HTF REVIEW: Masked and Anonymous

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Michael Elliott, Feb 18, 2004.

  1. Michael Elliott

    Michael Elliott Lead Actor

    Jul 11, 2003
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    Real Name:
    Michael Elliott

    Masked and Anonymous

    Studio: Columbia/Sony
    Year: 2003
    Rated: R
    Film Length: 105 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.78:1)
    Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
    Subtitles: French
    Retail Price: $24.95

    Most films have a beginning, a middle and an ending and at the end we get to know the characters, their actions and the payoff. Some films go on a mood without giving too many details, which leaves the film up to interpretation by the viewers. Of course, if a film dares anyone to come up with their own ideas it usually dies a quick death at the box office and slips into history with thousands of films that no one will ever talk about again. That current film is Masked and Anonymous, which features the legendary Bob Dylan trying his hand at another film.

    As far as Dylan the movie star goes, things started off very well with the classic and legendary Don’t Look Back, which covered his last acoustic tour. His next film, 1972’s Eat the Document covered the now infamous 1966 tour with The Hawks (later to be known as The Band). What was meant to be a TV Special for ABC turned into Dylan grabbing the editors chair and creating the most bizarre concert film in history. Next up was a small role in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, which didn’t show Dylan the actor very well but it did turn out “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”, one of the singers biggest hits. Then things got really strange in 1978 when Dylan’s five-hour epic Renaldo and Clara was released. Some type of story was being told while concert clips from his 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue played. The film was pretty much yanked a week into release where Dylan cut nearly three hours out. Then we got Hearts of Fire, which is best to remain in the fire. Finally, coming after two of the greatest albums of his career, Dylan the actor and screenwriter returned for Masked and Anonymous.

    Somewhere in the future, the country is torn in two due to a war, which is being fought for an unknown reason. A greedy concert promoter (Jessica Lange) decides to have a benefit concert for victims so an agent (John Goodman) decides to spring Jake Fate (Dylan) out of prison for a comeback show. With only a few days to pull the event off things get off to a rocky start and continue to roll downhill after that.

    That’s the basic story here but the rest is left to the imagination. Like many Dylan songs, the poetic beauty is all over this thing even if you don’t know what the hell is going on. I’m not sure what the film is about. I’m not sure what the message is supposed to be or even if there is one. I’m not sure what the war has to do with things and I’m not sure about the actual concert. I’m not sure if this is a short film with music filler or a concert with a few speeches before hand. I’m not sure if Dylan is addressing his fans saying this is me or if this film is Dylan writing about what fans think he is.

    The screenplay written by Dylan is all over the place but it remains poetic from the opening scene to the last, which seems to be paying tribute to Jesus. Throughout the film we never know if Jack Fate is Dylan or if Dylan is playing Jesus and like his music there’s a lot of in between. I’m sure many Dylan fans look at him as Jesus or a God and perhaps that’s what’s being shown here. A news reporter (Jeff Bridges) keeps asking him for all the answers yet Dylan just stands there without saying a word. We try to read his expressions and there’s nothing there to read. It would be like someone giving you a book with the answers to any imaginable problem yet when you go to read it, for that one second you go blind and are left without knowing the truth yet knowing it’s right there in your hand. This film presents a lot of truths yet we never know what those truths are for.

    The film’s screenplay ranges from poetry to music to a short story to speeches yet never centers on one target. There are so many points brought up only to go unanswered because “Jesus” isn’t willing to share his knowledge. Perhaps we expect him to know the answers yet he’s as confused as any of us are. As for Dylan the actor, I’m not sure what to think. I’m rather obsessed with the man so I’m not sure if he’s playing himself or if he’s playing someone I want him to be. He’s often said he was playing a character in Don’t Look Back and I guess this is a character as well. Dylan in the film acts just as he does on the stage. The way he walks, moves around, constantly looking at something different and even his cloths all ring true. He delivers his lines just as he speaks in person so it’s rather hard to know what he’s doing but that’s just Dylan. He speaks, we listen and then we wonder what he’s trying to say or if he’s really trying to say anything at all. He says one thing and we wonder if that’s the meaning to something else completely different.

    With Dylan’s name attached we got a huge list of stars. Jessica Lange is very good in her role as is John Goodman and Jeff Bridges. Also included are Christian Slater, Chris Penn, Bruce Dern, Penelope Cruz, Luke Wilson, Ed Harris, Val Kilmer, Cheech Marin and many others. It’s obvious they were attracted to their small roles due to Dylan and they each say a line or two as if they were speaking a line from a Dylan song. In fact, I’m sure each of them are just playing Dylan.

