Yes I have its amazing!
I’m happy you like it…
Oh I’m very pleased, I’m very touched actually.
I've got quite a lot of points to filter through and how I’ll approach them I’m not sure, but I’ll plunge ahead…
We’ll just riff around and I’m sure that something interesting will come out of it.
I think the movie speaks so much truth; it’s been a long time since I've seen a film like that. Did you intend it to be a social commentary?
Well you know, it’s interesting, we never had any intention at all or any concern about results or consequences. We really started from a very purely organic place, just exchanging ideas thoughts; sometimes a word or an expression in a very almost unconscious, automatic, writing it up technique, without imposing any order on it and letting the order and patterns emerge out of it naturally.
The film is very poetic in feel and very Shakespearian, especially in the case of the screenplay…
I agree, that’s you know… Bob inspires you to reach these heights you didn’t think were possible.
It must’ve been an experience meeting Bob Dylan?
There’s nothing to describe it. It was the most life changing experience of my life…its just meeting your guru, just holding a mirror to you and the world and saying look. That’s what it’s like being with him, just surprising you at all times, confounding you at all times, confusing you. But all with the end result of cracking open your head and just seeing more deeply and more clearly.
Dylan always seems discreet, but his discretion speaks a thousand things at the same time, he seems to evoke and provoke so much…
He does and he’s very enigmatic and very complex and very dense, which is no surprise. And so he will never say, “This is what I think”. He will have something and he will say it and I will say “Wow you really feel strongly about that!” and he’ll say, “Well somebody does”.
The film is so layered; it’s colourful, provocative, like a puzzle…
Yes, the last piece of the puzzle was you. That to me is the key. When I go around the country to these screenings I tell people it is a puzzle and the last piece is you. You have to kind of be involved and interact with it. And wherever you are in your life at that moment you’re gonna see certain things in that movie like you do in a Bob Dylan song. And you may come back a year from now or ten years from now and be in a different place and see the movie in a different light as well.
The film has only really played in America. Is it going to play England any time soon?
Yes it should be opening. I know there’s a film festival in England that it’s gonna open at. BBC films, was one of the financial partners, so it’s definitely meant to open in England. It’s gonna open all over Europe now; over the next couple of months, actually.
There have been rumours of a DVD release coming out soon, is there any plans finalised for what will appear on the DVD?
There is a DVD that’s going to come out I believe in February, with some deleted scenes and some other bonus stuff. But that’s not the definitive version there’s still yet my directors cut somewhere down the line, if we can get the financing together we’ll put that out too, that’s kind of more expensive to put together.
Will there ever be a definitive version? There’s so much going on and so many scenes that didn’t make it.
Well right. By definitive I only mean like… everything, we shot everything that’s in the script. And there is a version of that, that from a historically archival position might be worth having out there as well… I also have hours and hours of bob rehearsing. And I kept a camera rolling while he was doing all the music, never cutting so I have all the between song patter and warm-up stuff, and I feel like there’s a great historical archive there not to be exploited commercially, I think that would be wrong, but at some point down the line, way down the line perhaps, it should have some historical value.
It’s very intimate… Most of those live scenes with the band. The camera perspective creates such an intimate feel.
As far as the music goes, one of our earliest conversations was how to shoot the music. Bob had some very specific ideas about how he thought music should look and what’s gone wrong with music on film and why he has felt that he had never actually been well represented performing on film. And we went back and looked at some things we both liked a lot. Like old Johnny Cash shows, and even Ed Sullivan and The Grand Old Opry shows with Hank Williams and we found they basically used one camera and put you right there and there was an intimacy created between the musician and the home audience And we really responded to that, and nowadays people are afraid to stay on that one shot – and we cut and we cut, and this kind of MTV style – and we made a conscious decision to go back to this more pure version of presenting the music and it wound up being very dramatic.
You get right in perspective-wise. It’s very direct. The cinematography on the whole is so rich. One frame is like a photograph with so much going on in every part of the screen.
I’m glad you noticed that. Thank you very much, that was an effort to… we were both attracted to density and I tried to just fill the frame up at all times with a lot of information. The way Bob’s songs filled with references and allusions so that you could go back over and over again and listen to and never get tired. I wanted this to have that same quality.
There appears to be layers at every level in the film. One of the sections on the website actually deals with the idea of allusions and references.
