Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Bob Dylan on Masked and Anonymous

From the recent Sept 2012 edition of Rolling Stone:

"Whatever vision I had for that movie, that never could've carried to the screen. When you want to make a film and you're using outside money, there's just too many people you have to listen to...I'm glad some people like it. I know people who do. There's some good performances in there. John Goodman. Isn't he great? And Jessica Lange. Everybody was really good in it, everybody expect me. Ha-ha! I had no business being in it, to tell you the truth. What's her name, Cate Blanchett, should've played the character I played. Probably would have been hit movie. "

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Bob Dylan and Ayn Rand

The Cinch Review reports on a piece published in Bob Dylan fan magazine Isis by Ronnie Keohane.

The piece focuses on where the words spoken by radio preacher come from.

See below extract from the Cinch Review (

The only power the government has is to crack down on criminals. When there aren’t enough criminals, you make them. You make so many things a crime that it becomes impossible to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? You pass laws that can’t be observed or enforced or even objectively interpreted. You create a nation of lawbreakers and then you cash in on the guilt. That’s the system, that’s the game. Once you understand that you’ll sleep a lot easier.
Ronnie Keohane spotted a passage in Chapter III of Part II of Ayn Rand’s weighty opus Atlas Shrugged which is, well, rather similar. A character named Dr. Ferris is speaking to a character named Hank Reardon, and says this:
The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor even objectively interpreted—and you create a nation of law-breakers—and then you cash in on guilt. Now, that’s the system, Mr. Rearden, that’s the game and once you understand it, you’ll be much easier to deal with.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Like Dylan In The Movies...

With a nice little nod to Belle and Sebastian, Michael G. Smith has a great article on Dylan and film over at his superb filmblog White City Cinema. The article began as a piece written for this website in its previous incarnation and for the Dylan magazine Isis.

Here is an excerpt:

Like Dylan in the Movies

Something’s always happening in the world of Bob Dylan, even if you don’t know what it is, but this fall sees an unusual amount of activity on the part of the Bard of Minnesota. Before the end of the year, he will exhibit new paintings in Denmark (and release an accompanying coffee table book, “The Brazil Series”), as well as release two new CD sets: the 9th installment of the official Bootleg Series, focusing on demos recorded in the early ’60s, and an 8 disc set of his first 8 albums in mono (the way they were originally meant to be heard), all on compact disc for the first time. And of course, his never-ending tour will roll on with fall dates across the U.S., including a show in Champaign on October 22nd.

To commemorate, here is an essay I wrote about Masked and Anonymous, Dylan’s unjustly maligned 2003 movie collaboration with director Larry Charles. The original version appeared in the English Dylan fanzine “Isis” but this has been substantially reworked.

For more please visit his site -

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Sean Wilentz

Sean Wilentz Essay

Masked and Anonymous
or, The Birth of a Nation
by Sean Wilentz

"Now you would not think to look at him
But he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin
On Desolation Row"

--Bob Dylan, "Desolation Row," 1965

 "It's a new day. God help you all."
--Edmund in Masked and Anonymous, Larry Charles, director, 2003

Masked and Anonymous is a manic film about the death agonies of one America and a chilling prophecy about the birth of a new one. The dying America is the one that, briefly, made Bob Dylan famous -- and now aging embittered men and women of that era try to do what they once thought would make the world better. They've had that idea of making the world better crushed out of them, but they carry on anyway, without much hope or reason. Others of their generation keep on hustling, living by their lying wits, talking on because it's the only way they can make sure they're not dead. There are still tendrils of beauty in this America - a battered old guitar; a little girl singing an old song about changing times - but they're not going to make it. The times have changed, they are blasted, and things will get ten times worse. 

