Haynes’s Dylan is Not Your Dylan… Or is It?

I am not a huge Bob Dylan fan so I don’t get the obsessive behavior of most with regard to the artist. However, I am a huge Prince fan and follow most everything the little guy does so I can understand people being infatuated with a musician, but since Dylan isn’t a name that pops into my list of favorites I am in the dark when it comes to his life and works. That doesn’t mean I am not intrigued by the upcoming film I’m Not There from writer/director Todd Haynes and the New York Times has put together an eight page feature on the film and the director that is worth a read.

As far as the film is concerned the first couple of pages are where you are going to want to focus and the big Dylan fans may be interested to learn that the “Times” says that Haynes’s Dylan film is not about Dylan. What? I will let “Times” writer Robert Sullivan explain:

Todd Haynes’s Dylan film isn’t about Dylan. That’s what’s going to be so difficult for people to understand. That’s what’s going to make “I’m Not There” so trying for the really diehard Dylanists. That’s what might upset the non-Dylanists, who may find it hard to figure out why he bothered to make it at all. And that’s why it took Haynes so long to get it made. Haynes was trying to make a Dylan film that is, instead, what Dylan is all about, as he sees it, which is changing, transforming, killing off one Dylan and moving to the next, shedding his artistic skin to stay alive. The twist is that to not be about Dylan can also be said to be true to the subject Dylan. “These so-called connoisseurs of Bob Dylan music, I don’t feel they know a thing or have any inkling of who I am or what I’m about,” Dylan himself told an interviewer in 2001. “It’s ludicrous, humorous and sad that such people have spent so much of their time thinking about who? Me? Get a life please. . . . You’re wasting you own.” It might sound like a parlor game, or like cheating on Haynes’s part, but to make sense in a film about Dylan would make no sense. “If I told you what our music is really about, we’d probably all get arrested,” Dylan once said.

Knowing that it probably won’t surprise you now to learn that Haynes cast six different actors to play a variety of incarnations of the musician including an Australian female in Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Ben Whishaw and finally the African-American 13-year-old Marcus Carl Franklin. The picture is described as “six short impressionistic pieces almost jury-rigged together” and here is how the six separate Dylan’s were described:

  • Ben Whishaw – teenage French symbolist poet
  • Heath Ledger – a kind of jerk Dylan
  • Cate Blanchett – the electric, rebellious Dylan
  • Christian Bale – a slow-speaking folk-singer Dylan
  • Richard Gere – a Billy the Kid Dylan who ran away to some other place, another time
  • Marcus Carl Franklin – a kind of teenage hobo Dylan

On top of that, they aren’t even going by the name of Bob Dylan in all instances:

Marcus Carl Franklin, the African-American 13-year-old, will play Woody, Haynes’s version of the young Dylan, a kind of teenage hobo as Woody Guthrie, while Christian Bale will play Jack Rollins, Haynes’s folk Dylan, the truth-singing protest singer, who transforms into Pastor John, an evangelical preacher. That Cate Blanchett, playing Jude Quinn, will try to capture the 1966 suddenly rock-star Dylan who was Judas to his folk-loving fans.

The best line in the whole piece may be when Sullivan writes, “Let’s not bother with what it all means. No one on set seemed to know for sure; they all pretty much trust Haynes that it means something.”

When Sullivan was on set he said he spoke with Christian Bale and while a lot of people in Hollywood are saying, “Did you read that script?” Bale told Sullivan, “I started reading the script, and I just started to laugh.” I am not sure what that says about what we should expect from the picture, but the film certainly has some early buzz including Oscar talk surrounding Cate Blanchett’s performance.


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