Last week Variety reported that that Brazilian production outfit RT Features had acquired the rights to Bob Dylan’s 1975 “Blood on the Tracks” with the intention of adapting it into a fictional movie.
What the company has in mind is anyone’s guess. Its press statement was as vague as most press statements. “As long-time admirers of one of the greatest albums in the history of music, we feel privileged to be making this film,” said Rodrigo Teixeira, who runs RT with Fernando Loureiro. “Our goal is to work with a filmmaker who can create a classic drama with characters and an environment that captures the feelings that the album inspires in all fans.”
The news generated some scorn among Dylan-watchers on the Internet, but the idea is ripe with possibilities. Radiating bitterness, loneliness, and despair, the lyrics of the 10 tracks on the album, written in two months in 1974, are believed to reflect Dylan’s separation from his first wife, Sara Lowdnes. Although Dylan has said that they were inspired by Anton Chekhov’s short stories and were not confessional, the anguish of romantic loss is the glue that holds the record together.
Some of the songs are existential love laments and most are typically cryptic, bordering on the allegorical, but the monumental “Tangled Up in Blue” and “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” are narrative songs that could be merged for a screenplay. “Idiot Wind” has narrative elements, too.
The first is about a drifter who, unable to get over the memory of his red-headed love, fetches up as a cook in “the great north woods” and later on a “fishin’ boat/Right outside of Delacroix” in Louisiana. “Lily, Rosemary” has a gambling and cabaret theme, a murder and a robbery – it could be a Western, a Depression tale, or a slice of American Gothic. “Simple Twist of Fate,” with its references to a saxophone, beat-up window shades, waterfront docks, and “a strange hotel with a neon burning bright,” is pure film noir.
There are characters in the songs to thrill a screenwriter immersed in Americana: a hangin’ judge, the diamond-mine owner Big Jim, a topless dancer, a man called Gray allegedly shot by the man who runs off with his woman, a one-eyed undertaker, a deputy, a preacher, a fortune-teller. Where is John Huston when you need him?
In 2010, Brad Pitt and director Scott Cooper (“Crazy Heart”) were linked to a film, probably a post-frontier Western, based on Dylan’s epic “Brownsville Girl” (from the 1986 “Knocked Out Loaded” album), to be produced by Irwin Winkler. Since that one’s gone underground for now, we’ll tentatively put our faith in “Blood on the Tracks.”