- I contain Multitudes 1: Two Irish countries at odds
- I contain Multitudes 2: To the buried that repose around us
- I contain Multitudes 3: The thrill of rhyming something that’s never been rhymed before
- I contain Multitudes 4: Boogaloo dudes carry the news
- I contain Multitudes 5: All the people on earth… all you
- I contain Multitudes 6: All things lost on earth are treasured there
- I contain Multitudes 7: Allen’s outer ear
- I contain Multitudes part 8: Time is a river, a violent torrent of events
by Jochen Markhorst
IX None of this has to connect
I sing the songs of experience like William Blake I have no apologies to make Everything’s flowin’ all at the same time I live on the boulevard of crime I drive fast cars and I eat fast foods . . . I contain multitudes
“Watching it, I am amazed at how much I’ve stolen from it. I think I have to admit to my guilt.” The contagious, enthusiastic introduction spoken by Terry Gilliam for the wonderful “Janus Films Director Introduction Series” has been added to the 2002 DVD release of the 1945 French classic Les Enfants du Paradis. Gilliam, the American member of Monty Python and director of such masterpieces as Brazil, The Fisher King and 12 Monkeys, is an unconditional fan and knows how to poetically articulate his admiration for the film. With words that provide insight into why the film also made such a lasting impact on Bob Dylan;
“The light in the film is very important. Right from the beginning, there seems to be a glow about it, a luminescence, that I don’t see in modern film. It’s almost as if the moon is lighting it, even in full sunlight. It’s a silvery, soft light that infuses everything. That’s why the film is like a dream,”
… for example. Hitting remarkably close to the words Dylan chooses when, in 1978, in that famous Playboy interview with Ron Rosenbaum, he tries to describe the perfect sound, and then choosing the much-quoted, now proverbial colour-and-metal metaphors (“It’s that thin, that wild mercury sound. It’s metallic and bright gold with whatever that conjures up”). When Rosenbaum gets a call from the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung in 2001 asking if they can translate and publish that old interview on the occasion of Dylan’s 60th birthday, he dives back into his archives and memories, and finds the parts he did not publish at the time. Among them:
“It was the sound of the streets,” he said. “That ethereal twilight light, you know. It’s the sound of the street with the sunrays, the light shining down at a particular time, on a particular type of building. A particular type of people on a particular type of street. It’s an outdoor sound that drifts even into open windows …. The sound of bells and distant railroad trains and arguments in apartments and the clinking of silverware and knives and forks … usually it’s the crack of dawn. Music filters out to me in the crack of dawn.”
(The Observer, 28 May 2001)
Apart from giving us an almost soberingly clear explanation of what the jingle jangle morning from “Mr. Tambourine Man” is, we also see here, for all its synesthesia, an identical fascination with the particular light that so touches Gilliam in Les Enfants du Paradis: “That ethereal twilight light, the street with the sunrays.” Just as the second part of Gilliam’s declaration of love, “the film is like a dream”, explains Dylan’s receptivity to it; dreams, unreal realities are a constancy in his oeuvre. “The only truly natural things,” as the Dylan incarnation “Artur Rimbaud” says in the Dylan film I’m Not There (Todd Haynes, 2007), “are dreams, which nature cannot touch with decay.” With which, incidentally, scriptwriters Haynes and Moverman are indeed quoting almost verbatim from a 1960s Dylan quote (as penned by Robert Shelton in No Direction Home, 1986).
[Please note if the following video is unavailable in your location try this link]
And one of the channels for expressing dreams and dreamlike atmospheric descriptions, dialogues and settings are the Enfants du Paradis references and borrowings, which we see recurring throughout Dylan’s oeuvre as well. Quite lavishly, even. The entire lyrics of “Most Likely You Go Your Way (and I’ll Go Mine)”, for instance, are built on that one quote from the very first scene of the film, when Fréderic Lemaître sees the beautiful Garance (Arletty) walking by on the busy Boulevard du Crime, and immediately tries to hit on her;
“Où allons-nous? – Where shall we go, ” he asks, as he forces his arm on her.
Garance is not the least bit intimidated, nor overly impressed, and waves him off with a beaming smile, as she calmly loosens her arm again:
“C’est tout simple. Vous allez de votre côté, moi du mien – That’s very simple. You go your way, I’ll go mine.” (If this video does not work in your area, please try this link)
We can’t really blame Frédéric for his pushiness though; even Marlon Brando, another fan (“Maybe the best movie ever made”) falls head over heels for Garance:
“You know, that’s the only time I ever fell in love with an actress, somebody on the screen. I was mad about Arletty. I mean, I was really in love with her. My first trip to Paris, the thing I did right away, I asked to meet Arletty. I went to see her as though I were going to a shrine. My ideal woman. Wow!”
