Against the backdrop of a nation on the brink of revolution, Uncle Sweetheart and Nina Veronica are slimy promoters planning a benefit concert. They desire the services of legendary singer Jack Fate, and soon Fate is sprung from jail. A rock journalist investigates the concert, attempting to determine just who will benefit. Revolution may be raging outside the arena, but Jack Fate and the benefit concert play on as planned. Written by
Ken Miller <firstname.lastname@example.org>
In Bob Dylan's first scene, where he is released from prison, he is wearing a wig. He liked it so much that he continued to wear it for various occasions, including his appearance at the Newport Folk Festival in August 2002. See more »
When Nina Veronica meets the TV executives at the television studio, the liquor bottles in the center of the table change position and number in almost every shot where they are visible. See more »
I don't know whether it's a comedy or a tragedy but it's definitely a masterpiece
You would probably have to go back to early Godard to find a movie as audacious, shockingly funny and brilliantly incisive in its analysis of the uneasy alliance between art and commerce as Masked and Anonymous, the new movie from Bob Dylan and Larry Charles. As with some Godard, I can't say whether it's a comedy or a tragedy - but it's definitely a masterpiece.
Less than a year after news of the film was first announced, Masked and Anonymous has arrived. Shot on digital video in just 20 days and apparently made in the same freewheeling spirit that Bob Dylan likes to record albums, the end result is a wonder to behold: a dense collage of sound and image that threatens to overwhelm the senses but never quite does, thanks to the rigor and precision of director Larry Charles and his team of talented collaborators. The film is, at turns, poetic, playful, political, personal, terrifying, funny and deeply moving; in short, all of the virtues we've come to associate with Dylan's greatest work as a recording artist.
In an interview in 2001, Dylan said, "We're living in a science fiction world whether we realize it or not." Masked and Anonymous then is the story of that world. This is the world that Bob Dylan sees and responds to; Tom Friend, an aggressive reporter played by Jeff Bridges, is clearly meant to stand in for all journalists, even while Dylan puts his own words in Friend's mouth. Similarly, the organizers of a benefit concert make demands of Fate that must represent the kind of idiotic commercial concessions that Dylan is faced with on a regular basis: the setlist they want him to play includes (tee-hee) "Eve of Destruction".
If Dylan's vision seems bleak, there is a ray of hope. There is one genuine human relationship in the film - between Fate and his former roadie, Bobby Cupid (Luke Wilson, in his prime). I believe the warmth and real affection between these two characters, which stands in stark contrast to all of the other relationships depicted in the film, is key to understanding the agenda of Masked and Anonymous, and especially its surprise ending (which I won't give away).
Of course, it is impossible to separate the story of Jack Fate from the legend of Bob Dylan. There are so many references to Dylan's life and career studded throughout the film that it ends up being a kind of self-criticism of the myth by the author. (In this respect, the only film in the history of cinema that is comparable is Chaplin's Limelight - not coincidentally, another masterpiece by an artist in his autumn years.) One obvious example is the character of Uncle Sweetheart, a portly, overbearing manager played with great panache by John Goodman, who is meant to suggest Dylan's own former manager, Albert Grossman. If Goodman's size and obnoxious demeanor don't give it away, the glasses do. What these personal references ultimately suggest is that Jack Fate, the washed-up troubadour, is both Dylan's fear and, more importantly, his victory over that fear.
To direct the Hollywood cast to speak in the script's poetic, ornate language could not have been easy but the actors do an exemplary job. Nearly all of them manage to hit just the right note of cartoonish hysteria to give the film a sense of unity and harmony. Except, that is, for Bob Dylan. Jack Fate is the calm in the eye of the storm, the one rational character surrounded by a world of swirling insanity and director Charles gets a lot of comic mileage out of the contrast between Dylan's deadpan delivery and the over-the-top performances of nearly everyone else; it's like taking a Humphrey Bogart character out of the '40's and plunking him down in the middle of a massively absurd science-fiction landscape - the resignation and world-weariness of the film noir hero remains hilariously intact! The very idea is inspired and the execution is flawless.
The performance footage of course is terrific. Dylan and His Band play seven songs live on camera and there is a warmth, an intimacy and a relaxed quality to the performances that you will only see at Dylan's best club shows. Although none of the songs are heard in their entirety, these sequences are nonetheless beautifully filmed. There is none of the rapid-fire editing and pointlessly roving camera moves that mar the filmed footage of so many live performances. Instead, Charles' strategy is to have the band crowd together and film them in close-up with a wide-angle lens. There are numerous long takes in which all of the band members can be seen and when the camera does move, it's deliberate and meaningful.
In a recent interview, Larry Charles said he never worried about finding a distributor for the film and that Dylan had told him long ago not to worry about the film "in the short term." However the film is received in the short term, the richly orchestrated tapestry of sound and image that is Masked and Anonymous is sure to keep Dylanologists and film fans alike busy for decades.
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