Review of Masked and Anonymous
"Masked and Anonymous" is a wild ride of a movie and to appreciate it it's
probably a good idea to try and put any preconceived notions about what a
film is or should be aside. This is no typical or standard movie. At the
same time where Dylan's other excursions into filmmaking ("Eat The
Document," "Renaldo & Clara") may have faltered at times, "Masked And
Anonymous" succeeds, but on its own terms.
The storyline and the plot are incidental to the movie. They are pretty
much a backdrop or a frame. Basically, (singer) Jack Fate is released from
prison to play a benefit concert. You're never exactly sure what it's for.
You also don't know why Fate is in prison. What you do know is this is in a
war-torn, violent, police state. You're not even sure when this happening
though '60s references (particularly to music) abound throughout. The
setting is a world gone very wrong where virtually every character
apparently has suffered major burnout, and if it's not apparent in their
speech, it is in their faces. There is no luxury or relief anywhere in
sight, and confusion abounds. Soldiers, armed guards are everywhere. The
cars, the rooms are old, dingy, cramped with hints of the third world. The
people in the movie are not of any single nationality, race or religion, but
it appears they are existing (not exactly living) in some crazed inferno.
In almost every scene there is something going on in the background: People
doing menial tasks, vacuuming, cleaning, constantly running around - it is
rarely quiet. And if they're not doing menial tasks, they're praying though
you're never exactly sure what religion they're practicing.
So with that as the backdrop, Nina Veronika (played by Jessica Lange) is
trying to promote a benefit to be broadcast by the Network, which is the
government. Unable to lure any of the big stars she wants, she contacts
manage Uncle Sweetheart, played brilliantly by John Goodman who steals the
movie who can only suggest his former client Jack Fate, a has been singer.
The Network doesn't want him. Fate as it turns out, is also the son of the
dying President whose picture is everywhere. While Fate is apparently
considered a laughingstock, you know there's something special about him,
which comes out of course in the music - Bob Dylan music. As the camera
pans through some desolate urban landscape the opening verse of "Blind
Willie McTell" plays and the key line, "This land is condemned" hits hard.
Dylan music plays constantly through the film, whether by him or an
assortment of covers from all over the world. And it is used to great
And soon it becomes apparent that this movie isn't about Jack Fate at all
(or is it?) but it's about Bob Dylan, whoever that is. At the same time,
it's not about Bob Dylan, but what Bob Dylan (as Jack Fate) sees. This is
his vision and it's not pretty.
Throughout the film various characters, each with their own unique insanity
come and go, usually delivering an intense rant along the way. Fate is the
mostly silent observer and you know nothing escapes his forlorn eyes. He
says little, except when he sings and occasionally delivers fairly revealing
commentary over the proceedings.
Various characters can be related to people in Dylan's life. Sweetheart
could be based on Albert Grossman, Bobby Cupid, (Luke Wilson) could be
loosely based on Bob Neuwirth. Tom Friend, the once hip journalist who
constantly pesters Fate with moronic questions ("What did you think about
Zappa?" "Why weren't you at Woodstock?") could be based on Al Aronowitz.
However, whether they are or not doesn't really matter.
The key to "Masked And Anonymous" isn't in the story or the characters.
It's in the background, what's written on the walls, what's playing on the
radio, the quick one-liners that slip out in conversation.
Even the acting doesn't matter. Some people, are good, others aren't.
Giovanni Ribisi stands out as The Soldier in the beginning of the film as
does Ed Harris as Oscar Vogel, a blackface minstrel who mysteriously
appears, almost like an angel offering Fate advice when things get extremely
And while the film's vision is bleak and the commentary unrelenting, it is
not without humor. There are both hysterical and silly moments, though
being a Dylan fan may help with some of the jokes.
Will "Masked And Anonymous" be a smashing success in the real world whatever
that is? Probably not and who cares? Is it landmark cinematic achievement?
It doesn't matter. It could become as Michael G. Smith has pointed out on
various Internet forums a cult classic, a great midnight movie.
Like "Renaldo & Clara" it is at times like a painting, but this time,
probably thanks to Larry Charles directing, it's much more focused.
Consider it another chapter in the Bob Dylan canon. Perhaps the things he's
wanted to say he couldn't put in a song, though at times the movie is
constructed like a song.
As for the critics and the general public, as this film makes clear, they
never got it to begin with.
Those who are seriously interested in Bob Dylan and what he has to say will
want to see it more than once because you are not going to get it all the
And for those who wonder what Bob Dylan really thinks about this world we
exist in, well you just might find it here.
Review courtesy of Peter Stone Brown