Sunday, March 30, 2014

Masked and Anonymous

A film by Larry Charles and Bob Dylan
Sony Pictures Classics, 2003

   In the vast universe of Bob Dylan's work this film is in its own galaxy, a one-off melange of music, current events, history, show biz and philosophy. It bombed on its release over a decade ago, but upon re-watching it last night, I found it to be, well, classic Bob. Dylan has always been a keen observer of the human condition, he uses this ability create new music over a framework of eternal themes, musical or otherwise. The dialog (whether spoken by Bob or someone else) is full of Dylan's trenchant observations, zen riddles, and even a few jokes.

   The unbelievably strong cast has a ball in bringing Bob's characters to life. John Goodman and Jessica Lange are a pair of promoters, trying to score big on a televised benefit featuring the washed up singer/songwriter Jack Fate (Dylan). Angela Bassett, Bruce Dern, Val, Kilmer, Giovanni Ribsi, Mickey Rourke, Jeff Bridges, Penelope Cruz (in a mesmerizing performance), and many other great actors populate the film. The action takes place in a decaying third world country, riddled with corruption and decay amid the constant threat of revolution. This is a very dark film.

In it, Bob does perform several songs live with his current touring band. His music is used elsewhere in the film in a variety of ways (sometimes performed by other artists) giving an effect akin to an iPod on shuffle, but somehow fitting in context. As a whole, the film may be less than the sum of its parts, but then Bob has always been hard to pigeon-hole, and this effort is no exception. I think this film may actually be more topical now than when it was released. I suspect it will come to be appreciated even more in the future.

By Professor Batty


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