11:00 AM GMT 29/10/2012
MOJO: What kind of a Dylan fan were you, growing up?
Todd Haynes: I definitely began as a pure fan in my high school years. I’m sure I’d heard the folk Dylan when I was a little kid but it was in high school that I discovered the records for myself: Greatest Hits, Blonde On Blonde, Blood On The Tracks. And for those few years in LA at High School I was into Dylan, Joni, Neil Young… then in the late ’70s I basically stopped listening to Dylan, for about 20 years, from the lesser Christian records onwards. I feel very lucky that I was a child under the hippies, an adolescent for punk, and a young adult for later Bowie and the new-wave, alienated, ironic music that followed. I was very in the right place at the right time and at the end of my thirties when I was wearing out on my New York life after Velvet Goldmine I found myself hungering for Dylan again and it was some bizarre signal that I needed some of that change in my life… It wasn’t for the Dylan of the moment but a return to the Dylan I knew who was fearless about change, about the promise of what was around the corner. That’s what started this new obsession with Dylan, which in turn led to this film. This film would be about change and regeneration and there’s no more powerful place to look for that than Bob Dylan.
What was the starting point for this idea of the six Dylans?
That came right on the tail end of this flood of interest in Dylan. I was being taken back into his music and discovering “new” old stuff like the complete Basement Tapes collection and the first Columbia Bootleg series. Greil Marcus’s Invisible Republic chaperoned the experience and was so creatively inspiring. Then there were his mid-’60s interviews – particularly the Playboy interview with Nat Hentoff – which I found to be such wildly performative acts that they almost begged to be performed again. Then I’d read biographies that continued to reiterate this description of somebody changing in front of your eyes, for whom each change was wholly committed where there was an almost built-in disavowal of everything that came before. OK, I thought, this is the way to get to the core of this character, let’s split him up into different people… Wow, that would be a cool way to make a movie! I called [producer] Christine [Vachon] and said, almost sheepishly, “I have an idea… Dylan!” thinking we’d just laugh at each other and she said, “Don’t write anything yet. Let’s approach the powers that be.” So the concept that was presented to Dylan was almost identical to the finished film we would make seven years later. I met with [Bob’s son] Jesse Dylan and [Dylan manager] Jeff Rosen, and described the idea. They told me to write something out on one sheet of paper… It was called I’m Not There: Suppositions On A Film Concerning Bob Dylan. It had the descriptions of seven characters…
Which Dylan missed the cut?
This character named Charlie. Traces of Charlie remain. It would have been a silent-screen all-in-one story that would show a magical figure, a little tramp, coming to Greenwich Village and performing these feats of magic and being an arbiter of peace between the beats and the folkies. Dylan’s described as Chaplinesque so many times in those early performances… and this is where I see the direct line from his middle-class Jewish roots where he had that ability to be completely innocent while his cap rolled off his head and fell on the floor and he reached down and fell off the stool. There’s a direct line there to the ’50s Borscht Belt comedians, especially those talking blues songs he sang, which had a droll, innocent wit.
Did you have a favourite Dylan?
It wasn’t my plan or project to have a favourite but the film does reflect my own interests and I guess Jude [Cate Blanchett’s electric Dylan] carried a dramatic weight. He was such a weird marionette figure then, with his huge head, and I wanted to re-infuse that period with strangeness and it had to be made more strange, the way gears would start to shift around him, the residual cost of self-abuse, of putting yourself out there and the repercussions of disappointing and confusing people, the psychic weight of that, despite how much it seemed that he was just kicking the dust back in their faces and charging ahead. It was an incredibly dangerous period for him physically and psychically. That felt like the film’s three-quarter mark, and would propel us into the final chapters of the movie as well as being one of the most fascinating moments in his life…
It’s an astonishing performance, the most famous Dylan and being a woman playing a man and all the expectations that brings. It could have become superficial but she circumvented that and went straight to the core. It’s really astonishing.
Has Dylan seen it?
We don’t know yet. He has a DVD of it in his suitcase and that’s the last I’ve heard. It’s crazy. It’s probably sitting next to all the bolo shirts that he wears every night and the weird old westerns and film noirs he watches…
Interview: Andrew Male
Posted by Danny_Eccleston at 3:16 PM GMT 06/12/2007