“Even the ghost was more than one person”: Authorship and Authorisation in I’m Not There


  • Marcus O'Dair Middlesex University


authorisation, authorship, biopic, Todd Haynes, heteroglossia, Bob Dylan


“This is not a Bob Dylan movie” ran the headline of Robert Sullivan’s New York Times feature about I’m Not There, the 2007 Dylan biopic directed by Todd Haynes. In one sense, this is quite true: Dylan is depicted by six actors, between them portraying seven characters, yet none of these characters is named Bob Dylan. I argue, however, that I’m Not There is very much a Bob Dylan movie; contrary to the title, Bob Dylan is there. I frame my argument with reference to the notion of heteroglossia (Bakhtin 1981), as well as theories of authorship (Foucault 1984, Barthes 1977) and the authorisation of biography (Renders 2017). Although it focuses on a single film, my article feeds into broader discussions of identity construction in popular music biopics and the relationship between popular music biopics and other biographical texts. 10.5429/2079-3871(2017)v7i1.7en

Author Biography

Marcus O'Dair, Middlesex University

Senior lecturer in popular music



Abrams, M. H. 1953. The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition. London, Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

Anderson, M. 2007. For the Record. Time Out, 13 August. https://www.timeout.com/newyork/things-to-do/for-the-record. Accessed: 29 April 2017.

Asava, Z. 2010. Multiculturalism and Morphing in I’m Not There. Wide Screen,

(2), June: 1-15

Assange, J. 2011. Julian Assange: the Unauthorised Autobiography. Edinburgh: Canongate.

Astruc, A. 1968. The Birth of a New Avant-Garde: La Caméra Stylo. L’Écran Française. March 30. In P. Graham Ed. The New Wave. New York: Doubleday: 17-23.

Bakhtin, M. 1981. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Banauch, E., Ed. 2015. Refractions of Bob Dylan: Cultural Appropriations of an American Icon. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Bangs, L. 1996. Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung. London: Serpent’s Tail.

Barthes, R. 1977. Image Music Text. London: Fontana Press.

Bennett, A. 2005. The Author. Abingdon and New York: Routledge.

Benton, M. 2015. Towards a Poetics of Literary Biography. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Bilton, C. 2007. Management and Creativity: from Creative Industries to Creative Management. Oxford: Blackwell.

Bingham, D. 2010. Whose Lives are they Anyway? The Biopic as Contemporary Film Genre. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.

Booth, A. 2015. Prosopography and Crowded Attention in Old and New Media. In Z. Leader Ed. On Life-Writing. Oxford: Oxford University Press: 72-98.

Burke, S. -

Authorship: from Plato to the Postmodern. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

The Death and Return of the Author: Criticism and Subjectivity in Barthes, Foucault and Derrida. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Caughie, J. Ed. 1981. Theories of Authorship. Abingdon: Routledge.

Chagollan, S. 2015. Bob Dylan’s Approach to Song Licensing is Positively Surprising. Variety. February 4. http://variety.com/2015/music/awards/dylans-approach-to-song-licensing-is-positively-surprising-1201421781/. Accessed 8 June 2017.

Clover, J. 2008. The End. Film Quarterly. 61(3): 6-7.

Cobley, P. 2014. Narrative, second edition. London and New York: Routledge

Cole, Teju. 2012. Natives on the Boat. The New Yorker, 11 September. http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/natives-on-the-boat. Accessed: 20 October 2016.

Coley, R. 2015. “I Don’t Believe You… You’re a Liar”: the Fabulatory Function of Bob Dylan’. In E. Banauch Ed, Refractions of Bob Dylan: Cultural Appropriations of an American Icon. Manchester: Manchester University Press: 83-97.

Custen, G.1992. Bio/pics: How Hollywood Constructed Public History. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Darby, H. 2013. I’m Glad I’m Not Me: Subjective Dissolution, Schizoanalysis and Post-structuralist Ethics in the Films of Todd Haynes, Film-Philosophy 17 (1): 330-347. http://www.film-philosophy.com/index.php/f-p/issue/view/87. Accessed: 29 April 2017.

Davies, R. 1995. X-Ray: the Unauthorised Autobiography. Woodstock: Overlook

D’Cruz, C. and D’Cruz, G. 2013. “Even the Ghost was more than one person”:

Hauntology and Authenticity in Todd Haynes' I'm Not There, Film-Philosophy, 17 (1): 315-330. http://www.film-philosophy.com/index.php/f-p/article/view/898/876. Accessed: 29 April 2017.

