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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>
For those who have read or heard the various reviews calling "Masked and Anonymous" a "mess" all I can say is if you enjoy the work of Bob Dylan you'll enjoy it, and if you don't enjoy his work, you probably won't enjoy it. It's that simple really.
It's a surreal social critique of the current state of things, as well as an attempt to illustrate to the audience not only what the world looks like to Bob Dylan, but also what Bob Dylan looks like to the world, much like his music. So if you are familiar with and enjoy that about his music, you'll enjoy the film.
And also, much like his music has always done, if you're up on your historical references and cultural detritus you'll find yourself giggling a lot. The puns and inside jokes are scattered everywhere, as are his songs, not necessarily performed by him.
Just let it soak over you like a long Dylan album and you'll know what I mean.
All the reviews are basically saying "It's not like how other movies are made these days. What is this crap?" In many ways it's similar to Renaldo & Clara, but it's much more mainstream than that ever was.
There's even a few seconds of the Seattle WTO riots in 99 in the film.
I think the best way to approach the film is as if you were watching a Duchamp. I could see it on a double bill with Orpheus. There's many allusions and references to other films like a pocketwatch with a broken face.
It's not a Hollywood film even though it's got a lot of Hollywood people in it. It's more like a very expensive foreign indie film. They all do great jobs, especially John Goodman, his character not being too far a stretch from his role in Barton Fink. But the characters are caricatures, archetypes, just like in Desolation Row it imagines what the future might be like, or maybe it just looks a little too clearly at what is happening right now.
From a straight acting perspective method would be wasted on these sketchy characters, because like in a noir film, you know them enough to know who they are and what they do, but their lives are all so repressed, their dreams are all of trying to comprehend the world they live in, where there is constant revolution, either dire poverty or obscene wealth and a lot of violence lies between the two, both physically and emotionally. Even the president of the television network has bodyguards with assault rifles. Other reviews all try saying that it takes place in some Central American country, but the irony is it was all filmed on the streets on the other side of LA.
Time is played with, sometimes to make someone get something right, and the parade of faces peopling the movie are the mythological icons of not just this age but stretching back past the 20th century. Ghandi, Pope John Paul II, Abraham Lincoln, Koo Koo The Bird Girl, they're all here. The characters all have names like Jack Fate, Uncle Sweetheart, Tom Friend, Bobby Cupid, Valentine, Prospero, Nestor, Bacchus. There's as many overriding themes as there are submotifs, but it's chockfull of details, too, and the details are fast and furious. You learn just to let one drop if you don't get it because another one will be coming up soon.
Many threads are pulled together and the plot is thought through as much as anything, but Dylan has always been more about questions than about answers, so traditional expectations of identifying with a simple plot and easily sympathetic characters won't leave you very nourished, as much as if you just accepted that, like life, anyone could say anything at any time which just might not be what you expected to hear.
So you can't see the framework that the plot is on very easily because the themes and questions asked are far more interesting and ultimately more overwhelming and therefore concentrated on more than the plot. The themes are big, the questions are huge, after all, this is Dylan. Mortality, desire, loyalty, purity, confession, nurturing, freedom, imprisonment, corruption, manipulation, poverty, madness.
The camerawork is impressive because a lot of the scenes have to do with who is more powerful than the other character, and overhead shots and shots up stairs really underline a lot of the relationships of the characters to their world, their friends and their enemies.
And of course, like a Dylan song, you could watch it over and over and find new things every time, even though you'll get most of it in one viewing. Some things you immediately realize what he just got away with. Who else could put Ed Harris in blackface and have him in a scene where he's looking down on Dylan from the top of a stairwell. Then the next time Dylan looks up he's changed to a young Rastafarian janitor.
When Dylan's character gets out of jail the first song you hear as he struts along with his suit and his guitar is an Italian rap remix of Like A Rolling Stone.
The center of the film is when a small black girl sings an amazing a capella version of The Times They Are A'Changin' to Dylan and his band while they're resting on the bandstand. It sends Dylan's character inward until he finally says "It's all just ordinary things" in one of the films very effective voiceovers. If you think of the film as a new album by Dylan, the voiceovers would be the liner notes he wrote himself. Another one closes the film, and when you hear what his last words are you realize that Dylan has basically just taken the same things he always addresses in his music, as well as the way he presents such things in his music, and has simply tried to do the exact same thing in a film. If you approach the film as a set of songs it will be easier to follow. The scenes are what are important, as well as who is who to the other person. The plot is controlled by the unpredictable events of the dictatorship in power and the dying king and who is the rightful heir.
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