(BY ALI NADERZAD, SCREENCOMMENT) That Todd Haynes’s films are slowly finding their way into the avant-guarde canon is becoming a fact. They are always marvelously inventive and Haynes isn’t afraid to venture into the slimy belly of the beast. He apparently sees life through a different lens than you and I. Films like Poison and Safe have caused furors, which of course lends a degree of subversiveness—however likely unwanted—to a director who favors creating experiences over filmmaking. The Karen Carpenter film which teemed with barbie dolls, the soporific Velvet Goldmine, and now I Am Not There, Haynes’ rumination on Bob Dylan’s singing career. In all these, Haynes hedges oblivious characters against an era’s psychological, social and cultural thorn: AIDS, homosexuality, feminism, etc. and he does so in explicitly-created settings, which helps to lend a Haynes movie its inherent theatricality. In I Am Not There, Dylan is framed as a fleeting eccentric, dodging reporters’ questions and his fans’outraged (and outrageous) expectations. The day in May 1966 at London’s Albert Hall when Dylan launched into an electrifying rock set, the crowd was infuriated. Why is Dylan no longer doing folk, lamented his fans before turning violent? Other questions about the elusive Dylan That Todd Haynes chose to use six actors to play different Bob Dylans that are poles apart could be surmised as a conceit. Because it is. But since this is a Todd Haynes movie, we ought to accept this as part-and-parcel of the spectacle. We’re in on the act, and so are you. The trick is well worn, especially when one of these Dylans is played by Cate Blanchett—she’s just a marvelous actor, isn’t she? That deepened voice is gimmicky, yes, but you get used to it. Blanchet relishes her role as a downtrodden Dylan who’s poised to leap at his detractors and his hissing fans. Though the film jumps back and forth in time, the Dylans (played by Blanchett, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw, Christian Bale, Marcus Carl Franklin and Richard Gere) appear more or less in chronological order. There’s Dylan as a young hobo (Marcus Carl Franklin), jumping on a train headed to New York and making a living with a song and a poem—he introduces himself as Woody Guthrie, a nod to the folk singer whom Dylan apparently embodied in the early stages of his career. Jack (Christian Bale) is a protest singer who hangs out in the Greenwich Village clubs, glaring at the ever-present camera (superb black and white stills were shot for the film and inserted rhythmically, showing Bale-as-Dylan with Joan Baez, played by Julianne Moore, on stage, at home, etc). With the appearance of Robbie (Heath Ledger) the conceit begins to wear a little thin. This is fictional Dylan, a Hollywood actor in the throes of a collapsing marriage (the wife is played by Charlotte Gainsbourg). Dylan’s hang-ups on women framed by the era’s sexual politics are all on display, but the film loses steam; film and music mesh too neatly and the script runs on its own self-aware fumes. And Ledger’s Jack is far eclipsed by Charlotte Gainsbourg’s subtle and far-superior performance. Finally, Richard Gere plays Billy the Kid, that unkempt facet of Bob Dylan supposed to represent a rebellious icon and a nod to 70s Westerns. There’s a carnival in town, as Billy discovers while riding through the village (he resides in a cabin in the woods). Haynes shows us clowns and costumed kids who turn to watch as the camera pans across the village square—a giraffe steps up to inquire. It’s very Felliniesque, in fact. But that’s just the problem. This has already been done, and much better, by someone else—years ago. Why return to this familiar scene? At times Haynes emulates too much and the film become predictable. But all in all, though at times unequal, I Am Not There is a definite must-see. (THREE STARS)

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