(interview with Truman Capote, New Yorker, 9 November 1957)
That encounter, by the way, was a major disappointment (“Was that a mistake, was that a disillusionment! She was a tough article”).
But meanwhile, Dylan has read You go your way, I’ll go mine in the subtitles. The street scene itself, with all those frenzied characters, chaotic alternation of scenes and exotic side characters, has a strong “Ballad Of A Thin Man”/”Desolation Row” vibe, and further on in the film we do encounter more verse lines. “Love is so simple” is said no less than three times, for example – enough to get a place in the Dylan song in which the bard quite explicitly says he is not making it up himself: Love is so simple, to quote a phrase (“You’re A Big Girl Now”).
The culmination of that fascination with Les Enfants du Paradis is then Dylan’s marathon film Renaldo & Clara, the chaotic mosaic that he spins together while improvising at the Rolling Thunder Revue (1975), shortly after recording “You’re A Big Girl Now”. The film’s influence is evident in such small, ambiguous details as Dylan’s white-painted face (as is the face of protagonist Baptiste Deburau, the tragic mime, and the name of the character played by Joan Baez: “The Woman In White”. After all, the second part of the two-part French classic is called “L’Homme Blanc – The Man In White”).
Decidedly no coincidence, we know thanks to Sam Shepard’s 1977 Rolling Thunder Logbook. Shepard is in California and, to his own surprise, gets a last-minute call from someone speaking on Dylan’s behalf asking if he can come to New York right away to join Dylan on a “secret tour in the Northeast”. Dylan wants to make “a movie of the tour” and wants to have a writer for “providing dialogue”. When Shepard first speaks to Dylan a week later, the first thing Dylan says is, “We don’t have to make any connections.” Shepard isn’t sure if Dylan means that he and Dylan don’t need to make any connections on a personal level, but no, Dylan skips the small talk and started talking about the film right away; “None of this has to connect. In fact, it’s better if it doesn’t connect”. Shepard cannot think of anything to say, mainly because he is still quite overwhelmed of being in Dylan’s presence, and Dylan goes on, clarifying:
“Did you ever see Children of Paradise?” he says. I admit I have but a long time ago. I saw it with a girl who cried all the way through so it’s hard to relate my exact impressions. “How about Shoot the Piano Player?”
“Yeah, I saw that one too. Is that the kind of movie you want to make?”
“Something like that.”
Forty-five years after this conversation, fifty-five years after Dylan incorporated the first Enfants du Paradis references into his oeuvre, the magic of the film has apparently not yet worn off. The setting, also the title of the first part, provides the address of the narrator of “I Contain Multitudes”: I live on the boulevard of crime – not just the setting of the street scenes, but also the name of Part 1 of the two-part film.
No relation to the surrounding lines of this fourth stanza, of course, let alone to any other verse of the song. It’s better if it doesn’t connect, after all.
To be continued. Next up I Contain Multitudes part 10: Don’t you step on my pink pedal pushers
Jochen is a regular reviewer of Dylan’s work on Untold. His books, in English, Dutch and German, are available via Amazon both in paperback and on Kindle:
- Blood on the Tracks: Dylan’s Masterpiece in Blue
- Blonde On Blonde: Bob Dylan’s mercurial masterpiece
- Where Are You Tonight? Bob Dylan’s hushed-up classic from 1978
- Desolation Row: Bob Dylan’s poetic letter from 1965
- Basement Tapes: Bob Dylan’s Summer of 1967
- Mississippi: Bob Dylan’s midlife masterpiece
- Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits
- John Wesley Harding: Bob Dylan meets Kafka in Nashville
- Tombstone Blues b/w Jet Pilot: Dylan’s lookin’ for the fuse
- Street-Legal: Bob Dylan’s unpolished gem from 1978
- Bringing It All Back Home: Bob Dylan’s 2nd Big Bang
- Time Out Of Mind: The Rising of an Old Master
- Crossing The Rubicon: Dylan’s latter-day classic
- Nashville Skyline: Bob Dylan’s other type of music
- Nick Drake’s River Man: A very British Masterpiece