    Then comes the music. When the film started Dylan agreed to play six songs and had them picked but throughout the shoot Dylan kept switching up the songs he would play. When it came time to shoot the live footage Dylan came to the set with six new songs but ended up playing twenty-two for the camera and crew. What we got here is a real blessing with Dylan doing some amazing work with his current touring band. We get new recordings of “Dixie” and “Diamond Joe”, which are wonderfully done showing Dylan doing bluegrass. We also get a pumped up version of the blue/rock opus “Cold Iron Bounds”. Then Dylan revisits two lesser known classics in “Crash on the Levee” and “I’ll Remember You”. Dylan, in the past year or so has turned to pure rock and roll and Crash on the Levee certainly shows this. There’s so much energy in this performance that it’s hard not to dance along with the film. Then there’s a version of “I’ll Remember You” that seems to have been recorded during his Nashville Skyline days. Dylan, on the acoustic guitar, sings this as a country song and it comes off beautifully. Being the Dylan dork I am, I must admit that I’ve listened to this song fifteen times since the film ended.

    Masked and Anonymous is without a doubt one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen but I guess that’s what I should have expected coming from Dylan. As I said earlier, I have no idea what this film is about, I’m not sure if it has a message or if I, the Dylan nut, is like the Bridges character and simply seeing too much into Dylan and expecting answers that he’s unwilling to give or simply doesn’t know himself. Perhaps this is how some people look at and question Jesus and perhaps that’s how us Dylan fans look at Dylan. As to how Dylan looks at himself, well, that’s been a mystery for forty-plus years and I guess it will remain a mystery.

    VIDEO---The movie is shown widescreen (1.78:1) and is enhanced for 16x9 TVs. The picture quality is very good from start to finish considering the budget but don’t expect anything to knock your socks off. Skin tones are very good and look accurate. Black levels remain constant throughout the film without any edge enhancement or speckles.

    AUDIO---The sound is Dolby Digital 5.1 but might have well been a Mono track. This is without a doubt the worse 5.1 mix I’ve heard of a recent film. The center speaker is the only thing in use throughout the film and for some reason it appears the sound level is off on each line delivered from an actor. When one actor speaks the dialogue is upfront but by the next line things seem to be in the background. The Surrounds only come into play when the music starts and while this sounds a little better I still can’t help but wish it kicked into high gear. Even the CD soundtrack sounds ten times better than the songs do here.

    EXTRAS---For starters we get the film’s theatrical trailer, which was the first time I had seen it considering the film got very little publicity. Up next are five deleted scene, including one song “Standing in the Doorway”. All the scenes are in pretty rough shape but it’s nice to have them anyways. Next up is a 15-minute featurette called Masked and Anonymous: Exposed, which features interviews with the director and various cast members including Lange, Goodman, Bridges and Wilson. Sadly Dylan isn’t interviewed but as a Dylan fan this is to be expected. We get a lot of behind the scenes story and the cast talks their heads off about Dylan the actor and Dylan the legend. There’s also a brief clip of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”, which wasn’t used in the finished film. Finally we get an audio commentary with the director, which is very nice if you’re a fan of Dylan. We get to hear about a few other songs that didn’t make it into the film and he also talks about some other cuts of the films including the Sundance version plus a three-hour version, which will hopefully be released one day.

    OVERALL---As far as the film goes, I certainly can’t recommend it or deny that you should see it. If you’re a fan of Dylan then this is a must have but if you hate Dylan’s music I seriously doubt you’ll get into the movie or even understand what little there is to understand. I’m certainly very disappointed in the DVD from Columbia. While the picture is nice, it’s certainly nothing special and the 5.1 mix leaves a lot to be desired. The extras are nice but I personally hate it when they tease you about something without putting it on the disc. They brag about Dylan doing twenty-two songs yet only one is included on the DVD. Hopefully Columbia will start a DVD Bootleg Series and include them there.

    Release Date: February 17, 2004
  2. Marc_Savoie

    Marc_Savoie Stunt Coordinator

    Apr 11, 2002
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    Thank you very much for this review. I was one of the few to see it in theatres and surprisingly fell in love with it.
    It's completely self-aware-quirky and pretentious, but it's all part of it's charm, as that same confidence translates to some truly beautiful scenes, dialogue and imagery.
    It's a one-of-a-kind film for sure, and one I look forward to buy very soon.

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