Masked and Anonymous Larry Charles

Masked and Anonymous Larry Charles
Masked and Anonymous is a strange and fascinating collaboration between Bob Dylan and TV writer/director Larry Charles, starring Dylan (amidst a cast of thousands) and co-written by these two under pseudonyms. Detractors of the film — and I suspect there will be many — will find lots to criticise: on a superficial viewing, it seems to be a complete mess, with an underdeveloped and incoherent story, unmotivated and hackneyed characters, a script that flip-flops between pretension and awkwardness, a set of wildly inconsistent performances (especially from Dylan himself, who seems to make no connection at all with the actors around him) and an absolute train wreck of an ending. These obvious criticisms miss the point of the movie, much in the way that the ubiquitous complaints about Dylan's voice miss the point of his music. This film simply isn't working within a standard Hollywood aesthetic (or even a typical indie aesthetic), but instead is establishing parameters and priorities all of its own. Beneath the rocks and gravel of the surface is a solid piece of work, one that places symbol and allegory ahead of naturalistic storytelling, one that delights in aphorism, in dense poetic monologue and in corny Vaudeville humour, and one that locates meaning in fragmentation, inconsistency and randomness. Try imagining yourself within "Desolation Row" or any number of other Dylan lyrics: this is how things would look and feel. Granted, Dylan's own acting performance doesn't quite come off in some scenes — he seems to be trying to channel James Dean and John Wayne at once, unsuccessfully. On the whole, though, I'd call this a deeply layered, thoughtful and delightful film that's a major work in the Dylan canon and one worthy of careful attention. Killer soundtrack too. (Mongrel Media)