Todd Haynes

Todd Haynes
Exclaim! spoke to film director Todd Haynes who was at the Toronto International Film Festival to premiere his new film, I'm Not There, an experimental biography of Bob Dylan.

You said that in 2000, while writing Far From Heaven, that you were listening to Dylan at a time in your life when you were looking for change. Why were you looking what subsequently happened?.
I had just had a sex change operation —

I read about that. .
[Laughs] I was sort of at the end of my time in New York without really realising it. All my friends had settled down one way or the other: found real estate and made it home, or settled into long-term relationships and had kids. I didn't have any of those things and I didn't really particularly have an apartment that felt like home. I had been there 15 years but was still living out of boxes in a weirdly temporary life. I had put all of my energy into my work and not my life. Before I really knew what was happening I wanted to start listening to Bob Dylan music. I had been planning to go to the West Coast where my sister lived to write Far From Heaven. Dylan became my soundtrack on the ride to Portland.

During this whole time I got more and more into the Dylan stuff. I was writing Far From Heaven. I wrote it in ten days at night while by day I was listening to Dylan and hanging out with all these new, great people taking hikes and jumping into rivers. Then, I finished Far From Heaven then went to Dylan with this film proposal. I thought, "Well, that'll never happen, but that was fun.” Then, my landlord called from New York and said, "Todd, I want to take over your apartment, because were going to turn it into an office." So I lost my place in New York and I was just having this fantastic idyllic summer in Portland. My sister noticed this beautiful arts and crafts bungalow for sale. Then that fall I get a call from Dylan saying, "Yeah give this guy the rights."

So within one year my life had changed and I started making this project about Bob Dylan. I had ten years of work lined up for myself in one year and a whole new life. Things had changed.

What particular Dylan albums or music were you listening to on that trip?
I made myself a whole Dylan collection on four cassette tapes. Those cassette tapes kept expanding — I had a six. The stuff that was blowing my mind was something I never listened to before, the first Bootleg Series released on Columbia. When I heard "She's Your Lover” now right out of that Blonde On Blonde period — still my favourite — I was just astounded. I remember hearing there was an eight-minute solo version of him on piano on this bootleg, The Genuine Bootleg Series. Now I have all of those with A Tree With Roots, which is the entire Basement Tapes collection —

I'm Not There is on that set.
A friend of mine sent me them and that was mind-blowing, a world unto itself. Throughout this whole time I was reading [Dylan] biographies and those incredible interviews from '65 and '66 like the Hentoff Playboy, which were performance acts of literary genius. They were inherently dramatic and I felt something could be done with them.

You really did your homework. In the film there is a reference to the film, Eat the Document, specifically the outtake with John Lennon.
I found Eat the Document at an amazing video store in Portland, Movie Madness. They didn't have that anywhere in New York City. That's an amazing experimental film. I was just nourished, sucking up all the stuff and try to put as much as it is I could on film.

What was the creative process behind I'm Not There?
This period in 2000 felt natural, driven by desire and hunger and sunshine and rain. I got the [story] rights, but then immediately had to switch my gears and make Far From Heaven... Then I came back to Portland. Even though I left a rough early draft of the script as a result of that first year I thought I would put it aside and just start from scratch and really do real research. Start over. What's funny is that from that point on it was a job like all films are. You trade in your desire for labour and you've given yourself the best possible job. You are not driven by ardour, you're driven by labour, your own diligence and work ethic. That's when I worked in a more organised way. I began to orient myself much more to Dylan's work music, writings and his own creative life and influences — Woody Guthrie, Ginsberg, Rimbaud.

His Jesus period.
His Jesus period. I made copious notes that I made applicable to this film.

How did you cast Cate Blanchett and Kim Gordon?
They're [Sonic Youth] just friends in a band I've always loved. And Kim's been acting and wants to do acting roles. I'd love to continue working with Kim in different ways. I made a rock video with them a long time ago. Thurston [Moore] and Steve [Shelley] were part of the Velvet Goldmine soundtrack. Lee Ranaldo produced all the tracks for the Jude story in this film. Cate is just one of our great actresses in film and stage. She's an amazing mind and sensibility. She was terrified to do this, but something inside her was bitten by the challenge and risk.

Dylan says we're all in the process of becoming. Where are you?
Exactly right there — in the process of becoming.