I Was There - Notes from Todd Haynes' "I'm Not There" At 45th New York Film Festival
Cate Blanchett as Jude in I'm Not There. Directed by Todd Haynes, US, 2007; 136m. Photo Credit: Jonathan Wenk/TWC 2007
I'm Not There opens in limited release at Film Forum in New York on Nov. 21.
Last night at the New York Film Festival, I saw Todd Haynes’ extraordinary narrative/mockumentary/experimental/biopic I’m Not There. The film beautifully and strangely yet effectively, weaves the tales of six different versions of legendary folk/rock singer/songwriter Bob Dylan, each played by different actors of varying ages (and gender ala Cate Blanchett’s terrific performance) at various stages or incarnations or dreamlike moments of Dylan’s life. I’m Not There was the most challenging, engaging and artistic film I have seen so far this year. There are definitely elements of Haynes’ earlier works here, which I’ve always been intrigued by, yet he presents us with fresh and new ideas, that to some may seem a bit jarring, but well worth the experience.
Richard Peña, Program Director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, introduced the film along with its director Todd Haynes. Haynes told the audience that it meant a tremendous amount to him to have his film there. “This is a city Dylan so loved,” he said. He also mentioned how difficult it was to get the project financed and gave a big thanks to Harvey Weinstein (who was in attendance) for being someone who stepped in. “He is a courageous guy,” Haynes said.
Haynes then went on to introduce a lot of people from the film who all got up on stage. They included: Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere, Marcus Carl Franklin, Michelle Williams, co-screenwriter Oren Moverman, producers Christine Vachon (Killer Films), John Sloss and Jim Stern, executive producers John Wells and Wendy Japhet, music supervisors Randy Poster and Jim Dunbar, casting director Laura Rosenthal, production designer Judy Becker, titlist Marlene McCarty, assistant Tonya Smith, and last but not least, director of photography Ed Lachman. Also in the cast, but not present to my awareness was Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and Ben Wishaw, all who round out the rest of the Dylan avatars in the film.
After the screening, Richard Pena (RP) moderated a Q&A with Haynes (TH), Blanchett (CB), Marcus Carl Franklin (MCF), and Michelle Williams (MW).
(RP) Can you tell us about the structure of the film?
(TH) The script tried to suggest the ways the stories would be intercut, told in a linear order. I created a dialogue with my subject’s lives. The only way the film could work was that the stories had to fill each other in. One fills in the past of the other. The characters were dreaming each other’s stories. The motifs and ideas came from Dylan’s songs.
(RP) How did you all prepare for your roles?
(CB) By talking to Todd. The script was like a logarithm or algebra. Todd put together a song for each character. I had also read Bob Dylan’s Playboy interview.
(MCF) I’m not as experienced as these actors are. I listened to Dylan’s music. Basically, I did my homework.
Q: How did it feel interpreting Bob Dylan as a woman?
(CB) I didn’t really think about it too much. It was incredibly genius to cast a woman.
Q: Why did the six Bob Dylan characters in the film have different names other than Bob Dylan?
(TH) To really play out the idea of him occupying different psychic places in his life, it would have been too difficult to make him one character. Most biopics blend fact and fiction. Dylan gave himself different names over the years.
Q: How do you deal with the people who would rather see a more direct version of Dylan’s life?
(TH) People don’t have to like the film. Dylan was received by an incredibly popular audience in the 1960s. This was my subject. I didn’t want to dumb it down. I tried to be true to the story.
Q: Has Bob Dylan seen the film yet?
(TH) We don’t know yet. He hasn’t come to any public screenings. We gave his son Jesse the DVD. Heard that Dylan saw Martin Scorsese’s documentary, No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, on TV when he was traveling in Spain.
Q: Were all the performances in the film song by Dylan? Did any of the actors do their own singing?
(CB) I had guitar lessons, but Todd wanted my character to have a male voice come out of my mouth during the singing scenes.
(TH) There was one actor who’s here today who did do his own singing. (Haynes is referring to young Marcus Carl Franklin. The audience applauds.)
Q: What was your relationship with the editor in terms of choices you made to tell the story?
(TH) This was my first time working with Jay Rabinowitz? We started out very closely following the script. It’s a long, big film. It was a challenge to make it work. For example, Richard Gere’s character comes last in the story, but we put little pieces of him earlier in the film.
Q: The film encompasses stages of Dylan’s life up until the late 1970s. Why doesn’t it go further into the present?
(TH) I was paralleling a lot of different events that took place in the film. For example, when Dylan had his motorcycle accident, he eventually goes to the Woodstock in 1969, but he was as far away from the psychedelics of that movement. He went into the past with his music. He never fully returned.
(RP) The turning point was the motorcycle accident. Could you talk more about that?
(TH) I didn’t want to make this film just for Dylan fanatics. Didn’t want to overplay the motorcycle accident, but wanted to make it clear enough. It kind of book ends the films.
Q: What inspired you to make this film?
(TH) I got into Dylan’s music in my late 30s and read a lot of his biographies. I was looking for excitement of change in my life. I associated Dylan with adolescence and the excitement of the future and the unknown. The idea of changing was something I was confronting. These are huge changes and they cause huge repercussions. I dramatized that.
Q: The core of Dylan is identity. Is there a huge question for you about human identity in your thinking?
(TH) The single thing I see in my films is about identity. Dylan found expectations of identity stifling. I found this to be a beautiful model.
Q: Did you have the actors in mind when writing the script?
(TH) I don’t usually think of actors in my mind. Only one actor came to mind, that being the wife character played in the film by Charlotte Gainsbourg. I was so indelibly blessed with these actors. They don’t have to risk everything for a movie like this.