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I had read so many bad reviews of this movie. I'd read it was impossible
follow; I'd read that the dialogue was banal; Roger Ebert gave it half a
star, claiming it was too ambiguous. So, when I saw Masked & Anonymous, I
was prepared for the worse.
Instead, as soon as the movie began, and that Spanish Version of My Back Pages started playing to bomb explosions and imagery of a future gone wrong, I realize: I'm going to like this movie.
First, the plot, far too incredible to really explain here (And it sort of depends on your point of view anyways) is very creative in that it conveys an incredible amount of symbolism. On one hand, this is a movie that mocks rock music (Think of the scene where Uncle Sweetheart tells Fate "You're gonna play rock and roll get rich launch your career and bring world peace all at the same time!") On the other hand, this could be Dylan's way of telling us who he really is. "Maybe I'm just a singer and nothing more" he tells us. He's tired of being made to be a counter cultural liberal protester. He's tired of people who think he only writes anti-war songs. Think of the scene where a woman brings her daughter to see Dylan. When Dylan learns that the little girl knows all his lyrics he asks "What'd she do that for?" And the mother quickly responds "Because I made her." This movie is about so many things: You just have to see it and every time you see it again you'll see more.
Concerning the dialogue. Many people say the dialogue is contrived, banal, or mindlessly poetic. To such people I reccomend they read Shakespeare (He's in the alley). Dylan has been hailed as a modern Shakespeare, so it is not wonder that this movie has the same beautiful poetry that his songs do.
But I will grant this: Bad actors would never be able to pull off this script. And this was probably the movie's strongest feature: Incredible acting. John Goodman deserves an Emmy for his portrayal of the scheming Uncle Sweetheart. Val Kilmer shocked me with his ability to portray the crazed Animal Wrangler. Jessica Lange gave the best performance of her career. The list goes on... Mickey Rourke, Ed Harris, Christian Slater, all surprised me with brilliant acting.
If you have the chance to see this movie, just once, do so. And forgive its few shortcomings-- it was made on short notice, and its messages were meant to transcend all imperfections for movie rookie director Larry Charles. This movie will probably be forgotten one day, which is unfortunate, because rarely is a movie this original.
What could go wrong with a movie that features Bob Dylan playing some fun
tunes, leading actors John Goodman, Jessica Lange, Luke Wilson, Jeff
and Penelope Cruz, and bit parts by Christian Slater, Ed Harris, Angela
Basset, Mickey Rourke and Val Kilmer? Well, let's start with a script
penned by Bob Dylan that is easily as ineffable as, say, Subterranean
Homesick Blues. If you know why the man in the coonskin cap wants eleven
dollar bills (and you only got ten) then maybe you understood this movie.
The rest of us struggled with mundane dialogue, disjointed vignettes,
veiled allusions to Dylan's life, some sort of statement on revolution,
perhaps an admission by Dylan himself that even he doesn't have a clue as
what most of his songs mean. Maybe if I saw this film another 2-3 times I
would unravel the deeper meaning, peel back the layers of symbolism, and
better grasp the metaphors that give deeper significance to the movie. On
the other hand, it's been 35 years and I still don't know why I should
around an ink well or watch the parking meters.
I wish I could say that I enjoyed this movie. But the fact is, I rarely laughed, certainly didn't cry, and I didn't really care about any of the characters. I could barely follow the plot line. And I didn't understand most of what was lurking under the surface. None of the actors appeared to have clue as to what was going on either. But then, maybe that's what Dylan meant all along . Maybe, but you shouldn't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
There was a time when music mattered, and the people that made that music
mattered too. Bob Dylan was one of those people. Dylan has floated in and
out of the public eye over the years, but has made somewhat of a return
the release of his 2001 album Love and Theft. He has tried to increase his
current comeback, and extend his hand into another form of art, by written
and staring in a new film.
Masked and Anonymous is good no matter what your opinion of Bob Dylan may be. For Dylan fans this is a tour de force of film making. Written like a Dylan epic tune, think Desolation Row, Masked stays just out of reach of the explainable. Coupled with great cameos, Val Kilmer is far and away the best of many, Masked delivers. John Goodman and Jeff Bridges hold supply the majority of the nessecary acting with Luke Wilson helping out on occasion. However this is the Wilson of Old School, and a far cry from the Wilson of the Royla Tennebaums. None of that really matters, however, because this film was made for Bob Dylan, and he is the single most important character on screen.
In Jack Fate Dylan has created a chracter that personifies his style. Fate, an aging rock star returning home for a benefit concert, symbolizes what h as become of Dylan's career as a musician. Masked isn't really the story of Bob Dylan's life, no more then any of his songs are, it can be, however, his response to what his life has been like. The story itself lacks a little and the characters are never fully defined, but like the supporting acting none of that matters. The important part of Masked and Anonymous, and the only reason it was ever made, is Bob Dylan. Taken that way, Masked and Anonymous is a truly excellent, and original, piece of film.
