I’m Not There

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His movies are never easy to watch, but you can't deny they say something. Todd Haynes may be the antidote to a Christmas full of lacklustre blockbusters yet with his visual Bob Dylan poem I'm Not There.

How did your manage to be the only film about Dylan to which Dylan himself has given approval?

It wasn't a big effort on my part. It was really the concept that made him say yes. I guess he never saw anything like this proposed before – I never had to meet him or pitch it to him, I just wrote it out in a one sheet description. That's basically all it took.

How did you line up such a stellar cast?

It was another one of those real votes of confidence in this whole adventure with how quickly and effortlessly people climbed on board. I know for instance that Cate [Blanchett], who said yes right away, had a lot of doubts about it after she agreed to the concept, which is understandable of what I was asking of her. But all of the actors were so keen to joining in.

Do audiences have to be Dylan fans to appreciate it?

No, actually I've found that the people who know the most about Dylan have the most swimming around in their head. They're kind of doing their own sort of check-listing of all of the source material and stuff that's crammed into the movie. People who know a bit less about him are up for an adventure – they're not expecting the traditional biopic experience and this film takes them on a ride.

My only advice is to stop worrying about getting the details and the references. It's not really about that, it's about painting this portrait of this complex person and its there against this very rich, stuffed-to-the-brim era that he came from.

Why not just do it as a straight biopic?

The concept was in place when I came on board, that's what they said yes to. The actors agreed, and a multiple character approach, for me, was the reason for doing the film to begin with.

With no straight narrative, it must have been tough to know where to cut. What internal rhythms does the film have?

Funnily enough, most of the intercutting strategies and how the stories would move were in the script. The script was even more intercut than the finished film. It's also what made the script almost impossible to read, it wasn't necessarily a pleasurable experience. But I was the one who could picture it so we had a very good idea how the stories would kind of speak with each other when we were shooting it.

If anything, we relaxed with the cutting and let the stories play out longer when they were first introduced in the film so you could get a good dose of each one before we left them and moved on to another one. I wanted a feeling of dialogue between them. Not only did it feels like something Dylan was exploring in his songs during his career but I look back on my own life in the same way, things out of order and things sticking out that reminds you of other things at different points. There's a dream logic to the way we all look back on our lives.

Hence the little MacGuffins like the guitar case?

Each of the stories in and of themselves was straightforward or at least things we'd seen before in other movies. Some of them were really lifted from 60s cinema or various approaches to the biography itself. The ways they'd echo each other and evoke each other was something that was new and I was trying to keep my eyes on.

A lot of people would describe the film as abstract or experimental. Would you agree?

Yes, I think it plays with a lot of experimental structures. But again, all of these things were what I saw coming out of the 1960s, which really was my creative template for the movie. What I love about that period is that all kinds of crazy cultural experiments were taking place. They were taking place in popular music and there was a great enthusiasm for that kind of thing at the time. The audiences didn't want to see the same old thing anymore.

So there were all sorts of experiments with using black, white and colour in the same movie. It was done with a sense of playfulness and a sense of lightness. I wanted that in the movie and not be overly serious or intellectual, it really needed a sense of play and wit about it. That's what I hoped.

Your films have all been very different from each other. Do you have a style that underpins them all or is every movie its own animal?

They really are. Obviously all directors probably have their life and obsessions that they can't shake. That's true for me. I do love having each one take on a historical tone so I can just dive into it and get to know its specific language, colour palettes and style. Usually I end up studying the film from that time, whether it's the movies of the 70s for Velvet Goldmine or the 50s or the 60s in this one.

It's a long time between films for you. Does it just take a long time to get one off of the ground or do you just wait for the right one?

Its all of that. Every one feels like the biggest battle of my life and then the next one's worse. Even when you have had critical success or some box office success it doesn't make the next one any easier – even when you have actors like these who want to take part and a well-known subject as the subject of your movie.

So no chance of a Tod Haynes action thriller in the near future?

No, I really can't imagine it. Every movie is so much work and takes so much out of you. It has to mean something to me and be really different and something I haven't seen before.

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