Todd Haynes talks about his Dylan movie
I’m Not There is an apt name for a bio-pic with six Bob Dylans, none of them the real one. As if to compensate, co-writer/director Todd Haynes has been everywhere talking about it. No wonder his voice sounds rougher than the Mystery Tramp’s when we chat by phone.
For Haynes fans, who tend to be almost as devout as Dylan fans, the volume of attention to the film comes as a relief. Last year’s news that the director was reuniting with mogul Harvey Weinstein, who had all but turned Haynes’s glam-rock epic Velvet Goldmine into melted wax, was cause for alarm — akin to hearing that Dylan would be forced to make an album with dumpster-diving Dylanologist A.J. Weberman. But I’m Not There got made, and the result, love it or not, is Haynes’s most experimental film since Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, his widely bootlegged Barbie doll bio-pic from 1987.
Do you feel you’ve come full circle since Superstar? Twenty years later, you’re making another iconoclastic musical bio-pic — but you got the rights to the songs this time.
Yes, and it makes me want to wag the film in front of David Bowie, who gave me not one tune for Velvet Goldmine. C’mon, dude — even Bob Dylan gave me rights! What’s your problem?
Dylan has the DVD of I’m Not There that you gave him. You’ve said you want his feedback, but does some part of the Dylan fan in you want him to remain elusive, true to form?
I think I could handle it if he never said anything. But I’d prefer to hear something eventually. I’d hope he could watch the film and have a chuckle. But this is maybe the most impossible thing to hope for. I was just talking to Jesse [Dylan’s son] about this last night. Jesse said, “He really doesn’t look back.” He doesn’t listen to his old records. He doesn’t want to be bothered with “Bob Dylan.”
So you’re the one looking back. Which of the movie’s many primary sources has been the most meaningful to you?
Well, the thing that blew me away — and I used it quite extensively in the film — is the Playboy interview from ’66. It’s one of the most remarkable documents in all of pop culture. He’s being cagy and surreal and witty and abstract — as in the lyrics he was writing at the time — but he’s also answering the questions completely, riffing on multiple levels at once. The truly amazing thing is that Dylan provided both the answers and the questions by phone to Nat Hentoff, who had to write everything on the wall with a pencil.
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