Dylan, B.-

Tarantula. New York: Scribner.

Chronicles: Volume 1. London: Pocket Books.

Elliott, R. 2015. The Late Voice: Time, Age and Experience in Popular Music. New York: Bloomsbury.

Ephron, N and Edmiston, S. 1965. “Bob Dylan Interview". http://www.interferenza.com/bcs/interw/65-aug.htm. Accessed: 5 June 2017.

Foucault, M. 1984. What is an Author? In P. Rabinow Ed. The Foucault Reader: an Introduction to Foucault’s Thought: 101-120.

French, P. 2008. The World Is What It Is: the Authorised Biography of V. S. Naipaul. London: Picador.

Gair, C. 2007. The American Counterculture. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Gillies, M. 2009. Writing Lives: Literary Biography. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gilmore, Mikal. 2012. Bob Dylan Unleashed. Rolling Stone, 27 September. http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/bob-dylan-unleashed-a-wild-ride-on-his-new-lp-and-striking-back-at-critics-20120927. Accessed: 30 April 2017.

Harrison, A. 2011. Music: the Business. The Essential Guide to the Law and the Deals, fifth edition. London: Virgin Books

Hartley, J. et al. 2015. Creative Economy and Culture: Challenges, Changes and Futures for the Creative Industries. London: Sage.

Hentoff, N. 1966. “The Playboy Interview”. Playboy. February.

Hughes, J. 2013. Invisible Now: Bob Dylan in the 1960s. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Inglis, I. 2007. Popular Music History on Screen: the Pop/Rock Biopic. Popular Music History, 2 (1): 77-93. http://dx.doi.org/10.1558/pomh.v2i1.77

Isaacson, W. 2011. Steve Jobs. London: Little, Brown.

John-Steiner, V. 2006. Creative Collaboration. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Karpis. R. E. 1992. Hitchcock: the Making of a Reputation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lee, A. 2007. Todd Haynes on Dylan Film. Entertainment Weekly, December 2. http://ew.com/article/2007/12/02/todd-haynes-dylan-film/. Accessed: 30 April 2017.

Lee, H. 2009. Biography: a Very Short Introduction. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Leeder, M. 2012. Haunting and Minstrelsy in Bob Dylan's Masked and Anonymous, Journal of Popular Film and Television, 40 (4): 181-191. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01956051.2012.668577

Littleton, K. and Miell, D. 2004. Collaborative Creativity: Contemporary Perspectives. In D. Miell and K. Littleton Ed. Collaborative Creativity: Contemporary Perspectives. London: Free Association Books: 1-8.

Marcus, G. 1997. Invisible Republic. New York: Henry Holt.

Marcus, L. 1994. Auto/biographical Discourses: Theory, Criticism, Practice. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press.

Marshall, L. 2007. Dylan: the Never Ending Star. Cambridge: Polity.

Miles, B. 1998. Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now. London: Vintage.

Morley, P. 2016. The Age of Bowie: How David Bowie Made a World of Difference. London: Simon and Schuster.

Moy, R. 2015. Authorship Roles in Popular Music: Issues and Debates. London: Routledge.

Negus, K. and Pickering, M. 2004. Creativity, Communication and Cultural Value. London: Sage.

O’Hagan, Sean. 2007. Who Does Bob Think He Is? The Guardian, 11 November. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2007/nov/11/1. Accessed: 30 April 2017.

Paulus, P. B. and Nijstad, B. A. Ed. 2003. Group Creativity: Innovation through Collaboration. Oxford: Oxford Academic Press.

Peterson, R. A. Ed. 1976. The Production of Culture. London: Sage.

Renders, H. et al. 2017. The Biographical Turn: Lives in History. London: Routledge.

Rose, M. 1995. Authors and Owners: the Invention of Copyright. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Saunders, D. 1992. Authorship and Copyright. London: Routledge.

Sawyer, K. 2003. Group Creativity: Music, Theater, Collaboration. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Scobie, S. -

I’m Not There (1956-2007). Dartmouth College, Just a Series of Interpretations of Bob Dylan's Lyrical Works: An Academic Conference at Dartmouth College. Hanover, USA, August 11-13. http://www.dartmouth.edu/~2006dylancon/papers/Scobie-notthere.pdf. Accessed: 30 April 17.

