You probably aren’t going to be able to see Masked and Anonymous — it’s not playing in Boston or San Francisco anymore, so unless you live in New York or Los Angeles you may be out of luck. (Seattle’s got it, though.) The critics really savaged it. Me, I thought it was brilliant.
I’m lost, sleeping in an alley
I’m lost, I had some family
I’m lost, I’m here, I’m lost.
Short synopsis: It’s a sideways America with a dictatorial President; America as if it were a damaged third world nation. Uncle Sweetheart has Jack Fate (that’d be Dylan) sprung from prison so he can put on a benefit concert and steal enough money to pay off a couple of really insistent creditors. Jack Fate interacts with a bunch of people, including a journalist, an old lover, and his old running buddy Bobby Cupid. A couple of things happen, and the movie ends.
On the wrong side of town, in a dark apartment
We gave up trying so long ago.
And yeah, looked at one way, there’s about that much narrative tension. Jack Fate is stone-faced throughout the majority of the movie; he’s a rock, and the other characters bounce off him with varying degrees of success. There’s no damned plot.
All the lights go out
Evenings go on and on
The sun goes down and up too fast
To ever, ever be found.
But I think that looking at it that way misses the point. About two-thirds of the way through the movie, there’s a revelation that suffuses everything that’s happened with retrospective meaning. It becomes obvious that Jack Fate is holding his emotions at a strict minimum for a reason — the last time he let them out, there were consequences. There’s no direct causal line between what happened then and the America of the movie, but there are shadowy hints and underground rumblings. It’s enough for me.
She gives me her cheek
When I want her lips
Oh, but I don’t have the strength to go.
Besides which, it’s a beautiful movie. Jessica Lange is drop-dead gorgeous, even around the edges where the makeup thins — or maybe that’s why she’s beautiful. Mickey Rourke swaggers brilliantly. Penelope Cruz is fragile and convincing. There’s a scene in the beginning where Fate walks past a Grecian temple covered with graffiti that made me hold my breath. The only thing that didn’t click from me from a sensual point of view was Val Kilmer’s bit.
Do you wake up at the wheel
Headed for the shoulder of the road
Screaming “God please save my soul!”
Well, I do, I do, I do — a lot of crazy things.
Still, even that last fits into the vision of a damaged America. Some critics bitched that there’s no explanation of how America came to the place it is in the movie. Again, that’s missing the point. This is our America, seen through a lens darkly. The best speculation is always about what’s already there.
Now that highway’s coming through
So you all gotta move
This bottom rung ain’t no fun at all.
Oh, and the music is spectacular, although I probably would not say that if I wasn’t fond of Dylan in the first place.
Well, I used to live the limelight
But now the limelight’s using me
Too many times I had to panic
Cause there’s too many people watching me.
So: it’s a treasure. It’s the American Brazil. It’s self-indulgent Bob Dylan ego made manifest. I’m really glad I saw it.
Whatever happened, I apologize
Dry your tears, and baby, walk outside
It’s the Fourth of July.
(Thanks are owed, as has been the case since I bought the album sixteen years ago, to John and Exene and the rest of the band.)