Like one of Bob's epic songs, full of ambiguities, mystery, mind
twisting meanings, implications and innuendos and then again maybe
nothing real at all. Like a film of Desolation row, or Brownsville Girl
this film conjures up all kinds of thought provoking images that don't
lead anywhere specific but fascinate with what seems to be just below
the surface. Whether or not it was the idea to make a film with as much
intrigue about implied ideas and meanings without really being specific
like what Bob Dylan so often does in his best songwriting; that's what
has been accomplished here with far reaching success. This by far is
the best Dylan on film that I have ever encountered and so refreshing
to finally see Bob paint a masterpiece on film! This film also had me
laughing at times more than any film I've seen in a long time. There
are some truly hilarious scenes.
'Sometimes I think that new Dylan material should first be released underground to his most ardent fans. Because it's only them -- only the ones with haunted eyes and motorcycle minds, the electric men and the silver lightning girls -- who have the emotional vocabulary and derelict vision to faithfully interpret his material.'
'Bob Dylan has always articulated an alternative reality. To those who can relate to it, his songs sting and heal, lift and reveal.'
If Dylan's songs speak to you and get inside your psyche, see this movie, it will too! 10/10
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.
The fact that Roger Ebert was so turned off by it is a damn good clue
as to what's so great about this "movie." Remember when Dylan went
electric in '65 at Newport and p***ed off everyone, especially the old
tyme die hard folkies? Folk singers were supposed to be the voice of
acceptance, inclusion, democracy. But there was righteous Pete Singer
threatening to take an axe to the power cables to shut down Dylan's
second set. Hypocrites. Bob's done it again with "Masked and
Anonymous", a fake pseudo mock parable set in a far off exotic land
that's much closer than we know. It's all done with a wink and a grin,
and done very, very well.
Jessica Lange is absolutely amazing as an Industry Hustler, John Goodman is a riot and in the zone as a larger than life small time shmoozer. Jeff Bridges is, as always, Jeff Bridges! Penelope Cruz has never ever been so watchable, her cute accent exploited to the max. There's a crap load of supporting stars that just blaze in and out sight. Some you have to really squint to recognize, like Mickey Rourke as a slimy conniving politico. Giovanni Ribisi delivers a silver bullet monologue on the dilemmas of a revolutionary. And Bob Dylan is OK. OK may not sound like much, but with this high power, super star, mega talent mix, he's lucky to not be totally squashed. Bob's smart enough to say as little as possible, and it's a great contrast to all the uber-acting going on all around him.
Along with the very clever, maybe-too-smug dialog are some great unusual Dylan cover songs and a scant few divine "live" performances - Bob with a terribly good band, aiming for the throat and killing effortlessly. Transcendent moments, like lush oases on the desperately bleak American Film landscape, "Masked and Anonymous" is very cool refreshing entertainment.
Ever see one of those corny french philosophy lessons from the 60's that they like to call a film? This flick will help ya get over it.
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.
I am not a fan of Bob Dylan, but I think his figure in this movie is very interesting, because to me it represents more than just a connection to the great singer, but high-level personality. The plot is interesting, placed in a fictional future with unpredictable development and smart side lines. I don't understand people that said the dialogues and speech were hard to get. It just requires some brain cells to work, not just passively follow the action. This is a very special movie, it is not for people who just want the entertainment. The casting is awesome, all the actors are admirable in their roles. Bob Dylan doesn't even talk a lot, but his character is very very charming. I think a lot of people will enjoy this feature, so don't let negative comments stop you from watching it, because it is better than you might think!
If you are intelligent enough to pick up on the satire, the political commentary, and if you can understand the depth of this film, you will realize this will be something shown in art classes for years to come. This movie isn't the average movie goes "sit down and zone out" film. This movie is filled with metaphors and commentary about the directions governments and people are heading in - sacrificing their lives for causes they know little about. If you dig Orwell and A. Huxley, this is a film for you. The characters in this movie, apart from Dylan, are all very audacious and fake. Many of them depict and reflect the times in which the movie is set - times of fear, times of survival by any means, and times where artistic achievement is ignored in favor of safety and comfort. Art has never been safe and comfortable - art is about risk and challenge. This movie displays this. Dylan's character is like the eye of the storm - calm and collected because he sees through the lies and deceit. He knows that his whole role in the movie is just to appease some political cause, and he won't compromise his vision and ideals for anyone - even if they are holding a gun to his head.
Get in the right frame of mind to watch this movie. Bob Dylan has a unique ability for understatement, while at the same time doing broad irony. Here he stays in character. At least he looks right at the camera. Like a Dylan song. Don't look for the standard movie structure. Much seems to be about the doing rather then the getting it done. It's great fun watching the characters. They never looked better then in this film. Bob always attracted the best backing group. And then there's the music. It's the songs that make little sense that really set the tone. Those who don't get it never will. While it's not Dylan's greatest moment, it still holds interest since it's born of his determination and the draw of his energy.
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