Episode 3 – I’m Not There

This week we jump ahead to one of Cate Blanchett’s most fascinating transformations; as a version of Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There (2007).

Host: Murtada Elfadl, some of Murtada’s film writing can be found here.

Guest : Chris Feil, some of Chris’ film writing can be found here. Listen to his Oscar podcast, This Had Oscar Buzz.

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  • What is the film about?

From imdb: Ruminations on the life of Bob Dylan, where six characters embody a different aspect of the musician’s life and work.

  • When did it come out?

November 2007.

  • Who does Cate play?

Jude Quinn; a riff on electric guitar 60s counter revolutionary Dylan.

  • How is Cate introduced?

A dead corpse in the opening of the film, then at min 46 as Jude Quinn with a long VO intro, comes out guitar in hand, then shoots the audience with machine guns.

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Topics discussed:

  • Is this performance mimicry, a trick or much more? Did she find the soul behind the mannerisms?
  • Why was Cate singled out as the standout performance? Beyond genderbending what’s special about the performance?
  • Could we make the case for this being her best performance ever?
  • Which of the 6 Dylan personas work and which don’t? Why? Discussion the other performances.
  • Michelle Williams as Edgie Sedgwick and Julianne Moore as Joan Baez.
  • It’s an inventive way of making a biopic by having a take on its many different styles. Does it work?
  • D. A. Pennebaker’s 1967 documentary, “Don’t Look Back,” some of which Haynes remakes shot for shot.
  • Has the recent corporatization of music biopics – Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman, Yesterday – changed our perception of I’m Not There?

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Famous quotes by the character:

Saying ’cause of peace’, it’s like saying, ‘hunk of butter’, you know, I don’t want you to listen to anybody who wants you to believe is dedicated to the hunk and not the butter

Scenes we liked:

  • Some images are breathtaking, especially the framing of Cate walking through a corridor.
  • Press conference, meeting Ginsberg, Cate’s final shot looking straight at the camera.

What seemed off:

  • What AO Scott called “occasional exasperation at Mr. Haynes sprawling, hectic virtuosity.”

Film within context of Cate’s career:

Film within the context of year it’s been released:

Festivals: Venice, where Cate won the Volpi Cup as best actress.

Awards: Oscar nominee, Golden Globe winner (the year it was not televised), Indie Spirit winner, NSFC winner.

Reviews of film / Cate:

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.” – The Hollywood Reporter.

Stylistically audacious in the way it employs six different actors and assorted visual styles to depict various aspects of the troubadour’s life and career, the film nevertheless lacks a narrative and a center, much like the “ghost” at its core.” – Todd McCarthy, Variety.

“If the new film does cohere, for a while, that is thanks to Cate Blanchett, who, armed with curly wig and shades, delivers Jude Quinn, the most gripping of the Dylans on display. She looks like Elizabeth I after a long night out with Walter Raleigh and his packet of virgin smokes. Blanchett seems to yield herself to the project with more gusto and curiosity than the others, as if there were truths about Dylan that need to be unearthed, not merely toyed with, and she is unafraid to remind us of what a pain the man could be, especially when stoned, but even she has to wrestle with the camp knowingness of the script (“I’m the only one with any balls”) and, more alarming, with the flimsiness of the context.” – Anthony Lane, The New Yorker.

Cate Blanchett, under Wayfarers and frizzy hair, does a spectacular, soul-on-the-sleeve enactment of Dylan in his Don’t Look Back media-put-on phase. Blanchett makes Dylan a cussed dude who uses his wit to wound, and Haynes’ slyest joke is that the actress, from her lurching marionette posture to her boyish cheekbones to her slurry misanthropic mumble, is the film’s most exquisitely spot-on Bob.” – Owen Gleiberman, EW.

“Mr. Haynes’s film hurls a Molotov cocktail through the facade of the Hollywood biopic factory, exploding the literal-minded, anti-intellectual assumptions that guide even the most admiring cinematic explorations of artists’ lives. Rather than turn out yet another dutiful, linear chronicle of childhood trauma and grown-up substance abuse, Mr. Haynes has produced a dizzying palimpsest of images and styles, in which his subject appears in the form of six different people.”AO Scott, NY Times.

Haynes is not what one would call a natural filmmaker. His ideas are too evident, his schemata overly present. He is, however, a sort of natural Brechtian: His actors are always “quoting.” I’m Not There gets surprisingly naturalistic performances from Ledger and especially Bale. But it’s the blatant alienation effect provided by Marcus Carl Franklin and Cate Blanchett’s fastidiously copied mannerisms that truly dramatize the self-invented, sheer sui generis–ness of the Dylan trip.”-J Hoberman, The Village Voice.

Cate in relation to these co-stars, director, costume designer:

  • Her first collaboration with Haynes. Later Carol.We all owe a great debt of thanks To Todd Haynes’ body of work which has always been independent“ she said accepting the Indie Spirit award.

Press coverage other than reviews:

  • Todd Haynes to Rolling Stone on why he chose an actress for Jude:

“It was written and conceived as an actress to play the part of Jude from the beginning, before I knew it would be Cate. It was really just that moment in Dylan’s life. What was insane about the way Dylan looked in 1966 was that emaciated body, gigantic hair, the flying hands and the sort of weird marionette figure who was obviously exploring drugs and living on the edge. After the motorcycle crash, there was no flying hands, no big hair, no tiny, skinny body. That Dylan was gone forever. That’s such a famous image of Dylan. I wanted to try to reinfuse it with the cultural shock value of seeing that for the first time in 1965, ’66. So I thought an actress could be interesting, because there was an androgyny there. It wasn’t a Bowie androgyny, it was more a Patti Smith androgyny he was channeling.”

“She realised, she says, that Haynes wanted her to “inhabit the silhouette” of 1966 Dylan. “That’s why he’s cast a woman, because it’s the most iconic silhouette of his musical career. It was a really ironic gesture and also very clever. If a man played the role, people would have assessed it in a different way, whereas they’ve been able to get into the strangeness of what Dylan must have been like in that period by the very fact that I’m a woman. I don’t think it’s anything I’ve necessarily done.”

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Blanchett with Haynes at the 2016 Oscars (this is also Chris’ favorite Cate red carpet moment)
  • Haynes on Cate and “the frame,” in an interview with The Film Stage:

“I have to say, the really extraordinary actors I’ve worked with really do care about the frame, when I was working with Cate Blanchett on I’m Not There, she was playing a man in this role of Jude. She would look at playback. She didn’t look out of a sense of vanity; she just wanted to see how her hips were being filmed and how to place her body in the frame to minimize the broadest curves of her female hips. Sometimes it’s very technical reasons why actors want to see what the frame is. It’s all relevant. It all plays into what is the language and the style, and how is that style informing the interpretation of the storytelling and character. I find some of these extraordinary people I’ve been lucky to work with ask questions about the frame, and it’s always for reasons of how they’re going to interpret their performance accordingly.”

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