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Bob Dylan

Ballad of a Thin Man.

So I went down to the Angelika yesterday afternoon (always a strange experience – you can hear and feel the subway running under you during films) to catch Masked and Anonymous and, well, I can only recommend this film to two types of people: Hard-core Dylanologists, and those cinema completists who need to see Ed Harris in blackface. I consider myself a pretty heavy-duty Dylan fan, and even I was a bit bored at certain points. The movie is basically Dylan’s version of Waking Life, or what might happen if Bob had entered his own portal a la Being John Malkovich. All of the characters in the film speak in Dylanistic soliloquys (You actually get a very good sense of this from the website), and thus you end up with Giovanni Ribisi’s disquisition on war, Val Kilmer’s take on animals, etc. The movie takes place in a strange alternate present, where (I’m guessing) the revolutions of the Sixties went sour and ended up tearing the nation apart. Dylan’s dad seems to be the ailing leader of the Bearflag Republic or something, and…well, there’s no point in trying to explain it.

The movie is basically an extended riff on Dylan and Dylania…at (brief) moments it has the scope and absurdist grandeur of “Desolation Row,” “Idiot Wind,” or “It’s Alright Ma.” And some of the renditions of Dylan’s music, from the new “One More Cup of Coffee” to the acapella “The Times, They Are a Changin’” are truly beautiful. Most of the time, however, it fails to capture Dylan’s spark, and comes off flat and, well, embarrassing (particularly in some of the more questionable racial choices.) I think the extended monologues on life, death, and humanity are meant to have you dwell on the fundamental questions, but as the movie wore on I found myself contemplating altogether different queries: Did Chris Penn eat one of the Baldwins? Who would win in a caged deathmatch between Penelope Cruz and Audrey Tautou? Who knew it would end so badly between Walter and the Dude? When did Mickey Rourke turn into Billy Bob Thornton? So on, so on. I guess I’d recommend that Dylan fans see this film (particularly if you’ve sat through Renaldo & Clara), just to see where our man is at these days. (In fact, some Dylan fans seem to love it.) All in all, though, I can’t say I recommend the film as a film.

On another note, in the two hours I had to kill between this movie and seeing a friend’s (very good) band at the Baggot Inn, I stumbled upon a huge line at Tower Records, dutifully waiting to get Dave Gahan‘s signature. Times change, I guess. Ten years ago, I probably would have staked out this line with a handful of vinyl 12″ DM singles. Nowadays, I just skipped it in favor of Forbidden Planet and The Strand. Must be getting old.

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