This Months Featured Film, “Masked & Anonymous”
A wandering troubadour named Jack Fate (Bob Dylan) is busted out of prison by his former manager (John Goodman) so he can perform at one last concert that may rekindle his career — and perhaps help bring together his divided country, which is torn by civil war. Co-stars Jeff Bridges, Penélope Cruz and Jessica Lange.
Starring: Bob Dylan, John Goodman, More
Director: Larry Charles
The above studio blurb for this month’s movie, Masked & Anonymous, is crossed out because it is not even close! First off, Jack fate (Bob Dylan) is not busted out of prison, his release is arranged. Second, the motivation of his former manager Uncle Sweetheart (John Goodman) is not at all what it says above. In defense of this movie, it’s far more interesting than that! While there are some laughs for sure, to call it a comedy without a qualifying adjective is an injustice. What’s the adjective? I’ll let you decide! Whatever the genre, you can expect much more than laughs from this brilliant and thought provoking film. Director Larry Charles paints a visual and social landscape that is twisted in every way. The sense of not being sure where you are in the world effectively sets up the metaphoric quality of the whole thing. It’s a war torn, but functioning society, under a ruling dictatorship. The media is controlled by the government, (that seems normal!) and run by a racially diverse non white group of characters. There are hints of the time period being after ours, while the vehicles and wardrobe are largely vintage 60’s and 70’s. All this is set behind our stellar cast that is American to the core! The main set looks like a Hollywood back lot complete with trailers, but dressed to favor a high end refugee camp! Throw in some barbed wire and an armed, beret wearing rebel guard or two, and you are effectively disoriented! I enjoyed John Goodman playing the stereotypically sleazy and opportunistic manager/promoter, Uncle Sweetheart, as he delivers more than his share of priceless dialogue! He is not even close to the kind of guy to care about someone else’s career or bringing together a divided country!
For me, however, the movies most remarkable element, is the presence of Bob Dylan. The rest of the eclectic and star studded cast of characters revolve around his character, (Jack Fate), like the planets around the sun. Here’s a short list just to give you a taste: Jessica Lange, Angela Bassett, Bruce Dern, Ed Harris, Val Kilmer, Cheech Marin, Chris Penn, Giovanni Ribisi, Mickey Rourke, Christian Slater and more!
Insights from, Mark Firehammer
What I find so powerful about this film is the way Jack Fate is a steadfast and unchanging contrast to each of the other characters egocentric perspectives, constantly maneuvering, controlling and manipulating in an effort to convince themselves, and all others perhaps, of their rightness. Like a mirror of the real world, this movie brilliantly illustrates the absence of the profound, when pearls of wisdom are delivered from and received by a narrow perspective. My favorite example of this was in a scene between Tom Friend (Jeff Bridges), and his girlfriend Pagan Lace. (Penelope Cruz) Tom’s is a jaded and self absorbed reporter, who is sent to find, or create, an opportunity to shatter the legendary status surrounding Jack Fate. (sounds familiar) Pagan, has a complex set of superstitious behaviors and beliefs that she truly believes will protect her and those she loves in her little world, is along to do just that. In this scene, Tom is ranting about the meaning of life and the role that he’s having to play, in a world which he believes he clearly understands, when Pagan delivers this line
“The problem is that you’re always looking at the bug on your windshield, if you keep looking at it you’re gonna miss the whole scenery and have an accident. You gotta look through the windshield, not at it.”
As you might have guessed this has no effect on Tom at all. From here on, it just keeps on getting better as director Larry Charles keeps deftly positioning these snippets of disassociated wisdom against the powerfully quiet presence of Jack Fate. What I see being shown here is well represented in a passage from one of the oldest bodies of wisdom known to man. The Upanishads.
“Like two golden birds perched in the selfsame tree the ego and the true self reside together. The former eats from the sweet and sour fruits of the tree of life, while the latter looks on in detachment.”
From this perspective the characters around Jack, become metaphors for the ego. Each moving in constant conflict, trying to maintain a world that supported its view of how it thinks things are or should be, right beside the quiet and unshakable witness of Jack Fate, who’s lines are delivered with the acceptance and detachment of pure consciousness itself! Who better to play that role than Bob Dylan himself! I’ll leave it at that so as not to give away to much of this great movie. But the final lines of the movie delivered by Jack Fate were worth several rewinds for me, so that I could remember and savor them deeply! Listen realmedia
All that said, this movie is worth watching just to experience the sublime presence and power of Bob Dylan, at what I feel is his absolute finest. Don’t care for Bob? You will after this, trust me! During the making of this film there were 22 songs recorded. Director Larry Charles had only asked for six but they never really knew what Bob was going to play. When it came time to film and record the music parts, the entire cast and crew would come around to experience the magic which really comes through on film. When playing, he’s backed by a terrific foursome they call “Simple Twist Of Fate”. As described in the DVD extras footage, they let him play anything that he wanted, when he wanted, how he wanted. And given the result, that’s just the way it was supposed to be. ……….at least in this writers perfect universe!
Note to self: Order the soundtrack album from Masked & Anonymous. MF