Various Artists I'm Not There Review

Released 2007.  

BBC Review

I’m Not There has to rank as one of the most intelligent, thought-through,...

Michael Quinn 2007

One of the must-see films of the year can also happily boast one of the must-hear soundtracks. How could it be otherwise, with 33 cover versions of classic and cult songs by the 20th Century’s most influential and far-reaching troubadour, Bob Dylan?

I’m Not There is a masterful, multi-faceted collage-portrait of Dylan and the many personae he has adopted during his long life in the spotlight; through the film the iconic American songwriter-cum-poet is played by no less than six actors, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale and Cate Blanchett among them. Yes, that Cate Blanchett. So impressive is her portryal of Dylan, in fact, that it has already earned her a Best Actress Award from the Venice Film Festival to match the Grand Jury Prize for co-writer and director Todd Haynes.

The film’s title is lifted from a much-revered outtake on bootleg set The Genuine Basement Tapes and alludes to the constantly shifting, now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t carapace of Dylan’s carefully crafted (or, depending on your perspective, completely natural) public image.

The soundtrack is a musical smorgasbord of deftly interlocking musical styles dominated by the all-encompassing label of Americana with more than a smattering of Tex-Mex, country-and-western, indie rock, traditional and art-house folk, blues and the occasionally weird and once in a while very wonderful.

Ex-Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder gets things off to a sit up, shut up and pay attention start with a no-nonsense version of “All Along The Watchtower” followed by a smokily slurred take on “I’m Not There” by Sonic Youth which is rather upstaged by the first official release here of Dylan’s own original with The Band.

There are stand-out tracks aplenty with Anthony & The Johnsons’ yearningly brittle “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”, the darkly mordant “Ring Them Bells” given a polished laid-back Californian twist courtesy of Sufjan Stevens and a Calexico-backed Charlotte Gainsborough breathing husky sensual delight into “Just Like A Woman”.

Calexico pop up several times but never with quite the same assured incisiveness as in the mariachi-accented “Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)” with the impeccably grizzled Willie Nelson.

With a who’s-who roster that manages to place Jim James alongside Richie Havens, Cat Power next to John Doe and Roger McGuinn beside Los Lobos without turning the whole thing in a cacophonous car crash, irrespective of how the film turns out, the soundtrack to I’m Not There has to rank as one of the most intelligent, thought-through, stimulating and entertaining albums in any genre in quite some time.

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