Mag­i­cal mu­si­cal tours

Two au­da­cious mu­si­cals – in­spired by Bob Dylan and The Bea­tles – had screen­ings in Toronto

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film -

TWOyears ago, the Toronto fes­ti­val pre­sented the pre­miere of No Di­rec­tion Home, Martin Scors­ese’s Bob Dylan doc­u­men­tary which re­mained riv­et­ing for four hours but of­fered few ac­tual in­sights into the enigma of its sub­ject. Ear­lier this year Hay­den Christensen played a thinly dis­guised Dylan in Fac­tory Girl, which got the in­ci­den­tal de­tails right but ven­tured no fur­ther.

Now Todd Haynes, the ad­ven­tur­ous di­rec­tor of Safe and Far from Heaven, goes the dis­tance with I’m Not There, which takes its ti­tle from a Dylan track on The Base­ment Tapes. An open­ing credit states that the movie was “in­spired by the mu­sic and many lives of Bob Dylan” and, given that Dylan rein­vented him­self so of­ten, Haynes imag­i­na­tively chose six ac­tors to en­act those many lives. (Dylan’s name is never men­tioned in the movie.)

The au­da­cious na­ture of the en­ter­prise is em­pha­sised in es­tab­lish­ing the first Dylan sur­ro­gate, a charm­ing 11-year-old black boy (Mar­cus Carl Franklin) who rides the rails with ho­bos, in­tro­duces him­self as Woody Guthrie and car­ries a gui­tar case em­bla­zoned “This ma­chine kills Fas­cists”.

Next up is Dylan as a 19-year-old poet (Ben Whishaw) who calls him­self Arthur Rim­buad. He is fol­lowed by Jack Rollins, the early 1960s folk singer her­alded by the New York Times as the “trou­ba­dour of con­science” and played in the film’s most con- vinc­ing im­per­son­ation of Dylan, phys­i­cally and in speak­ing and singing voices, by the re­doubtable Chris­tian Bale.

Heath Ledger ably takes over as Dylan’s next in­car­na­tion, a wom­an­is­ing ac­tor, be­fore Haynes brings on his most dar­ing cast­ing. Cate Blanchett re­sponds in­ge­niously to the chal­lenge, an­drog­y­nous with friz­zled hair, polka dot shirt and tight tweed jacket. Fi­nally, in a town called Rid­dle cre­ated with all the ar­ti­fice of a movie set, there is the older, griz­zled Dylan (Richard Gere), named Billy the Kid in a ref­er­ence to the Sam Peck­in­pah west­ern that fea­tured Dylan.

Change is the re­cur­ring theme through­out I’m Not There, which is as thought­ful as it is play­ful: change in Dylan’s var­i­ous per­sonal re­la­tion­ships (“I love­women; ev­ery­one should have one,” he quips); change when he hor­ri­fies his fol­low­ers by turn­ing from acous­tic to elec­tric gui­tar; and change­when he is de­rided as mid­dle­class for aban­don­ing so­cial­ist themes.

The mu­sic of the Fab Four is at the essence of the other highly stylised mag­i­cal mu­si­cal tour un­veiled at Toronto this week, Julie Tay­mor’s rhap­sodic Across the Uni­verse.

The film takes its ti­tle from one of 33 Bea­tles songs on the sound­track, and its open­ing line from an­other (Girl), when a young Liver­pool dock worker plain­tively sings, “Is there any­body go­ing to lis­ten to my story?” Hey, it’s Jude, played by new­comer Jim Sturgess, whose glow­ing screen pres­ence matches his singing voice. The movie fol­lows Jude when he moves to the US in the late 1960s, dis­cov­ers the counter-cul­ture and falls in love with a rad­i­cal Prince­ton stu­dent named Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood).

This is a new, deliri­ously full-on mu­si­cal in which the nar­ra­tive is ad­vanced through the lyrics of mostly clas­sic com­po­si­tions from 40-plus years ago, and spiked with a con­tem­po­rary rel­e­vance.

Across the Uni­verse is a unique achieve­ment, bold, burst­ing with creative ideas and suf­fused with witty Bea­tles ref­er­ences, and the sound­track is, as it has to be, a knock­out. Be­cause it is so un­con­ven­tional in terms of main­stream cin­ema, you’ll ei­ther love it or hate it. I loved it.

MICHAEL DWYER

Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan

in I’m Not There (above).

Across the Uni­verse (left)

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