/ 5 September 2007

Blanchett’s take on Dylan has critics raving

With hair teased into the familiar bird’s nest of frizz, cigarette dangling from lips or fingers and impenetrably dark shades fixed in place, Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of Bob Dylan is already being tipped for Oscar success. Yet as Todd Haynes’s surreal biopic I’m Not There was premiered at the Venice film festival on Tuesdya, the director revealed that the Australian actor’s decision to take on the role had been far from instant.

The prospect of tackling the legendary singer had, in fact, terrified her.

Critics in Venice have been astonished by Blanchett’s performance. She is one of six actors playing characters meant to represent Dylan at different points in his career, and hers is not the only unorthodox casting: a black actor in his early teens, Marcus Carl Franklin, plays the musician as he arrives as an unknown in New York at the age of 20, while 57-year-old Richard Gere represents him at the age of 32. Heath Ledger and British actors Christian Bale and Ben Whishaw take on other periods.

Dylan (66) has given his blessing to the project. It will initially open in just four cinemas in America.

On Tuesday Haynes said ”Jude”, the representation of Dylan in the mid-60s when he was becoming an international star and shocked folk followers by going electric, was always meant to be played by a woman. ”I felt it was the only way to resurrect the true strangeness of Dylan’s physical being in 1966, which I felt had lost its historical shock value over the years,” he told reporters.

He added: ”Cate was scared; she told me many times that this was a very scary challenge for her. It took her a long time to commit to it … I told her it’s good to be terrified, that you’re taking a risk and sometimes that’s really when the surprises happen. I guess it at least convinced her to give it a shot.”

Dylan’s approval was perhaps down to the film’s open-ended nature, he said. ”There have been documentaries but this is the first dramatic film about his life which he has ever given his consent to,” Haynes said. ”He has a tremendous sense of humour about the way he has been characterised. I think that’s a really healthy attitude and he saw something similar in this film.”

Gere described the script as ”bizarre” but said he jumped at the chance to be involved. ”I think Dylan is probably the only artist in our time who will still be considered 200 or 300 years from now. It’s not Picasso, it’s Bob Dylan,” he said. ”No one has had more effect on the world of art.”

The film, backed by the Weinstein Company, mixes black-and-white footage with colour sequences and real news footage of United States protests in the 1960s and scenes from the Vietnam war.

Haynes said of its unusual structure: ”The way we look back on our own lives is in fragments. Music is a way that we do time travel, that unlocks moments in our past. The best and most enjoyable way to watch the film is to let it wash over you like a dream.” – Guardian Unlimited Â