There is an innate fascination for musicians to be movie stars and for actors to be in a band. Rarely has the talent been able to transition from one to the other. For every Kevin Bacon out there, there are a hundred Bruce Willises who really should stick to acting.
The move from music to acting has been far more kind to musicians. David Bowie carved out a cottage industry as a serviceable actors with several memorable turns in truly great films. Flea, Meat Loaf the list goes on and on.
One musician that has dabbled a bit in acting from time to time is none other than Bob Dylan. His last film Masked & Anonymous was a commercial and critical flop, but it continues to find a serviceable cult following among the devout Dylan fans. Shout! Factory is hoping to rekindle our fascination with Bob Dylan by releasing Masked & Anonymous on Blu-ray for the first time through its Shout Select line of films.
The film follows Bob Dylan who plays a former troubadour who is sprung from jail by his manager to headline a sketchy benefit concert. Along the way to the big show, Dylan comes to mingle with a wide cross-section of America that culminates in the most perverse way that truly is the only way a film like this could end.
I watched Masked & Anonymous when it first came out in 2003 and I have to admit that I was befuddled, amused, mystified and inspired. Up until that point, I was aware of Bob Dylan in the pop culture zeitgeist, but I wasn't intimately familiar with his music. That all changed in the intervening 17 years or so as I aged and my musical tastes started to evolve.
Interestingly, I found that I was familiar with his work, just as performed by other artists. Oddly, I was a Peter, Paul & Mary fan in my youth, but I didn't realize at the time how many of songs that I thought of as theirs were really borrowed from Bob. More importantly, I couldn't fathom how much of an influence he had on the musical and popular culture of the 1960s that continues to be felt to this day.
So, when I sat down to watch this new Blu-ray, it was with fresh eyes and a brand new perspective of both Bob Dylan and his on-screen persona Jack Fate. Suddenly, so many things that I glossed over in my initial viewing started to click into place. I'm not saying that Masked & Anonymous was a film that was ahead of its time and I'm definitely not advocating that it's a great movie.
Far from it, Masked & Anonymous has its flaws, but I found that upon this new viewing, I was able to forgive several of the missteps as moments of inspired deviation from the norm. Sure, the movie is still quirky, but I think the more distance we put between ourselves and the turbulent times of the 1960s allows a greater perspective of the times and issues of the day.
In some way, Masked & Anonymous is almost an alternate, dystopian future America where the counter culture of the day surrendered to the establishment. As the movie tries to argue, this squashed rebellion wasn't killed off entirely but led to a much larger conflict with greater bloodshed.
Following this same allegory, Jack Fate is Bob Dylan who was imprisoned for his views and now is given a chance at redemption, but finds that the same corruption still exists, albeit in a new form. That form mostly takes the face of Uncle Sweetheart and the massively under appreciated John Goodman. He plays up the swarthy Uncle Sweetheart to epic proportions and his performance is still one of the highlights of the movie.
Speaking of the cast, it's a regular bonanza of Hollywood heavyweights that were both in their prime in 2003 and others that have since blossomed into bonafide A-lister. For the most part, they deliver in their brief moments, but there is still the odd casting choice that continues to befuddle. Giovanni Ribisi is vastly underutilized while let's just say that Ed Harris' blackface scene is even more cringeworthy - if that's possible.
All in all, the film is still very mysterious and I'm pretty sure that I still don't have a full appreciation for it. What I do know is that I love the music from Bob Dylan sprinkled throughout and perhaps in another 20 years it will all finally click. Until then, I can take solace in knowing that Shout Select has delivered another quality selection that will definitely stand the test of time.