I'm Not There: Bob Dylan's Perfect Mint Julep

Year Released: 2007
Directed by: Todd Haynes
Starring: Cate Blanchett Christian Bale, Richard, Gere Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw, Marcus Carl Franklin
(R, 135 min.)

"All I can do is be me. Whoever that is." Bob Dylan

To capture the enigmatic Bob Dylan it takes not one but six actors, each depicting, more or less, one stage of his development. When the film succeeds, it is bold and daring; when it fails it is too clever by half and risks competing with rather than chronicling the legendary icon.

It is “inspired by true, exaggerated and imagined stories,” which gives director Todd Haynes almost as much creative license as the great American singer/poet himself. Surprisingly enough, the one who seems to get Dylan the best is Cate Blanchett in her role as “Jude Quinn,” playing Dylan in the early sixties, just about the time his career was peaking. He was seduced and suckered by his success by then, branded as a traitor when he went electric at the Newport Folk Festival, and questioned mercilessly by the prim British press on his London tour.

Blanchette captures that Peter Pan Dylan, the boy/man who rebels at the trappings of fame, who smokes and dopes his way through its obligations with nervous ticks and slurred imprecations. But there is an innocence and integrity that shines through as well. Long after the party has faded, leaving only sleeping forms camped out on sofas, Dylan is up typing his poetry, compelled to pursue his Muse. There is also one hilariously irreverent scene with Blanchette’s Dylan and poet Allen Ginsberg (David Cross) gazing up at a life-sized sculptured crucifix, “How does it feel?” a slightly tipsy Dylan asks, repeating the famous opening from his "Like a Rolling Stone." 

The other portrayal that resonates is the one featuring Heath Ledger’s Robbie as actor playing a Dylan like figure. We see his marriage to Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) from its first rapture through its gradual promiscuous disintegration, the pain of betrayal written as surely across Claire’s sensitive face as it probably was upon Dylan’s Sara, with whom he had four children during their twelve year marriage. The fact that Robbie is merely an actor portraying a Dylan like character is perhaps a sly comment on Dylan’s elusive identity or his self-conscious showmanship and endless reinventions.

The self created mythos is also explored in a rail riding, guitar slinging “Woody Guthrie;” of course not the real Woody Guthrie, who at the time was slowly losing himself to the ravages of Huntington’s disease, but a thirteen year old Black boy who emulates the folk singer in the same way the real Bob Dylan did. The fact that the year is 1959 and the young adolescent is singing about the Depression and the Dust Bowl as though he lived through them reinforces the picture of young Bob Dylan borrowing an identity and style in his early years.

Christian Bale plays Jack, the Dylan like figure acted out by Robbie – don’t try too hard to figure this out - in both his early years and then his born again ones. The normally transcendent actor doesn’t shine here, but it’s probably more to do with the thin scripting than anything else. Ben Whishaw as Dylan’s favorite poet Arthur Rimbaud, a Frenchman from the nineteenth century, mumbles some tripe that left literally no impression on me. And finally, Richard Gere plays Dylan as Billie the Kid in a surreal Western town, another artifice that failed to reach this reviewer.

Perhaps we’d be better laying off gilding the lily and just letting the life and music of Bob Dylan speak for itself, as Martin Scorsese did in his No Direction Home, a beautiful biography overflowing with “home movies, and history-making concert footage, fascinating interviews with Dylan’s friends and fellow performers, and of course, Dylan himself, talking so frankly about…his life.”

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

Let’s face it. We are more comfortable getting drink than food recipes from Old Bob. Razor thin and on the road all those years, I don’t think he spent too much time at the kitchen table, unless it was to write his song lyrics.

The bar is another story altogether. And while we think of Bob and his Minnesota roots, the New York scene, and his endless road tours, it seems the more mellow fellow of recent years has a liking for the genteel offerings of the South.

Here is his preferred method for making the Perfect Mint Julep.

Bob Dylan's Perfect Mint Julep

Bob Dylan described in his Theme Time Radio Hour episode #3 how to make, by his preferences, a perfect mint julep:

“First up, you take four mint sprigs, two and a half ounces of bourbon I'd put three. A tablespoon of powdered sugar, and a tablespoon of water. You put the mint leaves, powdered sugar and water in a Collins glass.You fill the glass with shaved, or crushed ice, and then add bourbon. Top that off with more ice. And...I'd like to garnish that with a mint sprig. Serve it with a straw. Two or three of those, and anything sounds good.

Recipe Source: Wikipedia.org