Dylan Being Dylan

Masked and Anonymous is Dylan on Dylan. Cleverly musing on notions of his own identity and popular perception, Bob Dylan and a litany of Hollywood stars collide in an unrestrained allegorical tale reflecting on his career in the music industry. A remarkable, self-aware satire of his career and celebrity status, but highly esoteric and obtuse in interpretation.

When I first caught Masked and Anonymous upon release in 2003, I was still a neophyte to the mysterious ways of Bob Dylan though I knew and loved his music. Like many, that initial viewing left me cold as self-indulgent tripe. A filmmaking folly burdened with a deep cast of Hollywood players mostly there to meet the man behind the legend. It had Dylan running through several of his songs such as an electric “Not Dark Yet” with a cracking band, but most critics dismissed Masked and Anonymous as a mess with its bizarre story and strange characters.

After absorbing Dylan’s entire musical career and learning about various episodes in his life, Masked and Anonymous starts making far more sense. The dense narrative, filled with sub-textual allusions and hidden imagery, is for the initiated. One must have some prior knowledge of Bob Dylan, his music, and his history, if you have any hope understanding it. Outsiders will find little pleasure in the loosely political narrative, mysteriously over-the-top characters, and perplexing ending.

… remarkable, self-aware satire of his career and celebrity status, but highly esoteric and obtuse in interpretation.

Masked and Anonymous is the most perfect film about Bob Dylan ever made and brilliantly crafted. It is a love letter of sorts from the singer himself to the hardcore fans that have stuck with him since the 1960s, through the ups and downs of a magnificent career. Familiar targets include the press, music industry titans, and even his father.

In Masked and Anonymous, Bob Dylan is Jack Fate. A thinly-veiled stand-in character for Dylan, Fate is a second-rate singer brought in for a shady benefit concert by his manager, who is badly in debt to the wrong people. Colorful characters come in and out of Fate’s life, all wanting something different.

The ensemble cast reads like an embarrassment of riches for what is basically an indie film made without real commercial appeal beyond the lure of Dylan performing his own songs. Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Penélope Cruz, Jessica Lange, Luke Wilson, Val Kilmer, Angela Bassett, Bruce Dern, Christian Slater, Mickey Rourke and more fill out the all-star cast. Some are little more than token roles, while others like John Goodman and Jessica Lange chew the scenery.

Loyal fans get a rare peek behind the curtain, inside Dylan’s startlingly astute thoughts on his career and the industry. The reclusive musician deconstructs the persona he’s created for fans and the media. Masked and Anonymous isn’t always easy, but delivers electrifying insight by the man himself through allusive storytelling. Every fan needs this movie in their collection.

Video

Shout Factory uses Sony’s brilliant HD transfer and master. The 1.85:1 presentation exudes crisp definition and texture, quite remarkable for a movie made on early digital back in the 2000s. This is clearly a recently struck transfer. Detail is excellent, mastered and processed with Sony’s high standards.

The main feature runs 106 minutes, getting a high-bitrate AVC encode on a BD-50. Masked and Anonymous was cleanly shot when not selectively using stock footage and other creative diversions. A deep contrast and rich black levels lend nice picture quality to the occasionally surreal filmmaking.

Audio

Bringing over the same basic 5.1 surround mix used on DVD, the lossless 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack brings serious audio fulfillment. Dynamically mastered without serious limiting, the full-sounding audio design rings with authority and clarity.

An expansive soundstage with strong bass, Dylan’s performances rock. The singer and his small backing band run through several songs, everything from “Cold Irons Bound” to an idiosyncratic cover of “I Wish I Was in Dixie”.

Optional English SDH subtitles play in a white font.

Extras

Masked and Anonymous is #101 in Shout Factory’s Shout Select line of Blu-rays. No slipcovers appear to be available for this edition. Shout Factory carries everything over from the Sony DVD edition and adds an extended new interview with director Larry Charles. The big absence here is Bob Dylan, who doesn’t appear in the special features. A horribly private individual, Dylan hasn’t been very forthcoming with interviews over the years since his run-ins with the press during the 60s and 70s.

Behind the Mask: Interview with director Larry Charles (29:59 in HD) – Far more focused and informative than the scattershot commentary, this new interview covers a lot of ground. Larry Charles thanks Seinfeld producer Larry David for this movie, as a random encounter on an airplane with the comedian indirectly led to this movie getting made.

Audio commentary with director Larry Charles – A decent solo discussion that sees more and more gaps as the movie plays out. Charles isn’t particularly insightful but lays out several fascinating tidbits about the production worth hearing.

Masked and Anonymous Exposed: The Making of Masked And Anonymous (15:35 in SD) – Archival making-of featurette that interviews Charles and most of the cast. Most discuss what’s it like working with a legend like Dylan. Charles mentions that Dylan ended up performing 22 songs during filming, but missed playing “All Along The Watchtower”.

Deleted Scenes (13:32 in SD) – Five deleted scenes that are vaguely interesting additions.

Masked and Anonymous Trailer (02:25 in SD)

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Masked and Anonymous
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
5

Movie

A clever ode to Bob Dylan’s career and legendary persona reflecting his tenuous relationship with the myths he’s created over the years.

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