Bob Dylan Songs That Could be Movies, Part Two

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 “.

Desolation Row
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?


Filed under Movies

8 responses to “Bob Dylan Songs That Could be Movies, Part Two

  1. I’m a decent-sized Dylan fan (it came with the name), but you’ve got me beat as I’m not familiar with all of these songs.

    You sure as shit love Desire, don’t you? 😉 Can’t blame you – it’s one of my favorites as well, and that’s without even mentioning Hurricane (though I see someone did in the last post’s comments). I think you’ve mapped out an hour of my day’s listening.

    The one song I didn’t see in either post that I’d dig would be “Stuck Inside of Memphis…”

    • The awesome thing about Dylan is that if you like one album, there are hundreds more with his music to check out. And you can keep digging and digging and digging… The funny thing is, I hardly know any of the newer albums. I do really well with the 1965-1980 era.

      You nailed it about Desire. It’s almost impossible to pick a favorite album but that one sure resonates big-time with me.

  2. rtm

    Awesome post! Even though I’m not into Dylan’s music, reading the descriptions of the song made me think yeah, they definitely could make interesting movies. I especially like Went to See the Gypsy and Desolation Row, especially the latter, wow I really want to see that get made!

    • And you’re right in Dylan’s backyard, sort of- he grew up in Duluth. There’s a song on Planet Waves called “Meet Me in the Morning” that references an address that I used to drive by in Duluth all the time.

  3. Craig

    I would love to see all those made in to movies. Would be epic.

    Really want to watch I’m Not There now.

    I think Love Sick and Who Killed Davey Moore? would make a couple of awesome movies, particularly the latter which I imagine as a modern-day Citizen Kane.

    • Wow… you just dropped two Dylan tunes I’ve never heard of, meaning I have work to do.

      I’m really surprised more Dylan movies haven’t made it to the screen. Or… any, other than Hurricane, unless I’m forgetting something.

      • Craig

        Love Sick is the first track from his 1997 comeback album Time Out Of Mind, It’s where you want to start with his more recent stuff.

        Who Killed Davey Moore? can be found on the tthe Bootleg Series (Volumes 1-3 and Volume 6) as it never found it’s way on to an album. If you love early Dylan then these collections are absolutely amazing.

  4. Diana Douglass

    Greeting from Philadelphia – came across your blog by accident while looking for a clip of a Dylan song to send to my son. I’m a HUGE fan – my dog is named Sad-eyed Lady of the Lowlands – and what come to my mind as a handful of wonderfully film-worthy Dylan songs are: “Highlands” from Time Out of Mind; “Workingman’s Blues #2” from Modern Times, “Forgetful Heart” from Together Through Life, and “Mississippi” from Love & Theft – all extraordinarily deep and rich songs from more recent albums. There are many, many more! So glad I found your very interesting blog – am going to follow your lead in becoming more film-literate, starting with the AFI comedy list. Many thanks for sharing!

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