Masked and Anonymous

Masked and Anonymous
Masked and Anonymous

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Larry Charles
Produced by Jeff Rosen
Written by Bob Dylan
Rene Fontaine
Starring Bob Dylan
Jeff Bridges
John Goodman
Penélope Cruz
Luke Wilson
Jessica Lange
Music by Bob Dylan
Cinematography Rogier Stoffers
Editing by Pietro Scalia
Luis Alvarez y Alvarez
Studio BBC Films
Intermedia Films
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics
Release date(s) July 24, 2003 (2003-07-24)
Running time 112 minutes
Country United States
United Kingdom
Language English
Box office $533,569

Masked and Anonymous is a 2003 comedy-drama film directed by Larry Charles, who is better known for his writing on successful TV sitcoms, Seinfeld and Mad About You and for executive producing episodes of The Tick and Dilbert. The film was written by Larry Charles and Bob Dylan, the latter under the pseudonym "Sergei Petrov". It stars iconic rock legend Bob Dylan alongside a star-heavy cast, including John Goodman, Jeff Bridges, Penélope Cruz, Val Kilmer, Mickey Rourke, Jessica Lange, Luke Wilson, Angela Bassett, Bruce Dern, Cheech Marin, Ed Harris, Chris Penn, Steven Bauer, Giovanni Ribisi, and Michael Paul Chan. The film received poor reviews from critics.[1][2]



An iconic rock legend, Jack Fate (Bob Dylan), is bailed out of prison to perform a one-man benefit concert for a decaying future North American society. Yet this is only a starting point for the deeper philosophical questions raised by the film's story. The film touches on many subjects from the futility of politics, the confusion of loosely strung government conspiracies, and the chaos created by both anarchy and Nineteen Eighty-Four-styled totalitarianism. It further reflects on life, dreams, and God's place in a seemingly increasingly chaotic world.

In some ways, the film is political: it describes how Fate sees the political landscape (people fighting for no reason, a nation without hope, governments that cannot be trusted) but at the same time Fate makes it clear that he "was always a singer and maybe no more than that". He produces no solutions to any of the problems the film presents. Rather, he makes it clear that he "stopped trying to figure everything out a long time ago."


The film was shot in only twenty days and was funded by the BBC. It was distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, a well-known distributor of independent productions. The soundtrack is composed almost entirely of covers of Bob Dylan songs ranging from his very early 1960s-era material to work as recent as songs from his 1997 Grammy-award winning album Time Out of Mind. Artists who perform the songs include Los Lobos, Sertab Erener, Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia.[3]

Many of the film's actors worked for "scale" (union wages) for a chance to appear alongside Dylan, including Jeff Bridges, John Goodman (reunited after their work together in the 1998 Coen Brothers film The Big Lebowski, which also featured the 1970 Dylan song "The Man in Me"), Bruce Dern, Jessica Lange (who has had a long time relationship with playwright Sam Shepard who co-wrote the 1986 composition "Brownsville Girl" with Dylan, from the album Knocked Out Loaded), Penelope Cruz, Luke Wilson, Cheech Marin, Ed Harris, Chris Penn, Giovanni Ribisi, Christian Slater, Mickey Rourke, and Angela Bassett. In addition to several other actors of note, the band of the lead character is played by Dylan's actual touring band of the time. Other stars in the film include Fred Ward and Val Kilmer.

Music from Dylan's entire career is presented in the movie, though his then recent album Time Out Of Mind receives considerable play, with "Dirt Road Blues" and "Not Dark Yet" both used as background in scenes; Dylan also plays a new arrangement of "Cold Irons Bound" in the film's climax. Furthermore, a live performance of "Standing in the Doorway" was cut from the final edit, but included as a bonus on the DVD.


Masked and Anonymous was given very poor reviews upon release, maintaining a 25% Rotten rating at Rotten Tomatoes and a 32% rating at Metacritic.[1][2] Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert gave the film a 1/2 star (out of a possible four) rating, and deemed it "a vanity production beyond all reason."[4] A number of reviewers commented on Dylan's acting, with one critic writing that he appeared "near-catatonic" and another that he stared "in mute incomprehension", "never speaking more than one line at a time" and only making remarks that "evoke the language and philosophy of Chinese fortune cookies."[1] The film was also panned by Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, The Village Voice and at least twenty other noteworthy periodicals.[1]

Amongst the positive reviewers was The Philadelphia Inquirer, which wrote, "Dylan and his band do a half-dozen songs that crackle with energy."[5] The Washington Post agreed, stating that the film is a "fascinating, vexing, indulgent, visionary, pretentious, mesmerizing pop culture curio."[6]

Andrew Motion, former Poet Laureate of Great Britain, published an enthusiastic essay about the film which concluded: “(This film) is revelatory - in the paradoxical sense that it allows Dylan to say some important things out loud, and to keep the silences, and retain the elements of mystery, which are essential to his genius. We should ask for nothing else.” [7]

The film made the ten-best list of the Chicago Reader's Jonathan Rosenbaum[citation needed] and received positive reviews from The New Yorker [8] , Premier and Art Forum.[citation needed] Additionally, the soundtrack was nominated for a Grammy.

