A few weeks ago, I expressed my love of the music and writing ability of Bob Dylan by singling out a list of songs that he’s written that could be turned into movies. His songs thrive on the personal touch he embeds paired with their symbolic nature. And in fact, there are so many of his songs that could be screenplays that I realized I’d have to write it as a two-part article. To be honest, after writing part two, I realize that part three would take no time at all to put together. That said, whether or not I go for the Dylan hat trick, enjoy part two in the meantime.
A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall
This song is so ripe with apocalyptic visions of injustice, war, and biblical imagery. I’m sort of imagining something in the vein of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, with the protagonist replaced by a weary young traveler witnessing a series of scenes in a world buzzing with chaos.
Tangled Up in Blue
What’s incredible about this song is that it tells the story of a pair of star-crossed lovers, but there’s no linear narrative whatsoever. To quote Dylan, “You’ve got yesterday, today and tomorrow all in the same room, and there’s very little you can’t imagine not happening”. It’s a Buñuelesque drama.
Yet another tune that details the dissolution of Dylan’s marriage to Sara. The reason this works as a screenplay is how deeply personal it is for the author. And there are scads of scenes buried in the song–drinking rum in Portugal, a trip to the Chelsea Hotel, their meeting, their wedding, etc… The only quandary here is that it would almost have to be a Dylan biopic presenting a snapshot of his life.
Went to See the Gypsy
Theorists speculate that the song is a reference to Dylan meeting Elvis (a meeting that he denies ever happened), or perhaps Jimi Hendrix. Rather than going the obvious route and doing a biopic about either fictional meeting, I think this song is better served letting the screenwriter play with the lyrics as they are. As it is, the song is about a person who experiences a fantastical night involving beautiful women and a mystical gypsy in a hotel “in a little Minnesota town”.
Visions of Johanna
Visions of Johanna segues seamlessly between interpretation and the undefinably symbolic. What’s mostly known is that the protag of the song (and ultimately the film I think should be made) is torn between two women, the accessible Louise and enigmatic Johanna. So many lines are evocative of so much meaning. “Inside the museums, Infinity goes up on trial/Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while”, for instance. Or “The fiddler, he now steps to the road/He writes ev’rything’s been returned which was owed/ On the back of the fish truck that loads/ While my conscience explodes “.
Andy Gill, who’s written several books about Dylan, describes the song as “an 11-minute epic of entropy, which takes the form of a Fellini-esque parade of grotesques and oddities featuring a huge cast of iconic characters, some historical (Einstein, Nero), some biblical (Noah, Cain and Abel), some fictional (Ophelia, Romeo, Cinderella), some literary (T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound), and some who fit into none of the above categories, notably Dr. Filth and his dubious nurse.” Put that way, it sounds like Dylan’s own whimsical version of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. Still others have noted that the song bears a strong resemblance to a story that Dylan’s own father passed down to him, a story about the lynching of three men in Dylan’s native Duluth, Minnesota. Either way, the song is bursting with fascinating characters begging for a film.
Up to Me
Everything went from bad to worse, money never changed a thing
Death kept followin’, trackin’ us down, at least I heard your bluebird sing
Now somebody’s got to show their hand, time is an enemy
I know you’re long gone, I guess it must be up to me
The first few verses alone have a whole story buried inside.
Goin’ to Acapulco
What’s not to love? It’s about a reckless, hopeless miscreant who finds solace and a welcomed respite from the rigors of the world in a bar in Acapulco. It’s a song I’d completely overlooked until Jim James and Calexico performed it in Todd Haynes’ film, I’m Not There (2007). And I’ve been a fan of it ever since.
Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream
Guy Maddin, David Lynch, Luis Buñuel, and Alejandro Jodorowsky have dreams of making films that are as surreal as this song. “They asked me for some collateral and I pulled down my pants”, says the song’s mythical sailor who discovers modern America while working for Captain Arab. It would make an incredible comedy. This link is the best I can do. But please check it out if you don’t know the song.
The Drifter’s Escape
An unflappable outsider is arrested, forced into a trial on trumped-up charges. The townsfolk whip themselves into a frenzy accusing the outsider of his sins. But at the last moment, a miracle frees the man from his trial, either by divine or devilish intervention. Sounds like fun to me, especially if the Coens were directing.
So there are ten more. Which Dylan songs do you like that you feel I might have missed in the two-part series?