Plagiarism, Bob, Jean-Luc and Me. In E. Banauch Ed, Refractions of Bob Dylan: Cultural Appropriations of an American Icon. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Sheffield, R. 2012. “The 25 Greatest Rock Memoirs of All Time”. Rolling Stone, 13 August. http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/the-25-greatest-rock-memoirs-of-all-time-20120813/paul-mccartney-many-years-from-now-1997-20120813. Accessed: 29 April 17.

Shelton, R. 2011. No Direction Home: the Life and Music of Bob Dylan. London: Omnibus.

Smith, J. 2010. A Town Called Riddle: Excavating Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There. Screen. 51 (1): 71-78. DOI: 10.1093/screen/hjp051

Stillinger, J. 1991. Multiple Authorship and the Myth of the Solitary Genius. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sullivan, R. 2007. “This Is Not a Bob Dylan Movie”. New York Times, 7 October. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/07/magazine/07Haynes.html. Accessed: 23 January 2017.

Swiss, T. 2005. That’s Me in the Spotlight: Rock Autobiographies, Popular Music, 24 (2): 287-94. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0261143005000504

Toynbee, J. 2000. Making Popular Music: Musicians, Creativity and Institutions. London: Arnold.

Wilson, A. 2004. Foucault on the “Question of the Author”: a Critical Exegesis. The Modern Language Review, 99 (2): 339-363. http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/4458/1/s5_%282%29.pdf. Accessed: 30 April 2017.

Woodmansee, M. 1994. On the Author Effect: Recovering Collectivity. In Woodmansee, M. and Jaszi, P. Ed. 1994. The Construction of Authorship: Textual Appropriation in Law and Literature. London: Duke University Press: 15-28.


Dylan, Bob. 1962. “Talkin’ New York”, Bob Dylan, Columbia, March 19, UK.

Dylan, Bob. 1964. “It Ain’t Me Babe”, Columbia, 1964, August 8, UK.

Dylan, Bob. 1965. Bringing it all Back Home, Columbia, March 22, UK.

Dylan, Bob. 1966. “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine”, Blonde on Blonde, Columbia, May 16, UK.

Dylan, Bob. 1967. John Wesley Harding, Columbia, December 27, UK.

Dylan, Bob. 1969. Nashville Skyline, Columbia, April 9, UK.

Dylan, Bob. 1970. New Morning, Columbia, October 19, UK.

Dylan, Bob. 1973. Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Columbia, July 13, UK.

Dylan, Bob. 1975. The Basement Tapes, Columbia, June 26, UK.

Dylan, Bob. 1979. Slow Train Coming, Columbia, August 20, UK.

Dylan, Bob. 2007. “I’m Not There”, I’m Not There, Columbia, October 30, UK.

Kristofferson, Kris. 1971. “The Pilgrim – Chapter 33”, The Silver Tongued Devil and I, Monument, July, UK.


20 Feet from Stardom. 2013. Dir. Morgan Neville. Gil Friesen Productions, Tremolo Productions.

Dont Look Back. 1967. Dir. D. A. Pennebaker. Leacock-Pennebaker.

Eat The Document. 1972. Dir. Bob Dylan. Pennebaker Associates.

I’m Not There. 2007. Dir. Todd Haynes. DVD. The Weinstein Company.

Jimi: All Is By My Side. 2013. Dir. John Ridley. Darko Entertainment, Freeman Film, Subotica Entertainment, Irish Film Board, Matador Pictures, AIBMS

McCabe and Mrs Miller. 1971. Dir. Robert Altman. David Foster Productions/Warner Bros.

Muscle Shoals. 2013. Dir. Greg Camalier. Ear Goggles.

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. 1973. Dir. Sam Peckinpah. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Standing in the Shadows of Motown. 2002. Dir. Paul Justman. Artisan Entertainment, Rimshot, Elliott Scott Productions.

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story. 1987. Dir. Todd Haynes. Iced Tea Productions.

Velvet Goldmine. 1998. Dir. Todd Haynes. Channel 4 Films, Goldwyn Films, Killer Films, Miramax, Newmarket Capital Group, Single Cell Pictures, Zenith Entertainment.






Articles – Special Issue