The film is layered. It happens fast, and you won't get all of it the first time around. The themes are familiar to anyone who has attended to Dylan's work over the past forty years: politics, religion, the media, celebrity, entertainment, betrayal, and fate. And the materials from which it is constructed are also Dylan's materials: circus performers, the blues, vaudeville-style jokes and puns, the Bible, old movies, Gene Pitney's song "Town Without Pity," the down-and-out, Shakespeare. Above all, perhaps, it is constructed out of Bob Dylan himself. On Dylan's landmark album Highway 61 Revisited, there is a landmark song, "Desolation Row." One layer of Masked and Anonymous is a film called Desolation Row Revisited. Another layer is a film called The Birth of a Nation.
It is said that Bob Dylan's work is allegorical, and the same thing is bound to be said of Masked and Anonymous. Is it? The answer is: not exactly. Anyone looking, at any level, for exact correspondences between characters, things, and symbols, and history or current events will be disappointed. But the references, gestures, and hints all do pile up. In this way, Masked and Anonymous (like much of Dylan's work) operates as pop sensibility in an American tradition of high allegory going back at least to Melville's Moby-Dick. (Melville, 1851: "I had some vague idea, while writing it, that the whole book was susceptible of an allegoric construction, & also that parts of it were....) The film's principal character, the famous-long-ago troubadour Jack Fate, has some of Ishmael's detached, fish-eyed, all-observant qualities. The plot, such as it is, touches on things we know happened, but just barely touches them, describing a doomed America that is not exactly any America we know, but one that, like the Pequod, seems about to be splintered and swallowed up in a vortex. 

Masked and Anonymous is as rich visually as it is aurally, but no one should be intimidated. There are scenes in the film that, though integral to the whole, stand alone perfectly well, like cuts on an album, and that are simple if sometimes terrifying to comprehend. When Jack Fate runs into the strangely-solid ghost of a banjo-strumming minstrel, the minstrel's message about entertainment, truth, and consequences is plain. When Fate encounters a misanthropic, stuttering animal wrangler, their exchange makes complete sense. There are more than enough scenes like this to carry any viewer along. There are also scenes that are obscure on first viewing, and visual references that fly by unnoticed. (Keep a sharp eye out for exactly where inside the Midas and Judas Building you can find the offices of the evil Doctor Benway from William Burroughs's novel Naked Lunch.)
The political layer may be the easiest to see. In an early scene, Jack Fate is riding on the back of a bus to the benefit gig which is the film's central conceit. A band of counter-revolutionaries stops the bus and pulls out the young disillusioned idealist with whom Fate has been talking. The denouement is brutally clear about political manipulation and political violence. 

With shocking clarity, the political story in the film builds to prophecy, as the new President Edmund, the usurper, proclaims his regime, in which all collective memory will be wiped out, where real violence will replace manufactured violence, where eagles will scream, and where great nations will fight large wars. Although Bob Dylan long ago renounced any pretensions to being a political seer, commentary that it all the more frightening for its obliqueness runs through this film. 

(Bob Dylan's last album "Love and Theft", with its song of destruction "High Water [For Charley Patton]," was officially released on September 11, 2001. The critic Gregory Tate later asked, "What did Bob Dylan know and when did he know it?" Viewing Masked and Anonymous for the first time in high summer, 2003, one is tempted to ask the same question.) 

Ten years after Moby-Dick appeared, Melville's prophecy was fulfilled by southern secession and the outbreak of the Civil War. Masked and Anonymous seems to be seeing and saying something similarly cataclysmic, which is one reason why you will not be able to get it out of your mind and why you will want to see it again.
Sean Wilentz is Dayton-Stockton Professor of History at Princeton University.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012


Thanks to Joy Munsey (Larryb Campbell's webmaster) for permission to use these photographs)
(Larry Campbell, Jessica Lange, Jeff Bridges, George Recelli)

(George Receli, John Goodman, Larry Campbell) 

(Larry Campbell, Jessica Lange, Jeff Bridges, George Receli)

(Photo taken by Jeff Bridges)

 (Photo taken by Jeff Bridges)

The Director

Larry Charles & Masked & Anonymous - by Michael G Smith

The director most often cited by Larry Charles as an influence on M&A is the maverick independent American filmmaker John Cassavetes. Charles has described M&A as "Shakespeare meets Cassavetes". Info on Cassavetes' films can be found here:

- - Charles has also cited Pier Paolo Pasolini, Werner Herzog and Robert Altmanas influences.

Much has already been written about Dylan's character, the "taciturn" Jack Fate. Larry Charles has described him as a "post-apocalyptic Humphrey Bogart" and a "spaghetti western hero".

The spaghetti western hero is a reference to the "Man with No Name" character that Clint Eastwood played in Sergio Leone's "Dollars" trilogy: A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Jack Fate, like Humphrey Bogart's film noir characters and Eastwood's spaghetti western heroes, is a quiet, world-weary and cynical loner. Perhaps you could include pictures of the characters that influenced Jack Fate.

Here is Humphrey Bogart in the quintessential film noir, The Big Sleep:

Here is a Clint Eastwood in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly:

Random shots from the DVD