Exciting news for cinephiles this week, as Luca Guadagnino, director of Call Me By Your Name, has announced that for his next film he will be making a film adaptation of the album Blood on the Tracks, by the Nobel Prize-winning author Bob Dylan. A profile of the director in the New Yorker this week carries the revelation that a producer of Call Me By Your Name had acquired theatrical rights to the album – in itself a point of interest for anyone who didn’t know that albums had theatrical rights – and asked Guadagnino to turn it into a film. In turn, Guadagnino asked Richard LaGravenese to write the thing, resulting in a screenplay that, we are told, follows characters “through a multiyear story, set in the seventies, drawing on the album’s central themes”. Guadagnino adds cryptically that the film will “dramatize the repression, and what that does to them”. Not that Dylan was repressing all that much when he wrote: “Idiot wind / Blowing every time you move your teeth / You’re an idiot, babe / It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe.” But we’ll let it slide.
The news is particularly delectable since it would seem to mark the first occasion an album has been adapted to the screen, however vaguely. This places the film in a thrilling modern pantheon of movies adapted from unexpected or quirky things, such as fairground rides (Pirates of the Caribbean), episodes of This American Life (The Informant), video games (The Angry Birds Movie), or emoji (The Emoji Movie, which, let us not forget, starred Patrick Stewart as poo).
Other questions emerge, beyond the central one of whether Guadagnino is wanting for inspiration. The project comes after a frantic few years for the director, following on from A Bigger Splash, Call Me By Your Name, a remake of Suspiria, and the Jake Gyllenhaal-starring thriller Rio, from which he has now been removed as director. On top of this, the endlessly mooted sequel to Call Me By Your Name is still apparently on the cards, despite André Aciman, the author of the book on which the film is based, stating: “Nonsense! There’s not going to be any sequel!”
For one thing, the “central themes” of the Blood on the Tracks years have already been put on screen quite brilliantly – albeit more indirectly – by Todd Haynes in his Bob Dylan movie, I’m Not There. Haynes visits 70s Dylan at a tangent, lifting the events of his dissolving marriage to Sara and transposing them on to the figures of Robbie Clark (Heath Ledger) and Claire, his wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg). This segment plays in the film as a sort of mini-drama in its own right, among some of the more folksy takes on Dylan’s life and music. This difference fills the section with appropriate pathos, showing perfectly how, at this stage of his career, Dylan presented himself more openly, with more vulnerability than previously.
At the same time, I’m Not There could provide clues as to how to adapt an album. Guadagnino doesn’t reveal if there will be any attempts to adapt the sound of the record, which is as much a part of the album as the lyrics and stories, but Haynes evokes something of Dylan’s looseness, his imagination, his obduracy, too, in the freewheeling section of his film, involving Richard Gere as Billy the Kid. The idea of adapting an album might work, but it would surely be a shame to lose musicality at the expense of telling a straight-up story.
Beyond these concerns we expect with great impatience a new deluge of album-films, which will surely rescue that noble but endangered music format by paring the records down to easily digestible stories – not least since Blood on the Tracks is not at first glance the most cinematic of all records. Barry Jenkins’ take on Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions must surely not be far down the line, telling the story of a boy born in hard town Mississippi, who travels to the city, falls in love with a Golden Lady and gets too high. In Ben Wheatley’s A Grand Don’t Come For Free, Lily James would seem to be a dead cert for the role of a woman who is fit but, unfortunately, knows it.
I yearn for a film adaptation of Sepultura’s classic 1993 album Chaos AD, perhaps shepherded to the screen by David Fincher, with a long section devoted to the pulsating ditty Biotech Is Godzilla, which thrillingly elaborates a bleak worldview of pharmaceutical companies creating diseases, such as Aids, in order to reap the financial rewards of tending to them. Meanwhile, we await Guadagnino’s pioneering lead with bated breath.