The Many Faces of Dylan, and the Man Behind Them

(Jonathan Wenk - The Weinstein Company)
Friday, November 23, 2007

Todd Haynes's conceit of using six non-Dylans in his new film "I'm Not There," isn't an original idea, admits the filmmaker, citing the multiple-characters approach in Luis Bu¿uel's 1977 "That Obscure Object of Desire" and Todd Solondz's 2004 "Palindromes." But "the concept is right in front of you because of the way Dylan was described as, literally, different people from month to month in the '60s."

Haynes also figured that "if Dylan was ever going to say yes to making a film based on his life and music it would have to be something like this -- that embracing of the unorthodox."

In 2005, Haynes submitted a proposal for a project he called "Suppositions on a Film Concerning Dylan" to Dylan's agent, Jeff Rosen. Not surprisingly, and in a manner that reflected the indirect conceit of the movie to be, Dylan agreed by proxy. Rosen gave Haynes and producer Christine Vachon the good news.

"Could it be any other way?" says Haynes with a deep laugh. "Indirect and secondary, third-hand. I got a bootleg of the reaction, basically."

The completed movie is a meta-viewing experience; it's impossible not to weigh Haynes's casting and character choices while watching. Cate Blanchett talking in basso profundo? Richard Gere on a horse? Marcus Carl Franklin dressed like an extra from "The Grapes of Wrath"? Haynes had his reasons, of course, and explains, below, how each character contributes to his overall composite of a complex artist.

The film jumps back and forth in time, and from character to character, but in approximate chronological order, they are:

WoodyMarcus Carl Franklin

Franklin's character, a boxcar hobo, refers to the Woody Guthrie persona that Dylan adopted in his early folk days. Haynes wanted to convey "an American pastoral combined with the kind of movies that Dylan loved, like [1957's] 'A Face in the Crowd,' which came out of that liberal leftist Hollywood imagination. These were stories of a true-life American specimen, just plucked out of his natural habitat and thrust into the media spotlight and, ultimately, there's some corruption that ensues." That Franklin is young and African American is intended, says Haynes, as a "sight gag" to emphasize Dylan's "great act of impersonation: coming to New York as Dylan, but really as fake Woody Guthrie."

Jack Christian Bale

Bale's persona is a metaphorical spin on Dylan the protest singer, who frequented the clubs of Greenwich Village. Later, he's seen as a preacher, to suggest Dylan's flirtation with born-again Christianity in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Haynes employed "a documentary form in the style of a kind of mid-1980s piece that would be looking back on the 1960s and ultimately discover the pastor character in the present tense of that documentary perspective."

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