Masked and Anonymous Larry Charles

Masked and Anonymous Larry Charles
Last summer, most critics dismissed this strange film — written by Bob Dylan and Larry Charles, and starring Dylan alongside John Goodman, Jessica Lange, Jeff Bridges, Luke Wilson, and a dozen other marquee names — out of hand as an aging rock star's vanity project. Their reaction was understandable: the script was heavy-handed and self-conscious; the direction was inconsistent and chaotic; and the story, about a shady benefit concert featuring an alternate universe Dylan being staged in an alternate universe America, seemed either pretentious or stupid. Furthermore, the performances ran the gamut from hyperbolic overacting (Goodman) to wooden-faced non-acting (Dylan), from understated intensity (Giovanni Ribisi) to mannered clowning (Val Kilmer) and everywhere in between. In short, it seemed like an unfocused mess. Nevertheless, I was one of a handful of reviewers who defended the film, on the grounds that even though it might be something of a train wreck, at least it's an interesting train wreck. The film works in a pointedly non-naturalist mode, with the dialogue tending towards lyricism, the performances bordering upon caricature and the plot unfolding through levels of allegory. In short, despite the huge Hollywood cast, this is really a small experimental film — maybe not all of the punches connect, but some certainly do, and if the film is a failure, at the very least it goes down fighting. I was hoping the DVD would be able to clarify the artistic vision that (I imagined) was behind this film, or at least tell me who to blame for it, but no such luck: Charles's commentary on the film and the "making of" featurette are almost entirely devoid of insight. Also, given that Dylan's musical performances were the only aspect of the film that critics and fans really liked, it's remarkable that only one further song is included as an extra when apparently at least 17 were filmed. Adding on a substantial Dylan performance would have made this something more than a curiosity piece. (Columbia/Sony)
Rob Carson