I’ll take this opportunity to throw a few Bob Dylan-related program activities into one post.
It’s alright, ma (I’m just disappointed): I bought the “Masked and Anonymous” DVD and had the chance to watch the movie again the regular way, watch about a half dozen deleted scenes, and then watch the entire movie again with director Larry Charles’ commentary.
I’d already seen the movie twice in the theaters, so I can’t say that I really gleaned anything new from the third viewing. It was less impressive than it was on the big screen, and the overall suckiness of the project came through. I did enjoy being able to freeze frame the various scenes with lists of Dylan-related in-jokes, though even these were surprisingly pedestrian.
Having read the original script, I thought there might be a director’s cut of some kind because I was under the impression that the entire script had been shot. Instead, there are a handful of inconsequential and low-quality deleted scenes included. As for Charles’ commentary, it is entertaining, insightful and at times self-delusional.
He spends a good portion of it lamely attempting to defend the picture against the critical savaging it received. “They just didn’t get it,” he says.
I think there’s a lot to appreciate about the movie, especially for a Dylan fan, but I wouldn’t dare defend the proposition that it’s actually a good movie. The plot is a thin excuse to hold up a series of unconnected vignettes. The problem is that the vignettes aren’t very compelling on their own. The acting is pretty good across the board with the exception of Dylan, who for the most part is asked only to look moody and doesn’t even do that very convincingly.
But the lines the actors are required to perform make their job difficult. “M&A” is the equivalent of one of Bob’s mid-’80s albums: brilliant in spots, but a disappointment overall. The biggest disappointment I have about the DVD, however, is that it did not include any bonus performance footage. The most compelling portions of the film, naturally, are when Dylan performs with his band.
The band crowds close around Dylan so that they could all be squeezed into the same shot. No cutting, no panning, no nothing. The camera just watches the band play. It’s really awesome stuff. According to Charles, Dylan and his band wer filmed performing 22 songs over the course of two days. Great!
Where are those 22 songs? Except for a small clip of “Standing in the Doorway” in one of the deleted scenes, there’s no extra music anywhere on the DVD. The soundtrack includes complete versions of the songs that appeared in the movie — “Down in the Flood,” “Diamond Joe,” “Dixie” and “Cold Irons Bound” — and those performances are oustanding. An extra disc with just straight up unedited footage of those 22 songs would have made this DVD an absolute must-have. It’s really a missed opportunity.
Sometimes I wanna take to the road and plunder: My dad and I recently saw Dylan five times in three cities in less than two weeks, starting on March 1 in St. Louis and finishing up March 12 in Milwaukee.
All in all, the shows were good but not great. It appears a health problem is limiting Dylan to the piano, and he’s not a very good piano player. But it keeps him engaged with the music. There were some great performances and some not so great ones. With Dylan it’s always hit and miss. The best show was probably Sunday, March 7, at the Vic Theatre in Chicago.
Each venue was relatively small — none was larger than 3,000 capacity, I think — and it made for an unforgettable set of pretty intimate concerts. Now if he’ll only play Old Town!