In Which Bob Dylan Is President Of America And Portland Is Caucasian Paradise On This Earth

“Boring.”

– writer Jon Raymond‘s father’s assessment of I’m Not There

“Waaaay too long.”

– Molly Lambert on this New York Times Magazine article.

“I need a dumptruck, mama to unload my head.”

– Bob Dylan, From a Buick 6.

Excerpted from Robert Sullivan’s Profile of Todd Haynes In the Sunday NY Times Magazine

heyyyy bebeh

Todd Haynes felt certain that he had an idea of what Bob Dylan liked, as far as films went.

“I had heard enough,” Haynes said. “I knew he liked Fassbinder.” (Martin Scorsese says that in the ’70s, Dylan first told him to check out the Fassbinder film “Beware of a Holy Whore.”)

DIE FASSBINDER!

Haynes began with a Rimbaud quote, Rimbaud being a subject he figured he and Dylan were both familiar with. “If a film were to exist in which the breadth and flux of a creative life could be experienced, a film that could open up as oppose to consolidating what we think we already know walking in, it could never be within the tidy arc of a master narrative. The structure of such a film would have to be a fractured one, with numerous openings and a multitude of voices, with its prime strategy being one of refraction, not condensation.” (A seventh Dylan, Charlie, “the ‘little tramp’ of Greenwich Village,” was eventually cut.)

“It sounds like a thesis statement,” Haynes says now, though it also sounds exactly like Todd Haynes. To hang out with Haynes is to hang out with a guy who can drop words like “interiority” and “recontextuality” and maybe even convince someone that he’s missing out if he hasn’t read Foucault, but who can also enthusiastically recommend the latest hyper-cool band, especially if it has just passed through Portland. “Last night I saw The Blow at Holecene,” he said to me once, “and, dude, I totally recommend you check them out.”

For Todd Haynes, Portland was a tonic. It’s a lo-fi town, a do-it-yourselfer’s paradise, a place where, in contrast to New York, your career is not necessarily everything. “When I moved to Portland, I was more social and productive than I’d ever been in my entire life,” Haynes says. “I remember being at an opening, talking to Gus, and people were just saying, ‘Hey Todd!’ ‘Hey Todd!’ I just felt available, and I loved that feeling. In New York, if someone came and knocked on your door without telling you, you’d be like, ‘Get out.’ ” Gus is Gus Van Sant, the director, who also lives in Portland.

I think he ran into a lot of people he really liked,” Van Sant says. “They weren’t really encumbered by all the ambition in New York and L.A.” Haynes made friends with writers and artists, people like Jon Raymond, an editor of the magazine Plazm and a novelist whom he had asked to assist him on the New York-area set of “Far From Heaven. Haynes bought an old Arts and Crafts bungalow. He planted a garden, painted, got out his guitar and played some Dylan songs. “Portland was this green city, this place of resurgence and rebirth,” his sister, Wendy, says.

Dylan with ex-wife Sara in Renaldo and Clara

Haynes generally makes films one of two ways: either with a story line or as a collage of ideas; the latter he once compared to painting while high. “I used to love getting stoned, playing music, getting lost in that canvas and not knowing what it was going to be,” he has said. In one of his notebooks, under the heading “governing concepts/themes,” he wrote: “America obsessed with authenticity/authenticity the perfect costume/America the land of masks, costumes, self-transformation, creativity is artificial, America’s about false authenticity and creativity.”

For Robbie, Heath Ledger’s Dylan, whose on-screen marriage (to Charlotte Gainsbourg) fails, he wrote, “A relationship doomed to a long stubborn protraction (not unlike Vietnam, which it parallels).” The notes themselves can seem like a great cache of insider art, printed out with nice fonts, with colors and graphics, reeking of time spent cramming. “I feel like anytime I’ll work on a film, it’s like a giant dissertation, a gigantic undertaking, and this is probably the biggest one,” Haynes told me. “Probably the Ph.D.”

At one point, it was going to be shot in Romania, to save money. Meanwhile, Haynes carried on with life in Portland, flying the three hours to L.A. for meetings, helping Kelly Reichardt with her film “Old Joy,” which was based on a short story by his friend Jon Raymond, which featured Tanya Smith, Haynes’s assistant. “He gets involved in all his friends’ work,” Reichardt says.

Jim James of My Morning Jacket in Rolling Thunder whiteface.

He was the reason I wanted to be involved in the project,” Cate Blanchett told me. “And it’s very rare that you read a script that is as impenetrable as this was, because it was completely and utterly inside Todd’s brain. He’d worked out every shot, every juxtaposition of image. It was really like a operatic score, there were so many instruments playing.”

Suze Rotolo thinks “Do I really have to act interested every single time he starts dicking around on a guitar?”

At breakfast before the Oscars, he showed her pictures. “I think he was really smart in getting a woman to play Dylan,” she said. She saw it as relieving pressure on the film. “I think it’s the most externally iconic image of Dylan — when he went electric and that tour — and if a guy had been playing, you would have been looking too closely for the Dylanisms,” she told me. How did he finally win her over to the role? “We talked about hair a lot,” she said.

Richard Gere signed on early, too. When Haynes visited Gere’s place in March 2005, Gere had just read about Dylan’s favorite version of “Positively Fourth Street,” by Johnny Rivers, and he put it on as Haynes came in, the two of them lying on the floor listening to it. Gere gave Haynes a book of pictures by Ralph Eugene Meatyard, a photographer whose mask imagery would make it into the Richard Gere sections.

