One You Might've Missed #13: Masked and Anonymous


by: Jeremey Gingrich

Finding diamonds in the rough is a wonderful feeling, but in order to do so, you usually have to watch a lot of bad movies. takes the pain away by recommending a movie that you may have never heard of, or missed when it first came out.

The purpose of this portion of our site is to suggest to you films that we think you should watch because they were obscure, but still good. “Diamonds in the rough,” we call them. But this movie is just rough. MASKED AND ANONYMOUS was looked forward to by Bob Dylan fans from sea to shining sea (a tribe of which I am a member). And though we knew this film wasn’t the Dylan biopic we craved (like the cryptic I’M NOT THERE), we’d heard interesting tidbits about the story, it had a known director (Larry Charles, of “Seinfeld” and BORAT fame) and was riddled with big name stars. Of course it had to be good. These actors wouldn’t come together to make a bad movie, right? This is why I suck at logic games. Or do I?

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The movie begins with the strange rendition of Dylan’s song “My Back Bages” sung in Japanese, which much of the rest of the movie could have been in as well, and most wouldn’t notice at first. Bob Dylan starred in this film as much as we can say a man stars in a film where he speaks maybe 12 lines. The other folks are an eclectic collection of actors from all over, playing a manically diverse collection of characters. Dylan is Jack Fate, an iconic musician bailed out of jail to perform a concert to heal the wounds of a civil war-ravaged future/fictional America. He’s put in touch with a sleazy promoter in John Goodman and sexy, confident TV executive Jessica Lange to put this concert together. He’s hounded by a manic reporter in Jeff Bridges, whose clinically insane girlfriend is played by Penelope Cruz. Ed Harris pops in fresh from a minstrel show and Val Kilmer has a hectic diatribe about…well, everything. Luke Wilson plays Dylan’s friend and fellow musician. Angela Bassett and Dylan meet as ex-lovers. Giovanni Ribisi plays a troubled soldier Dylan meets on his travels, and Cheech Marin, Christian Slater, Chris Penn and Mickey Rourke get involved as well.

At the movie’s end, the first time I saw it I stared at the credits for a beat and finally said, “What the hell was that?” You may have this urge as well, but fight it for a few more viewings, and try this on for size.

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After watching this a few more times, I started to view it more as a Dylan song than as a Dylan movie, and I have always loved the cryptic Dylan songs like “Desolation Row” or “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again.” Both of these examples showcase a collection of outlandish characters, making their way through an unsure landscape. But MASKED AND ANONYMOUS actually has more structure than those songs, as the characters are held together by their connection to Jack Fate (how his last name fits in). There is a great performance by a little girl, Tanashe Kachingwe, singing “The Times They Are a’Changing” while Dylan does a monologue in voiceover that tells more backstory than anything else in the film, and Dylan’s grizzled voice combined with the young girl’s works great. Ribisi’s and Kilmer’s rants (on war and imperialism, respectively) seem less hysterical and more poetic on second glance. The landscape is held together with great Dylan songs (“Blind Willie McTell”), performances (“Cold Irons Bound”), and covers (“Most of the Time” by Sophie Zelmani, “One More Cup of Coffee” by Sertab), and ends in a monologue from Dylan that ties it together but resolves nothing. But then again, “he stopped trying to figure everything out a long time ago.”This movie grows on you. Allow it to do so.

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Also, on a selfish note, for the musical performances in the film, Dylan is backed up by Tony Garnier (bass), Larry Campbell and Charlie Sexton (guitars), who I met at a gas station outside of Fargo, Minnesota after a concert. Great bunch of guys, but they wouldn’t let me on the bus to meet Dylan.

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