoyment of the movie for us normal folks.

And yet, even if you don’t play that game, I’m Not There is pretty good. It features good storytelling, a novel approach to characterization, great photography, and of course, very good music.

But this film really is for the deep, deep fans of Dylan. If you’re not among them, you are probably missing much of the point. I’m guessing that those who called I’m Not There one of the best films of 2007 are half a generation older than me.

DVD Extras

Haynes’ audio commentary on disc 1 is one of the best audio commentaries I’ve heard in a long while. Haynes is always talking. He doesn’t have that zombie tone some commentators get when they are too busy watching the movie to speak coherently. He’s well prepared; he has a handful of quotes from various sources ready to go when the right scene comes up. In short, he has done his homework so that he’s always on-topic (which I really appreciate; thank you, Todd Haynes, for not wasting my time).

Disc 1 also has two text-only introductions to the film. These are easy reads and worth looking at if you aren’t sure what you’re about to get into.

Disc 2 has all the stuff you’d expect on a DVD: deleted scenes, alternate takes, outtakes, and auditions. There is also a documentary featurette, A Conversation with Todd Haynes and a “Dylanography”.

Picture and Sound

The photography in I’m Not There is surprisingly diverse, from Fellini-esque black and white, to green-shifted nostalgic expressionism, to straight dramatic color cinematography. Each style looks very good on a high definition TV.

How to Use This DVD

How you use this DVD will depend on whether you’re a Dylanophile or just someone watching a movie.

If you’re the latter, just watch the movie on disc 1 and call it good.

If you’re the former, then you’ll want to start by watching the movie. If you saw the movie at theaters, then skip a re-watch and start with the audio commentary by Haynes to see what you might have missed. Then make your way through the myriad materials on disc 2. Give yourself a couple of nights to get through it all.