A 12,000 word essay on the film appears in the journal, Montague Street Journal: The Art of Bob Dylan.

Unreleased recordings

From 1999 to 2002, Dylan's touring band was joined by veteran guitarist Charlie Sexton. Already an accomplished unit, the band's new configuration was arguably one of Dylan's best touring groups ever. Highlighted by the interplay of Sexton and guitarist Larry Campbell, the group also featured Dylan's longtime bassist Tony Garnier, as well as two drummers: David Kemper (who left the band in late 2001) and George Receli (who was Kemper's replacement). Dylan began filming Masked & Anonymous soon after Receli's arrival.

Masked & Anonymous marked the first (and besides one song on The Bootleg Series Vol. 8, only) release of "live" material from this unit. According to director Larry Charles, who recorded an interview for the film's DVD release, 20 or more songs were recorded for the film, with Charles telling Dylan he could play anything he wanted. For the most part, the songs were recorded at Stage 6, Ray-Art Studios, Canoga Park, California, on July 18, 2002. Though all were presumably filmed, only a handful were used. The following songs were featured in the film, with unedited versions included in the soundtrack release: "Down In The Flood" (a song from The Basement Tapes), "Dixie" (traditional), "Diamond Joe" (traditional), and "Cold Irons Bound" (a song from Time Out Of Mind).

The following songs were used for the film, but were never issued on CD: "Drifter's Escape" (a song from John Wesley Harding), "I'll Remember You" (a song from Empire Burlesque), "Blowin' in the Wind" (from The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan), "Watching The River Flow" (a song dating from 1971, when it was released as a single), "Dirt Road Blues" (from Time Out Of Mind) and "Amazing Grace" (traditional). Of these songs, only "I'll Remember You" was featured unedited and uninterrupted in the film.

As mentioned, "Standing In The Doorway" (another song from Time Out Of Mind) was featured as an alternate scene on the DVD. "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" (a song Dylan first recorded for Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid) was also filmed, but only a brief portion appears in the DVD's supplemental material. A new 'fiddle' arrangement of "If You See Her, Say Hello" (from Blood on the Tracks) was also filmed, but it only appears as background music during the DVD's supplemental material. Larry Charles mentions "All Along the Watchtower" (a song from John Wesley Harding) during his interview on the DVD - saying Dylan intended to play it until the very last moment, then decided not to.

As mentioned, a new recording of "Blowin' in the Wind" was used for the film. This is heard over the film's final shots and end credits. Unlike the other performances used in the film, this was a concert performance recorded at Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, Santa Cruz, California, on March 16, 2000 (when David Kemper was still with the band). This performance was previously found on the limited edition bonus CD single given away with The Best Of Bob Dylan Vol. 2 in the United Kingdom, and it was also featured on a promo CD single Live & Rare 2. Approximately 45 seconds of the harmonica solo was cut for the film while the previous CD releases feature the performance unedited.

Filmmakers' intentions

The meaning of and intentions behind the film have been much debated. Director and co-writer Larry Charles stated his intentions and aims behind making the film:

When I made the Bob Dylan movie [Masked and Anonymous], I wanted to make a Bob Dylan movie that was like a Bob Dylan song. One with a lot of layers, that had a lot of poetry, that had a lot of surrealism and was ambiguous and hard to figure out, like a puzzle."[9]


  1. ^ a b c d "Masked and Anonymous Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. 2007-02-21. Retrieved 2011-05-30. 
  2. ^ a b "Masked & Anonymous (2003): Reviews". Retrieved 2011-05-30. 
  3. ^ Masked and Anonymous at Allmusic
  4. ^ "Masked And Anonymous". Chicago Sun-Times. 
  5. ^ [1][dead link]
  6. ^ "'Masked': Riddled With Dylan". Retrieved 2011-05-30. 
  7. ^ Motion, Andrew. "Masked and Anonymous". Sony Classics. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  8. ^ "Masked And Anonymous". The New Yorker. 
  9. ^ Robert, Daniel (2007-04-06). "". Retrieved 2011-05-30. 

External links

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