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'I'm Not There'

Director Todd Haynes splits Bob Dylan into six personae, trying to get at the folk singer's mystique — and adds a layer or two of mystique in the process.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. We like our pop stars complicated, after all, and no one could accuse the filmmaker of simplifying Dylan, even as he chops him into bite-sized portions for the delectation of Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett and other performers.

Some do outright imitations (Blanchett as a folkie straying from acoustic roots), while others offer symbolic impersonations (14-year-old African-American actor Marcus Carl Franklin playing a hobo named Woody Guthrie).

And while the director is doing all that, you might say he's exhibiting a few of his own personae as well — Haynes the formalist of Far From Heaven, Haynes the experimenter of The Karen Carpenter Story, Haynes the musicologist of Velvet Goldmine — while around his Dylan-doppelgangers he builds mini-films in the styles of such '60s and '70s auteurs as Fellini, Peckinpah, and Godard.

All of which adds up to what, exactly? Well, more than an art-house jukebox musical, certainly, but less than a musical bio-pic of the sort likely to be embraced by audiences who aren't already deeply familiar with the Dylan mythology.

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.
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