Yes I've read that, it’s great. The thing is again I've been to about 20 cities where I've hosted screenings and answered questions and what’s so great is that the audience, as I said, the audience being part of the puzzle, and the puzzle pieces can be moved around and create a different puzzle each time. Also, besides the last piece being you, the puzzle itself is constantly shifting. But people see things in the movie beyond even what was intended and those are valid quite often. I've heard interpretations of aspects of the movie that were certainly not conscious on our part. But when I looked back, I go “absolutely! That’s a very valid interpretation of what’s going on there”.
The film is like a living art form and I’m sure it will grow through time and have a resonance like Dylan’s songs do. Even politically some of the references in there could apply to now or ten years ahead.
Or a hundred years ago, Yes. Well that was one of the themes. We didn’t intend for it to be as prophetic as it turned out to be, it was again no intention to comment or be topical in any way, we were more interested in talking about the idea of the cycles of history and how history repeats itself. We think we’re unique, we think we’re in a unique time but really this is just another cycle of history that resembles every other one that’s come before it and as it turned out it winded up being very prophetic and topical as well.
Were you thinking about W. B Yeats and “Turning and turning within the widening gyre”?
Yes, well when you’re with Bob again you with a Bard on that level. Someone who is… whose job it is in life to be thinking about those things and commenting and writing about those things, so you’re in that state of mind when you’re with him and inevitably in the way Bob has throughout history – his own history – your tapping into things, into a certain psyche again almost unconsciously but inevitably.
I've seen this film countless times, I found it initially very overwhelming but it made me more willing to engage with it and to explore.
Yeah, well people who are willing to engage with it, that’s usually the reaction. What happened with some of the critics was that they were so overwhelmed at first that they checked out and they never got to engage with it and see all the levels and the layers and all the different things that were available to them in the movie. But people like you, and again, I've gone around the country to all kinds of obscure places and the audience is very willing to engage and they have that sense of being overwhelmed. And then they let it wash over them and they enter into it and experience it and they wind up having a great experience from it.
You’ve tapped into something that at this particular moment in cinema history is dwindling. Now, when you go see a movie its escapism and you sit back and let it do its things, whereas with this film you have to engage and take part.
Yes, well most movies today are very cut and dry. It’s a very risk-averse business now because there is so much money involved. They need people to come in and move on. And this is not a movie that’s intended that way. This is a movie that’s intended to be savoured and revisited like something you’d see in a museum or a poem you’d read in a book, rather than mass-market entertainment.
I do feel it will gain a Cult Status somewhere along the line. As I’ve said it has richness and a resonance.
Bob was very clear about that. And his work, often a lot of his greatest work, has been met with disdain when it comes out. And then later on people go, “Wow! You know ‘Slow Train Coming’ is a brilliant album”, or whatever... You know what I mean? And I look at this that way also. This is not done for a commercial acceptability; this is done to make a statement. And it’s out there and people will find it and it will always be there for them.
I think Dylan said, “What’s wrong with being misunderstood?”
Yeah that’s Bob. I mean when we were working on it he had a line that he wanted to put in and he said he had a line and I said, “Bob I have to say even in the script I don’t think people are gonna understand that line”. And he said, “Well what’s so bad about being misunderstood?” And I think he was saying… He’s a person; he’s been understood, he’s done that, he’s now willing to risk being misunderstood in order to reach a deeper level of understanding. And that’s a very courageous place for an artist to go.
I think that’s true artistic temperament. You’re willing to take risks because you know art has to extend beyond the normal confines of what you must and must not do and again I guess that applies to cinema culture at this point in time. The fear to experiment and to be profound has led to the studio system conforming.
Exactly, well that’s why, this was conceived, financed, produced… Everything about this movie was done outside of that system. I mean again there was no intention, no result that was desired. There was no commercial consideration in making this movie. This is a purely instinctive process which is really an anathema to the making of movies today.
It is such a shame that the critics could not engage with this movie. They completely missed the boat.
Well Bob again in his way told me that the critics wouldn’t get this movie, but the audience would if they had a chance to see it and that has been born out buy my own personal experience. I think the critics are now sort of for the most part, part of a larger system, a more corporate system. And this (the movie) just doesn’t fit into any niche that they can really relate to. They don’t have time anymore, there’s not that kind of serious film criticism that there was 20, 30 years ago. They don’t have time to write the kind of detailed soft pieces about a film, even if they wind up rejecting it, they don’t have time to even think about it before they reject it. Here it’s just so easy to go “Oh Bob Dylan, Oh Larry Charles… Oh it’s a difficult movie, how dare they make a movie. I’m not going to engage in this” or “I’m not gonna try to look into the movie I’m not gonna try to be part of the movie.” And the end result is a lot of bad reviews obviously.