Haynes sent CDs of Dylan songs to the cast members. As James Joyce circulated annotations of the inscrutable “Ulysses” (for his friends to publish under their own names), so Haynes, on the production team’s behalf, put together a key to all the Dylans, to the films within the film.

At some point, Haynes would sit you down and show you that Blanchett’s Dylan was filmed in a Fellini-style black and white (slow motion sequences to be added later on); that Richard Gere’s Billy the Kid Dylan would be shot like a late-’60s, early-’70s Western (“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” or “McCabe and Mrs. Miller”); that Bale’s born-again Dylan would be filmed in the bad-TV video that befits a Sacramento, Calif., church basement; that Ledger’s rock-star Dylan would feature the wide shots and close ups of objects that characterize Godard. As Dylan stole song and lyric styles — from the Clancy Brothers, from Civil War poets — so the film cops different Dylan-era directorial styles.

Like Blanchett, Lachman, the cinematographer (who has worked with Robert Altman, Steven Soderbergh and Wim Wenders, among others), quizzed Haynes about his choice of film styles. “He said that the obvious thing would have been to use the style of D. A. Pennebaker’s ‘Don’t Look Back,’ but if you listen to what Dylan was saying at the time, it wasn’t about being in rooms with bandmembers; he was being Felliniesque with his prose,” Lachman says. “It’s all this imagery. So what better filmmaker than Fellini? What better film than ‘8 1/2,’ which is about a filmmaker being hounded?”

When filming was finally over, Haynes went to Hawaii for 10 days, and then to his house in Portland, to the TV room, just off the living room, where he sat on the floor in front of a flat-screen TV, which was also sitting on the floor, with glasses, a box of tissues, tea and lots of crystallized ginger, for the immune system. He had the stacks of dailies beside him. “I’m just trying to see what I have,” he told me at the time.

Haynes started to see parallels between his battle and Dylan’s, the battle to be uncompromising in your art yet still find commercial success, to make the world bend to your vision. “He maintained an incredible popularity, and he made popular culture come to him,” Haynes told me. “He did. He raised the bar, and I have tried to do that.”

A week later, Haynes had another screening in Portland, inviting his friends. Jon Raymond, the novelist, was there, loving it, while Raymond’s father complained about how boring it was.

[Haynes e-mailed] “[The movie is] both intimate and panoramic, the story of a personality and a nation (I think it’s a deeply patriotic movie). It’s rich and literate but it’s very moving and fun. Tanya and Jon and I talked about it for several hours, later Jon wrote: ‘Tell them (when they ask you what your movie is “about”) that it’s no less than a history of American conscience and American soul (at a moment when both those things are in serious question). It’s a movie about Bob Dylan as the president of America.’ ”

In Los Angeles one morning in June, Haynes, Rabinowitz, Perri Pivovar, the assistant editor, and Tanya Smith, Haynes’s assistant, were all putting the final touches on the film — and adding the dedication, to Jim Lyons, Haynes’s former boyfriend and film editor, who had died of from AIDS-related illnesses weeks earlier.

“We cut this,” Haynes said, as he watched a Cate Blanchett scene of hallucinatory spectacle. “Jay and I were ignoring notes about it for three months. But we finally cut it when Cate said we should. Not that I do everything cause Cate says to.” “You kind of do,” Smith said.

Already that day they fiddled with the basement gospel band as Christian Bale sang “Pressing On,” turned up a wind sound effect during a Richard Gere scene and even adjusted the guitar of Dylan himself, playing “Idiot Wind.” They had also spent the better part of two hours trying to match Dylan’s harmonica in a 1965 Manchester Hall film to a bootleg. Later in the afternoon, Haynes finally got his hands on the master recording of “I’m Not There.” Neil Young’s office had e-mailed it over. (Dylan’s people had accidentally given it to Young in 1968.) “We’d been looking for it all this time, if you can believe it,” Haynes said.

Haynes was loose, loopy even. At the end of the day, the crew and even his folks came to celebrate with cake. Haynes talked about how tired he was. He looked dead. “I need to get a life,” he said. “It feels strange to be like this,” Haynes told me on a summer afternoon in July in Portland. By “this” he meant not working on I’m Not There. “This” meant a late breakfast at Fuller’s, an old Portland breakfast place, or vintage shopping with Tanya Smith to get a suit for the Venice film festival. It meant watching Lifetime movies with his boyfriend, Bryan O’Keefe, who had just returned from China, where he was teaching English.

Two weeks later, he’d broken down, at Smith’s urging, and bought a new suit, which he wore to the world premiere in Venice early last month. On a party on a boat the night before the premiere, Haynes was feeling queasy. Harvey Weinstein was excited; he had already announced that he would get Blanchett an Oscar nomination or kill himself. And he had already come up with a distribution plan that would start in small art houses and expand slowly. He was hoping to have Greil Marcus write liner notes to be distributed at viewings. He was still sounding a little nervous.

Farewell, Angelina – Bob Dylan: mp3

Sitting On A Barbed Wired Fence – Bob Dylan: mp3

I’ll Keep It With Mine – Bob Dylan: mp3

If Not For You – Bob Dylan: mp3

Molly Lambert is Senior Editor of This Recording. She just wants to know when the hell she’ll be able to see Renaldo and Clara.

PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING:

Alex continued to offend and commend various nations and peoples and their cultural products and practices.

Tess’s cats became homosexual pederasts, perhaps from being in the room while so much ANTM and To Catch A Predator played on Tess’s TV.

Bridget Moloney told us she loved us. We said baby ur much 2 fast.

6 thoughts on “In Which Bob Dylan Is President Of America And Portland Is Caucasian Paradise On This Earth

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s