I’m Not There: Music and Look

Dylan’s Music

For his idiosyncratic film about Bob Dylan, Haynes made compilations of Dylan songs for all the actors that best illustrated his vision of their roles. “This wasn’t only done for the Dylans,” says Haynes. “I also prepared songs for Charlotte Gainsbourg, Michelle Williams and Julianne Moore.”

Many of the actors went to the studio to record their own tracks. “Christian Bale did a beautiful job,” says Haynes, “but we’d already laid down the Mason Jennings track, which I thought was stunning and a really close match for his frame.”

Kid Singer

Marcus Carl Franklin, who plays Bob Dylan a s a boy named Woody (Guthrie), was the only Dylan who ended up performing his own vocals as Woody. “He blew us away,” says Haynes. “I couldn’t believe that we’d stumbled onto this kid. He has the voice of an angel.”

Haynes original conception for the film always called for Dylan’s actual voice as an essential continuity, binding together the various stories. In addition to that, whenever an actor would be performing in the film he knew he had to have cover versions created. “But I also wanted to hear some songs that weren’t necessarily being performed on screen interpreted by others,” he says.

“The wide range of covers used in the film’s soundtrack was an entirely collaborative effort with my music supervisor, Randy Poster, who worked closely with me on the Velvet Goldmine soundtrack. In both cases we were dealing with very specific historical subject matter, as far as popular music and culture is concerned, material we wanted to honor in its specificity but also allow to expand and interact with comparable traditions among contemporary artists.”

“This allowed us to combine classic artists like Richie Havens, Roger McGuinn and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, with artists less directly associated with the Dylan in the 1960s, like Iggy & the Stooges, John Doe and Sonic Youth. But as opposed to simply asking certain artists to make covers for us–which occurred as wellRandy curated creative producers to oversee certain sections of the film and to put together our own bands to play in them: Joe Henry produced Richie Haven’s reworking of Tombstone Blues and John Doe’s Pressing On: Calexico’s Joey Burns produced Goin’ To Acapulco performed by Jim James of My Morning Jacket, in addition to songs by Willie Nelson, Roger McGuinn, Iron and Wine and Charlotte Gainsbourg.

Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth put together our house band The Million Dollar Bashers, which included Tom Verlaine, Wilco’s Nels Cline, Smokey Hormel on guitar, Steve Shelley on drums, John Medeski on keyboards, and Dylan’s current band-leader, Tony Garnier, on bass.

The Million Dollar Bashers back Stephen Malkmus covers for Cate Blanchett, Ballad of a Thin Man and Maggie’s Farm, Verlaine’s haunting Cold Irons Bound, and Eddie Vedder’s All Along The Watchtower. And among the many self-produced covers, Yo La Tengo contributed 4th Time Around and I Wanna Be Your Lover and Sonic Youth produced their version of I’m Not There, which plays under the final credits.”

Story’s Diverse Looks

To create the film’s diverse looks, Haynes collaborated closely with director of photography Edward Lachman, who was Oscar-nominated for his work on Haynes’ “Far From Heaven.”

“Ed Lachman is a true artist,” says Haynes. “If you sit down and watch all the films he’s shot, no two of them look the same. He doesn’t bring any tricks to the table. Each new project begins as a blank canvas on which to build the specific visual language appropriate to that work and that work alone.

Clearly this approach is something we share. But then, Ed has worked with Herzog, Wenders, Godard, Fassbinder, Schrader, Kureishi, Soderbergh and Altman. He’s as passionate and devoted a cinematographer as anyone I’ve worked with.”

“I’m Not There” opens with the death of Jude, presumably in a motorcycle crash similar to the one Dylan survived in 1966. “Dylan did die then,” says Haynes. “The Dylan of 1966 would never come back in any shape or form. And it was reborn in 1967 as this person in a rural exile.

Each of the characters in “I’m Not There” is the prior character’s resurrection. They reach an impasse at what they can do, and so their death is actually regenerative. And that’s what the idea of freedom is for Dylan. He destroyed the idea that freedom is finding out who you really are and staying there–that there maybe is no such thing and that true freedom is the ability, the necessity even, to reinvent yourself.”

I’m Not There as Song

Dylan’s song ‘I’m Not There’ was recorded during the famed 1967 Basement Tapes sessions with The Band, but to this date has only been circulated in bootleg copies. (The song isn’t included in the 1975 album, The Basement Tapes.) “I’m Not There is about a woman at the very end of her abilities to cope,” says Haynes. “And the man singing is someone who’s not there for her. There’s this guilt, regret and despair that’s moving through the song. It’s about not being there for someone in pain and someone in need. And I love it as a metaphor of Dylan not being physically available. The minute you try to grab hold of Dylan, he’s no longer where he was. He’s like a flame: if you try to hold him in your hand you’ll surely get burned.”

“Dylan’s life of change and constant disappearances and constant transformations makes you yearn to hold him, and to nail him down,” Haynes continues. “And that’s why his fan base is so obsessive, so desirous of finding the truth and the absolutes and the answers to him–things that Dylan will never provide and will only frustrate. But I think it’s why a whole generation identifies with Dylan, maybe more than they ever did with John Lennon, or other seemingly much friendlier or available popular figures in rock music. Dylan is difficult and mysterious and evasive and frustrating, and it only makes you identify with him all the more as he skirts identity.”