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Self-Control: The Construction of the Celebrity Image in the Films of Todd Haynes

by Michelle Robinson

The clips in this student project explore Todd Haynes’ representation of self-control as it relates to the construction of the celebrity image. The director not only explores the ways in which a celebrity image is built – and the ways it can be both constructive and destructive for the artist – but also audience reaction and how celebrity image is received. Additional commentaries will be provided by students in the course “The Film Director as Public Intellectual” at UNC Chapel Hill (Spring 2014).

I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more...

by Karen Sieber

It is fitting that Todd Haynes used a variety of actors to portray different fictional versions of a musician modeled after Bob Dylan. Each actor represented a different version of the musician, often a version that society had created for him. Due to his involvement with the folk music movement, listeners had a certain expectation that “Jack Rollins” would fit into the prescribed role of activist. In the tightly composed frame of the news conference, Christian Bale’s character Jack Rollins complains that “they” want him to “sing finger pointing songs. But I’ve only got 10 fingers.” This alludes to the fact that he wanted to be more than just an activist singer songwriter associated with folk music. He seems to let society’s expectations get to him as he experiences guilt and “fierce, heavy” feelings. In the movie, his childhood idol Woodie Guthrie was dead. Little Richard had left rock n’ roll to be a preacher. These two men that he wanted to embody in his musical persona were no longer part of his world. The ever evolving Dylan-esque character now had to create a new model for himself and break out of the folk activist mode. The folk festival scene is entered from a birds-eye camera view, making the audience look like herded cattle. The preppy folk loving audience was eager with excitement to see the acoustic set they had expected. Haynes uses a dream like sequence of the Dylan character using machine guns to slay the audience is an analogy for how this electrified sound assaulted not only his audience, but also the prescribed role society wanted him to fit into. Haynes uses sound during the performance as a metaphor AND as an event as the character sings “I ain’t going to work on Maggie’s farm no more”. The lyrics parallel with the character not wanting to fit into his peaceful, folksinger role anymore. The aggression and energy of the song and of his new persona infected the crowd with anger themselves. Sound masking is used as he is on the stage singing. The listener’s ear is drawn to the music rather than the booing. Despite the muffled sound, a series of quick cut between audience members (and crew members) filled with rage and confusion still portray their anger at his new persona. The character is immediately apologetic as the song finishes, showing his struggle with the guilt talked about earlier to fit into a certain role. In a moment of irony, interviews with fans afterwards complain of him “trying to conform to some popular taste” or “prostituting himself”. Haynes uses a camera dolly to give the feeling like you are walking out of the concert with these people, an audience member yourself. In his attempt to break out of conformity, his fans that elevated him to stardom were now convinced that he had in fact conformed. Ending with a reverse dolly pull-back shows his separation from his fans.

Aspinwall Response

by JP Aspinwall

This clip opens with the Christian Bale Bob Dylan character Rob at Todd Haynes interpretation of the 1963 Tom Paine Award Ceremony for the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee. The award recognizes social activism in the pursuit of justice and liberty but Rob/ Bob is not feeling very appreciative. He has a drunken episode and evokes Lee Harvey Oswald in his speech. As he leaves the venue and is accosted by reporters Rob decries how “they are trying to use me for something… and want me to be a good little nigger”. Bob Dylan was a strong public image because of his music and activism but became tired of being pigeon holed in his genre and public persona. Haynes through the celebrity experience of Bob Dylan is showing how the expectations of the public and the pressure they exude on a person can become suffocating. As an artist driven by creativity Dylan cannot stand having his creativity limited by the powers that be in society. Haynes lets the viewer into Rob’s head as he slowly zooms in on a black and white still image of Rob and the timid nondiegetic voice of Rob narrates. This voice and the image show the cowering effect society is exuding on Dylan. The switch to black and white may be a play off of an interview Dylan game in which he states things in the world “aint black and white anymore (Dylan 7). In the same interview that chronologically falls in line with the award ceremony Dylan said, “now is the time… you have to belong to yourself” (Dylan 7). He obviously did not feel society’s view of him as a celebrity was allowing him to do that. It was time for a change. The representation of Dylan changes characters to the poet who takes over as the subjective narrator. The new scene is still black and white and the voice describes how the character is down in the gutter struggling through his musical identity crisis until a moment of clarity. The scene is overlaid with the nondiegetic sound of a beating heart that continues into the next scene. The next scene is another interpretation of a real event from Dylan’s life, the 1965 Newport Folk Festival where Dylan first started using the electric guitar (Corbett). The heartbeat builds suspense as the Cate Blanchett Jude characterization makes his way on stage with and brings attention to the human nature of Jude/ Dylan. Haynes then shocks the viewers when the band snaps open their instrument cases with a loud click. This amplified embedded sound is used by Haynes to indicate a moment of emphasis as Jude and the band pull out sub machine guns and gun down the audience. This can be interpreted as Dylan taking a shot at the fans and social pressures limiting his creativity. The pent up suppression has forced him to respond and assert his identity The shot Haynes sees Dylan taking is changing his music style. The introduction of electric guitar to his music was met by public outcry, as his fans believed he was defiling the pure folk music he came from and leaving behind his role of an influential social commentator. The imagined prolepses fades out and music crescendos to full volume and is accompanied by boos from the crowd as the black screen opens on their discontent. They can’t stand the new electric guitar rendition of “Maggie’s Farm” (Inman). The lyrics open with “Well I try my best to be just like I am but everybody wants you to be just like them”. Haynes is in an unique position to utilize one of Dylan’s farewell-to-Folk songs and its lyrics to depict how the celebrity image can be explained as a reaction to external pressures. Corbett, Ben. "The 1965 Newport Folk Festival Controversy." Folk Music. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2014. . Dylan, Bob. Bob Dylan, the Essential Interviews. 1st ed. New York: Wenner Books, 2006. Print. Inman, Davis. ""Maggie's Farm," Bob Dylan - American Songwriter."American Songwriter. N.p., 14 Feb. 2011. Web. 23 Apr. 2014. Wilentz, Sean. Bob Dylan in America. 1st ed. New York: Doubleday, 2010. Print.

All I Can Do is Be...Me?

This clip from director Todd Haynes' I'm Not There encompasses the press interviews at the end of the "Bob Dylan" (Christian Bale) award ceremony to the end of the audience reactions to "Bob Dylan's" (Cate Blanchett) concert.

from I'm Not There (2007)
Creator: Todd Haynes
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Posted by Michelle Robinson