I’m Not There Directed by: Todd Haynes Written by: Todd Haynes & Oren Moverman (screenplay) Starring: Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, and Richard Gere
Where to begin? Here is a movie with almost no beginning and no end, an interwoven tale about both the same person and six very different ones. It’s fitting that a movie about such a radical is filled with radical notions of its own, at least about filmmaking.
Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There is a visionary look into the life and ever-shifting personas of Bob Dylan. You don’t hear his name once during the two-and-a-half hour journey into his head, but at the end you get something you don’t usually get from biopics: a true understanding and examination of the subject. We don’t follow a single artist as they are discovered to have musical talent, inevitably become famous and then acquire famous people problems. All of these things happen in I’m Not There, but to different characters in different ways.
Howl Directed by: Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman Written by: Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman (screenplay) Starring: James Franco, David Strathairn, Jon Hamm, and Jeff Daniels
There’s a moment in Howl, an aesthetically pleasing rumination on the creation and subsequent censorship trial of the infamous poem by Allen Ginsberg, where one of the many expert witnesses called to the stand is asked to explain its meaning. He remarks that you can’t be asked to translate poetry into prose. So it goes for the rest of the movie, where co-directors and co-writers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman take the poetry of “Howl” and the prose of interviews and court trials surrounding it, and weave a film out of it.
Epstein and Friedman have an insistence on historical accuracy from the beginning. The filmmakers go above the call of the common “Based on a true story,” slogan and instead proclaim that all of the dialogue in this film was uttered by the people it’s attributed to. They even go so far as to say that in that sense, it could be read like a documentary. Once you get a glimpse of the finely arranged frames, the shifting color palettes, and the highly-stylized animation sequences, though, you’ll know it’s something else.
Cate Blanchett has come a long way in a short period of time. One of the actresses to gain momentum in the 2000’s and rise quickly to critical praise, she has become an actress that everyone has seen in at least one movie. It was probably Lord of the Rings, but in no way does that tiny part reveal to us the extraordinary skill this woman posseses. She garnered much of her fame for playing Queen Elizabeth, and became the first person ever to win an Oscar for playing an Oscar-winning actress (Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator.) She selects roles that will take her somewhere new, and by extention she takes us with her. Whether she is a school teacher drawn into an affair with one of her students or Bob Dylan, Blanchett never hesitates to go to places other performers would stumble.