Masked and Anonymous was the film that finally brought Larry Charles and Bob Dylan together. Seriously, at some point in the mid 90s…Dylan wanted his own HBO show. He was a big fan of Charles’ sitcom work on NBC and wanted to team up to make something. Feeling a similar tone to The Larry Sanders Show, there was a strong effort to make something come together over there. It never happened.
What we got with Masked and Anonymous was a rock vanity project about an aging rock star making sense of a slowly decaying geopolitical landscape. Cobbling together a script from loose notes and securing complete funding from the BBC, Dylan and Charles made a movie fast. Almost 20 years later, the film feels every bit of a rush job.
When you compare Masked and Anonymous to Charles’ follow-up, the idea of the American Odyssey is highlighted. For those that don’t know, Charles eventually made Borat after this film and they’re kinda the same movie. Bob Dylan’s Jack Fate and Cohen’ Borat are strangers touring America and meeting a cross sample of the weirdos kept in our borders.
Some people are defined by their jobs and others strive to make their identities known. But, where does that leave Dylan? Bob Dylan never directly sought out the Spokesman of his Generation label, but he held it for about 4 years before The Beatles went worldwide and made people remember that Folk music sucks.
Watching this film feels like the equivalent of listening to an older relative tell you about all the great shows they saw in 1972. You haven’t really lived until your heard Vanilla Fudge right in your face, while your Aunt Linda would shake them for nobody but the roadies. Hearing these stories puts you in the same shoes as Borat, Dylan and other strangers in a strange land.
The difference is that Borat and you aren’t trying to pretend that you understand. Restaging his greatness as an allegory about America turning into a South American dictatorship dystopia makes zero sense. That is before Cheech Marin escorts Bob Dylan after he gets out of a Mexican prison. After returning to America, this movie becomes Dylan’s messed up version of Terry Gilliam’s The Last Waltz.
Normally, I’d poke holes in the movie right now. But, I’m listening to a loop of Val Kilmer giving names to all of the animals. I guess it’s age, but you hit a point in life when attacking the fabulously flawed doesn’t do it for you. At this age, I’m way more of a curious historian than a critic, so take that for what you will.
When I started to fall into my claptrap about metafiction, aging life and changing standards of cultural value…something happened. Ed Harris showed up in blackface.
Now, I get the decision to shoot on digital video. I get having to go overseas to secure funding for the film. But, so many people had to sign off on Ed Harris showing up in blackface and no one seemingly batted an eye. I get wanting to saying something about the life of a performer, but there are such better ways to do it.
It’s such a complete boomer moment to automatically think that anything in the past has a direct implication to your personal and/or professional life. Sometimes, you’re just an aged rock star that looks like Mac’s Mom and is starring in a movie that Neil Breen would have been too proud to make. By the time I settled down from that mic drop, Mickey Rourke became President in this movie future.
I hit pause and looked at my notes. Unaware to my frontal lobe, I wrote down WHY DON’T I LOVE THIS MOVIE?? in big bold letters. Honestly, I don’t know why. After a few days, it came to me. Every highbrow artist thinks they’re going to make 8 1/2 when all they have is three feet of shit.
Shout Select continues to make increasingly interesting choices, but I want potential buyers to know something. Don’t pick this up to joke on it. You should willingly watch this to see a popular artist in decline.