An examination of director Todd Haynes and his Bob Dylan biopic.
As the first and only Bob Dylan “biopic,” I’m Not There caused a stir when released in 2007. Offering a surreal retelling of moments from Dylan’s life and career, the film is perhaps best known for its distinctive approach to casting, including Cate Blanchett and Marcus Carl Franklin, a Black child actor, as versions of Dylan though none of the characters bear his name. Greenlit by Bob Dylan himself, the film uses Dylan’s music as a score, a triumph for famed queer filmmaker Todd Haynes after encountering issues with copyright in previous projects.
Noah Tsika eloquently characterizes all the ways that Dylan and Haynes harmonize in their methods and sensibilities, interpreting the rule-breaking film as a biography that refuses chronology, disdains factual accuracy, flirts with libel, and cannibalizes Western cinema. Fitting the film’s inspiration, creation, and reception alongside its continuing afterlife, Tsika examines Dylan’s music in the film through the context of intellectual property, raising questions about who owns artistic material and artistic identities and how such material can be reused and repurposed. Tsika’s adventurous analysis touches on gender, race, queerness, celebrity, popular culture, and the law, while offering much to Haynes and Dylan fans alike.
Noah Tsika is a professor of media studies at Queens College, CUNY. He is the author of Cinematic Independence: Constructing the Big Screen in Nigeria, Screening the Police: Film and Law Enforcement in the United States, Pink 2.0: Encoding Queer Cinema on the Internet, and other books on film.
Noah Tsika’s book is a delightful, adventurous, eye-opening read, and you needn’t be an aficionado of Dylan, of Haynes, or of I’m Not There to feel that way. Tsika has written an ideal study for newcomers and devotees—suggestive, sharp-eyed, vivacious, unpretentiously erudite, and persuasive in its claims while preserving the movie’s mysteries.
~Nick Davis, The Desiring-Image: Gilles Deleuze and Contemporary Queer Cinema
In I’m Not There (21st Century Film Essentials), Noah Tsika analyzes Haynes’ audacious 2007 Bob Dylan (sort of) biopic, which the author believes 'is perhaps the least studied' of the director’s films. The text establishes, however, that the film is more than worthy of deep consideration. Tsika even details how the film connects with Haynes’ career-long battles with trademark and copyright issues. All told, this is a truly essential study of a film that seems even bolder now than it did in 2007.
~The Film Stage
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