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Masked and Anonymous

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Jan
  • COMMENTS
Masked and Anonymous

from Film Forum, 07/31/03

Comedy writer Larry Charles (Mad About You, Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm) and legendary singer-songwriter Bob Dylan have collaborated for a most unlikely film.

Masked and Anonymous is a surreal sort of fairy tale, in which a kingdom that faintly resembles the U.S. at its worst forces a legendary and enigmatic folk singer (guess who) to come out of retirement and play a benefit concert. An impressive cast of talents signed on for the project, including Jeff Bridges, Ed Harris, Jessica Lange, and John Goodman.

Critics, however, are bewildered and bothered by this confounding film.

Anne Navarro (Catholic News Service) lowers the boom. "Harking back to the rock 'n' roll movies of the 1970s, this ensemble piece is like a narcissistic trip down memory lane. The film is incoherent and meandering. It attempts to make a sociopolitical statement, but instead bores with its meaningless platitudes and diatribes about the plight of the oppressed and the existential meaning of life. The dialogue is pretentious and self-consciously cute, making the exchanges between the actors unnatural. It is laced with assertions that sound vaguely religious, yet carry no real meaning whatsoever."

Mainstream press critics are criticizing the film as well. Kevin Thomas (Los Angeles Times) says, "The movie … attempts to be prophetic and put-on at the same time, thus falling into the ancient snare of trying to have it both ways—and being unable to pull it off. The look of the film is great, the soundtrack glorious, but more often than not the dialogue is atrocious, featuring a lot of long-winded gobbledygook."

But Stephanie Zacharek (Salon) suggests that Bob Dylan fans may see more going on in the film than others do. The film, she says, "is an exhilarating and sometimes puzzling jumble that explores the dangers of power, the nature of Americana and the Bob Dylan myth, among many, many other things. One of the movie's wonders is the way it recontextualizes the work and legend of Dylan. And another is the way it reminds us that Dylan is, first if not foremost, a guy with a sense of humor. [It is], inadvertently, about how much Dylan has given us. It is also, again inadvertently, about what we've taken away from him. The whole movie is one giant in-joke about Dylan's career and his destiny."


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