Sundance Diary - "Will the real Rene Fontaine please stand up"
By Mark Caro
Movie reporter Mark Caro reports on the screenings and the scene at
the Sundance Film Festival.
About midway through tonight's star-packed premiere of "Masked
and Anonymous," a bizarre cautionary tale starring Bob Dylan as a
washed-up rocker headlining a benefit concert in a post-collapse U.S., I
leaned over to fellow Evanston Township High School grad and Vogue film
critic Sarah Kerr and whispered, "This movie is like a really long
Dylan song from one of his more baffling periods."
My comment was more on target than I realized. Although the
screenplay is credited to Rene Fontaine and Sergy Petrov,
secret is that those names are pseudonyms for Dylan and
first-time director Larry Charles, best known for his work on "Seinfeld"
Enthusiasm." Jessica Lange pretty much blew their cover in
the post-screening Q&A when she said the reason she took her role
was "to speak words that Bob Dylan wrote, and how many
opportunities do you
get to do that?"
Dylan didn't participate in the Q&A-in fact, he didn't
through the movie and has yet to see it (he told me so
himself; I'll get to that later)-but he did appear onstage along with
much of the cast (Lange, Penelope Cruz, John Goodman, Luke Wilson, Val
Kilmer, Mickey Rourke, Christian Slater, Laura Elena Harring) as Charles
movie. Wearing a blue ski cap with a gray scarf dangling
shoulders, Dylan received a standing ovation upon being
introduced, though he looked like he'd prefer to fade into the
The movie can't be called a crowd-pleaser although it
delivers a treasure trove of new material for Dylan devotees. It's
filled with cryptic speeches, disjointed episodes and odd situations as
depicts an America that resembles a dictator-led banana
at war with a confusing array of enemies. Corporate
consolidation, meanwhile, has reached its logical extreme of the
government running the only TV network. I've previously complained that
festival generally have been insular rather than tackling
society's looming problems; that gripe, at least, doesn't apply to
"Masked and Anonymous."
Aside from the actors already mentioned, Ed Harris appears
scene in black face, Angela Bassett, Cheech Marin, Giovanni
Fred Ward have bit parts, and Jeff Bridges takes on the
relatively large role of a pushy reporter trying to elicit deep answers
character, Jack Fate, just as the real Dylan frequently has
been pressed to explain his meanings. (In one of the many in-jokes, the
singer has a cover band called Simple Twist of Fate.)
The movie has the wacked-out energy of a late '60s/early
art-house film, like Robert Altman on Quaaludes. It's
obscure and at times incoherently plotted and plodding, and it has its
share of moments where you think: vanity project. But it also features
performing some previously recorded and never-recorded songs
"Dixie" and the folk tune "Diamond Joe") with his crack
of recent years (side note for Dylan fans: he's currently
searching for a new
guitarist because Charlie Sexton has left) as well as a
Japanese group's version of "My Back Pages," an Italian rap version
of "Like a Rolling Stone" and a young African-American
girl's stirring a
cappella rendition of "The Times They Are A-Changin'."
And many lines of dialogue are pure, memorable Dylan:
"To be on my side, you've got to be born on my side."
"He's a legend. Does Jesus have to walk on water twice to make
"The secret is in the ordinary."
"I've got a lot of respect for a gun."
"All his songs are recognizable. Even when they're not
"You gave it all away, didn't you?"
The sold-out screening ended with polite applause, and many
viewers left before the Q&A session, which the shaggy-bearded
obscured in a winter coat and hat, kicked off with the
"Throw out your abuse." But many of those who did stay were
on the film's
side and appreciated the attempt to challenge them.
There wasn't a large "Masked and Anonymous" party
following the screening; instead I was told a dinner was being held exclusively
for the cast, filmmakers and Sony Pictures Classics execs, who bought
the film a few weeks ago. Such a description often is code for
"Some journalists are invited, but you're not one of them." I tried a
couple of angles to swing an invitation but no dice.
However, I wound up walking past the restaurant where the
dinner was being held, and I spied a few familiar journalists inside. (I
my way to a sure-to-be-packed HBO party/Beck concert from
"Party Monster" party, where cast members Macaulay Culkin
smokes!), Seth Green and Chloe Sevigny arrived, did a few TV
promptly left.) I also saw from the "Masked and Anonymous"
list that writers from the L.A. Times, New York Times and
New York Newsday
were invited, so I teasingly played the "Oh, so the coasts
not us folks from 'fly-over country,' eh?" card, and the
friendly publicists let me in.
Cruz, Wilson, Lange, Slater, Rourke, Harring, Kilmer and Daryl
Hannah (who's in another oblique Sundance movie "Northfork") were
there. I spoke briefly to Rourke, whose face now seems chisled in stone, and
he seemed as perplexed by the movie as anyone else, terming it
I made some comment about the movie's wild ambition, and Rourke responded, "It's flawed, though."
Was he not happy with what he saw?
Rourke smiled. "Sure, because I'm a big Bob fan," he said
and disappeared out the door with a cigarette.
Charles, still bundled up in his winter gear, didn't
to blow the cover of Rene Fontaine and Sergy Petrov, but he
to discuss their working relationship: For a couple of years
Rene would send Sergy notes-sometimes suggesting a situation, sometimes
such as Uncle Sweetheart (Goodman's character)-and the two
eventually cobbled together a screenplay. Charles said Dylan not only hadn't
seen the movie but didn't even know which of his songs, such as
"Blind Willie McTell," were on the soundtrack.
Dylan, meanwhile, had emerged and was standing without too
much of a crowd around him. The hair sticking out from under his ski cap
was streaked blond, and he's still wearing that pencil-thin mustache
that makes him resemble an aging swashbuckler.
Given that the journalist in his movie meets a rather brutal
end-and that this was, you know, Bob Dylan -I approached the
singer/writer/actor tentatively. His voice and handshake were soft,
at first he seemed reluctant to talk. But when I repeated my
comment about the movie resembling one of his songs (minus the
"baffling period" part), he smiled and then asked me, "Would
it again?" I said yes, if only to decipher more of what I'd
He also inquired about the audience response-I told him what
a wide range I perceived (I try to be politely truthful in such
situations rather than offering the standard "Oh, everyone LOVED
it")-and he admitted he hasn't seen the movie.
"They took out so many scenes that were my favorites that I
kind of lost heart with it," he said.
Dylan also noted that he wasn't the first choice to play
Jack Fate, even though the character happens to be responsible for a
of Dylan songs. "Sting turned it down¿and I think Paul
Simon," he said. "I was the last one they asked."
I asked him about the Dylan-related project that "Far From
Heaven" director Todd Haynes is said to be working on. Dylan said it's a
movie is based on a bunch of his songs, but he's not directly involved.
Finally, I mentioned that I was a bit frightened by his
movie's treatment of the journalist character. I guess I was fishing for
some sort of disclaimer regarding his feelings toward the
Fourth Estate. Instead he just got that Dylan glint in his eye-and
Mark Caro is the Chicago Tribune movie reporter.