By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
Well, that was the big ’60s film experience. You went to see L’Avventura to argue about what happened to Lea Massari and why she disappeared. Blowup even more so.
Exactly. But there were a great many films like that then. And those are the kinds of films, when you’re young and you have a creative sensibility, that blow it wide open and make you want to make things like that yourself. But the key — what people forget ’cause Dylan is so famous, and so successful — is how unbelievably radical and “unclear” and untraditional a popular artist he was. What he did to the popular song was inconceivable before he entered the scene. And the amazing thing is that he was actually popular.
“When you’re lost on the road to Juarez and it’s Easter time too” — what in hell was that?
Exactly. And you don’t question it — you go with it. That’s how music works. I don’t understand all of Dylan’s lyrics or sources or references. That’s not the point. You just got to hope people are open to this.
When did you first come across Dylan?
In high school. I’m sure I heard “Blowin’ in the Wind” as a kid. I also have a memory of singing it in Hebrew school, along with “Silver and Gold” and other true traditional folk songs and not knowing that one was a contemporary song that had been written only a few years before.
Do you remember when Dylan first really grabbed you?
Blonde on Blonde was my favorite album. It probably still is. It’s one of those astounding pieces of work that is both popular and so much more. But I remember loving Blood on the Tracks and The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan too. I vaguely remember Desire and Street Legal, but I definitely remember Slow Train Coming. Then I really stopped listening to Dylan for about 20 years. Not out of rejection, though I’m sure “Oh, he’s gone all Christian now” was part of it. But I was going to college, and it was time for David Bowie and Roxy Music and Iggy Pop and all that stuff.
Blonde on Blonde was as big a “concept album” as Sgt. Pepper, and to me, everything Dylan related will always center on that. It was a two-record set . . .
The first of that era.
Right. And these songs just went on forever. “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” was a whole side of a record. That really blew everyone’s mind.
It’s incredible to think that something so sophisticated, elegant, rich and complex could be that popular. It was an instant classic. Minds were ready to be opened at a certain point in our recent past, and we really haven’t been that kind of a culture in a long time.
Well, now we’re getting into the stuff where I wish I was right there instead of talking to you over the phone.
Yes, it would be so much easier to talk in person, and hang out.
I would rather be looking at you face to face right now because — well, let’s cut to the chase. The film is dedicated to James.
Would you say there’s a lot of you and your relationship with him in the movie? Some of it?
[Pauses.] I don’t think it ever occurred to me.
Well, among other things, this is the first movie of yours he hasn’t edited.
That’s right. But I hadn’t really thought about it . . . maybe I should have . . . it wasn’t part of any conscious thing.
I’m not talking about in a literal way. I’m talking about echoing or relating to, for example with Charlotte Gainsbourg and Heath Ledger’s characters having this big tumultuous relationship. I was thinking that there might be something there that was you guys back in the day.
Yeah, there probably is. It’s funny how little I “identify” with Dylan on conscious levels. But I am a fan. I love his music. I was utterly obsessed with him when I returned to him in 2000. He entered at a transition point in my life as a kind of guide for positive change at a time that I really needed to be reminded that change was possible. It coincided with my leaving New York and going to Portland. I made Far From Heaven there. And then I decided to stay.
How is Portland?
I love Portland. I love it every day.
You’re there. Gus Van Sant is there. If a bomb drops on Portland, that kills off half of the New Queer Cinema.
It’s great here. It’s a creatively vital place.
Do you hang with Gus much?
Oh yeah. As much as I can. We knew each other before, of course, before I moved there. But we’ve become closer. Not like every day. We’re both very busy. We see each other whenever we can. But it’s been so cool ’cause he’s been doing such great work during the years I’ve been living there in Portland. He was so excited when he saw I’m Not There.
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