In the New York Times Magazine Robert Sullivan recently explored the illusive nature of Dylan's identity and sees Todd Haynes's new film I'm Not There as capturing "what Dylan is all about...which is changing, transforming, killing off one Dylan and moving to the next, shedding his artistic skin to stay alive." In this context a non-linear, multiple actor portrayal makes perfect "sense", if such a word can be used.
Having recently read Dylan's own Chronicles Vol.1, it is evident that Dylan himself is an illusive character who felt little connection to his own history, and was constantly finding his muse through a diverse range of sources. Once certain expectations of him were established (i.e folk music purist, protest singer) he would reject such conventions and find fertile new ground, seek out a new muse for his often hard to pin down artistic vision.
His shifting persona is captured brilliantly (and satirically) in this description from the Buffalo News in 2001, that Dylan later appropriated and had played at the beginning of his own concerts;
Ladies & Gentlemen please welcome the poet laureate of rock 'n' roll. The voice of promise for the sixties counterculture. The guy who forced folk into bed with rock, who donned makeup in the seventies and disappeared into a haze of substance abuse, who emerged to find Jay-sus, who was written off as a has-been in the late eighties - and who suddenly shifted gears, releasing some of the strongest music of his career beginning in the late nineties"(Read the excellent "Like A Rolling Stone" by Greil Marcus for this and a fantastic contextual analysis of Dylan's music)
When you read his own reflections on his work you get a sense that he was very consciously charting new territory and felt that he was creating a bold new language. Although he was adept at melding an infinite number of influences into his art, it always seemed to take on a dynamic new form through his own unique and ever changing voice. There is a lengthy passage in his book where Dylan describes in great detail his attempts to develop new vocal techniques that would literally alter his voice and make his songs come alive again in a new way.
In many ways language is rarely static and evolves considerably over time. In this context when you think of Dylan as creating a new language, it is feasible that Todd Haynes would capture his constant evolution by using bold snapshots and impressionistic character studies, rather than crafting a traditional linear biopic to tell his story.
Needless to say I am really jazzed about seeing this film, and be warned, I will probably write about it incessantly afterwards. Admittedly I am a late convert to Dylan and in the last few years I have grown to be deeply inspired by his pioneering spirit. More to come on this without a doubt!
If you want to share more of my giddy excitement, check out this clip from YouTube- a scene with Cate Blanchett playing a mid-sixties era Dylan meeting the poet Allen Ginsberg for the first time.