Part II

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, the not-well-kept secret is that those names are pseudonyms for Dylan and first-time director Larry Charles, best known for his work on "Seinfeld" and "Curb Your
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 sit 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 introduced the movie. Wearing a blue ski cap with a gray scarf dangling from his shoulders, Dylan received a standing ovation upon being introduced, though he looked like he'd prefer to fade into the background.

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 it depicts an America that resembles a dictator-led banana republic constantly 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 the films at this
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 in one scene in black face, Angela Bassett, Cheech Marin, Giovanni Ribisi and Fred Ward have bit parts, and Jeff Bridges takes on the relatively large role of a pushy reporter trying to elicit deep answers from the Dylan
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 '70s 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 Dylan performing some previously recorded and never-recorded songs (such as "Dixie" and the folk tune "Diamond Joe") with his crack touring band 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 a

"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 recognizable,
they're recognizable."

"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 Charles, obscured in a winter coat and hat, kicked off with the invitation, "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 was on my way to a sure-to-be-packed HBO party/Beck concert from the "Party Monster" party, where cast members Macaulay Culkin (who smokes!), Seth Green and Chloe Sevigny arrived, did a few TV interviews and promptly left.) I also saw from the "Masked and Anonymous" guest 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 are welcome but
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 "weird."

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 officially want to blow the cover of Rene Fontaine and Sergy Petrov, but he was happy to discuss their working relationship: For a couple of years Rene would send Sergy notes-sometimes suggesting a situation, sometimes a name
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, and
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 you see it again?" I said yes, if only to decipher more of what I'd seen.

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 whole lot 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 laughed.

Mark Caro is the Chicago Tribune movie reporter.

No comments:

Post a Comment