Bob Dylan has addressed his own legend on screen a few times, most notoriously in Renaldo and Clara, a rambling, overlong (four hours) series of narrative vignettes built around footage from his famous Rolling Thunder Revue tour of the mid-1970s. Perhaps he suspected that that film revealed too much; he certainly didn’t make that mistake again in the deliberately obscure Masked and Anonymous. Here, in a dystopian political allegory, Dylan plays a version of himself, a popular singer named Jack Fate, who is spring from prison in order to headline a benefit concert, even as society appears on the verge of collapse outside the arena..
The movie was directed by Larry Charles (the director of Sacha Baron Cohen’s movies) and co-written by Charles and Dylan, and it does play like a combination of Charles-style docu-stunt and Dylan-style puzzle game. The whole film was shot in just two days, during which Charles managed to rope together an all-star cast (including Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Penelope Cruz, Luke Wilson, Bruce Dern, Jessica Lange, Ed Harris, and Angela Bassett) for cameos amid the live performances of Dylan hits. Like so many Dylan projects, this one seems designed to both delight and frustrate his fan base; anyone who ever looked to Dylan for political or social insight gets this warning from Jack Fate: ” I was always a singer and maybe no more then that.”