By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
Before Suze Rotolo?
Around that time. There were women all over the place. He was a babe magnet. He was an incredibly romantic figure. But we Music and Art–ers were very, very snotty: “Oh, his real name is Zimmerman, and he’s just this Woody Guthrie imitator.” Laura Nyro was going to Music and Art right at that same time, and we didn’t like her either.
Was there a point when you guys started to feel differently about Dylan after he got over his Woody Guthrie act?
Oh yeah, certainly with Bringing It All Back Home. Just like the Beatles, he was the soundtrack of that period. “The voice of a generation” sounds terribly pretentious, but it’s apropos. Because if you want to know what was on people’s minds in that era, the best way is to listen to some of those songs. And [D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary] Don’t Look Back was quite the deal. There are little bits of Don’t Look Back in I’m Not There, but you don’t really use it as a template. The main movie you’re “sampling” is 8½, which strikes some people as truly odd.
The reason for 8½ in that part of the film is that, basically, I was looking for cinematic references for getting to the root of each of these little stories and what they were about — how to differentiate them. And usually that had everything to do with the music that was defining that particular period of Dylan or phase of Dylan or psyche of Dylan. And in the “Jude” story, I knew I wanted to do it in black and white. The very first movie proposition that came to mind was Don’t Look Back, of course. But when I was thinking of the music of that period — Highway 61 and, especially, Blonde on Blonde — I very quickly realized that Don’t Look Back, a cinéma vérité masterwork, is far from the sensibility of the music at that point in Dylan’s career. It didn’t take me long to come up with 8½ and find in that film, and in Fellini in general at that time, what I thought was a beautiful parallel to that sensibility of Dylan’s — baroque but utterly urbane.
To me, the “Jude” section is the “most Dylan” because it deals with when he “went electric.” The backlash was quite pronounced from a lot of people who saw him as a simple folk/protest singer, and you re-create that. We see people coming after Jude in the same way they came after the Guido character in 8½. And the journalist played by Bruce Greenwood is a bit like the co-screenwriter character played by Jean Rougeul in Fellini’s film.
To some degree, they’re alike. I think the demands people make on Jude in my film come across a bit more gently than what goes on in Fellini.
And you rebuilt that chair from 8½ — that enormous curved white thing that Barbara Steele sits down in at the spa to put on her shoes.
Yes, we did — we absolutely did. That was the clincher for me. It wasn’t just a stylistic sensibility that was involved. The language of Fellini’s film made perfect sense in relation to Blonde on Blonde. For it also had at its center the story of an artist being besieged by the media, and questioned as to his motivations: Why was he making these weird movies that nobody could understand anymore? That’s why 8½ just seemed absolutely inescapable.
Your film seems to be directed at an audience that knows a lot of things, like about Dylan’s novel Tarantula, and therefore will react when you show an actual tarantula onscreen. On the other hand, the extreme Dylan may be very upset by what you’ve done. Of course, you don’t go through his garbage like [Dylan to English Dictionary author] A.J. Weberman, but I can imagine some people seeing you that way.
I didn’t intend it. I wasn’t tailoring the film to people who would pick up on every single reference. They’re all there to be found, to be discovered — if you choose to do so. But to my mind, the film doesn’t rest on that extra knowledge, that secondary level. All films are made up of references, whether they’re conscious or not, whether they’re generic returns to certain forms, or references to other films we’ve seen before. The audience is “reading” all the time, but not cognitively. This film just takes that further, and has every component of it come out of the Dylan universe. But if it doesn’t work purely on a sort of graphic and gut level as well, then it isn’t really working.
To me, the film is 50 percent Dylan and 50 percent the ’60s.
Well, that was a conscious choice. I realized that all of these core characters I’d settled on had their roots in the ’60s. This was the era that defined him and that he defined. There was so much going on in that period at the same time Dylan was becoming a star, so making this film was a chance to do a film about that period — and do it in a different way.
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