Bob Dylan – leading man. Sounds quite natural at the Newport Folk Festival or Madison Square Garden, but on the silver screen? Well, Dylan comes forth with his recent troubadour/mustachioed look, as Jack Fate, a jailed rock star turned folk legend, who returns to the stage for an ambitious benefit concert in Masked and Anonymous. Yes, even Cheech Marin makes a guest appearance in this post-apocalyptic southern California setting, pointing the direction to the right way out of the jungle for Fate, as he leaves prison. But that is where the story line goes south. We’re never told or merely given a hint as to why the world looks slightly like Baghdad or why Fate was even originally summoned behind bars.
Directed by Larry Charles, Masked primarily revolves around the “sketchy” side of the music industry – from the dirt gobbling journalist to the money grubbing promoter. With a big “benefit concert” on the horizon, John Goodman plays a convincing promoter who basically can’t find anyone better than Fate to play. With an interesting enough name, whether it’s a play on words of the Dylan classic, “Simple Twist of Fate” or the storyline’s in and out themes about society and one’s place on earth, the stick and bones Dylan oddly enough falls victim to a series of obstacles on his way to the performance- perhaps a cheap thrill for anyone hoping to see a man of song…”act.”
As Fate prepares for the benefit performance, he meets a revolving cast of characters (Jessica Lange, Jeff Daniels, Val Kilmer, Chris Penn, Luke Wilson, Penelope Cruz, Mickey Rourke and Christian Slater), all interesting in their own right, but the small cameo roles disallow a full appreciation of their contributions. Nevertheless, the underlying question beneath Fate’s meetings with the various characters revolves around whether he will play or not. Battling the decsion, he struggles to identify if the performance is a money making scheme, a musician’s right, a holier than thou act to just skip all together and stay true to the music, or quite simply, just a “benefit show.”
Regardless of story development, the main drawing point in the film is obviously Dylan. A man who hasn’t done an interview in years- provides a more intimate view of the icon who helped reinvent the singer-songwriter genre. His acting is shoddy, a bit confused, and full of mumbles and slurs, though when he sings, he lets the whole world out of his mouth, as anybody from Jimmy Carter to Queen Elizabeth already knows. But it’s the live and up-close shots of Dylan and his real band performing, featuring Charlie Sexton, Larry Campbell and Tony Granier, that make this worth your seven bucks. For a band that’s been on the road continually forever now, it’s remarkable to think in their “off time” they would even consider hanging out on a California stage set. But these performance camera shots are tremendous and the sound is incomparable, certianly a technological step up from Pennebaker’s legendary 60’s Dylan documentary “Don’t Look Back.” Of course that film came out 35 years ago, and the times, yes, they are a changing. If only Dylan’s return to the big screen and the story line lived up to the potential of one his more poignant lyrical passes.
Photos courtesy of Sonyclassics.com.