‘Masked and Anonymous’ has a mood of the Carnivalesque, for example, ‘Desolation Row goes to the Movies’. The colour, the lighting, the characters and so forth… There is a cartoon feel, especially in the case of the main soundstage.
Yes, well it was a great synthesis of various things that were going on in our heads at the time and if we started today it might be totally different, you know.
The characters evoke a Shakespearian quality, each of the characters seems to act as a device in the story. One of my favourite performances is that of Luke Wilson, who seems to have a more moralistic voice in the movie.
Luke was great.
He just gets the part down perfectly, so real, so convincing.
Luke is also one of these people. He travelled with me quite a bit on this tour I did and he’s one of these people also who totally gets it. I mean people either understand how cool it is to make a movie with Bob Dylan or they don’t and he was one of the people, he was the first person to commit to the movie. He just called me up and said look “I will do anything in this movie,” and he and I became very close friends through the making of this movie.
Yeah he appears to be a really good guy.
Yeah he’s a great guy.
All the actors who contributed all provide really great performances. John Goodman’s performance for example.
It’s fantastic… It’s a great performance.
All the characters to me have this underlying cynicism that’s rounded off with satire. In fact the film is full of dark humour and black comedy.
Well right, the dark humour and black comedy, which is so much a part of Bob’s music also, was missed by a lot of people, a lot of the critics I think. Whereas, the audience was able to see it and I think by the same token the performances are so monumental, but very distinctive and unique and non-naturalistic in a way and yet they also give dimensions of the characters, at the same time that it was again hard for critics – used to a straight ahead naturalistic performance – to kind of gage what this performance means, you know Jessica Lange or John Goodman.
This is no normal movie. These people are really absorbed into the characters.
Yes they committed and that’s the kind of actors they are. If you look at Jessica Lange and John Goodman and Jeff Bridges body of work, Penelope Cruz… you see, they’re very risk taking actors, they’re willing to go out there and they work. They were all great.
One of the scenes that only got to me later on was the scene in the movie about the shooting gallery of world leaders. That’s hilarious!
Yeah, yeah that was really funny, I agree. Well again we initially set out to have different look-alikes and I couldn’t find good look-alikes of the versions I wanted and finally we started to, well at a least there’s a good Ghandi, and it was like, let’s use that. So it was again, you know, the synchronicity of it. You had to be very open to the synchronicity of it to take advantage of it.
A lot of key scenes in the film take place on staircases, such as Jack Fate's release from prison, his conversation with Oscar Vogel and his visit to his mother's grave. There are also references to stairs in the dialogue, like when Pagan Lace says, "We'll take the stairs" or when Fate says, "My fall from grace didn't end at the bottom of those stairs." What was the logic behind the staircase motif running through the film?
Yes, Yes, absolutely. Right that’s true. You know something. What you just said actually was one of those things that happened at the screenings, I hadn’t thought about that. There’s a lot of staircases imagery in the film. I just was attracted when I went around scouting I was attracted to staircases in around LA there are a lot of dramatic staircases hidden from view. If you ever seen Laurel and Hardy’s, The Music Box, there were incredible staircases in L.A., on the side of hillsides and I’d be struck by them as we drove by. And I’d say we could do the scene here, we could do the scene there. Something unconscious was drawing me to them. That’s a very interesting comment, I hadn’t even thought about that. But I actually see it now. It’s totally valid.
Funny you should mention that but that Laurel and Hardy scene with the piano I believe was influenced by where Stan Laurel originally came from, in North Shields, which is ten minutes from where I am now. I believe there are some stairs there exactly like what’s portrayed in that film.
Yeah, yeah, Wow! Well that’s really interesting. It’s all connected ultimately.
The poetic feel of the movie and especially some of the lines in the movie is astounding… lines such as: “Hospitals built as shrines to the diseases they create” and “Vietnam War lost in the whore houses of Saigon”, and importantly “We spend our time trying to kill time, but when all is said and done time ends up killing us”…
I know. Sometimes Bob would come in with a line a like that and say do you think we should use that and I’d go, “You crazy!!?? It’s such an amazing line, you just changed my life with that line”, you know. But Bob is very irreverent in relation to his own work and he’s very willing to… he doesn’t like it to be pretty, he likes to twist it and push it and make it sound wrong, you know, ‘Only time will tell who has fell and who’s been left behind’. You know, he really likes to sort of flirt with the wrongness of it, to see what might be elicited by that and with a lot of these lines he would play with them and you know where I might be really satisfied with the pretty version of it, he would want to push further and deeper and see if we can kind of twist it around somehow. It was a fascinating process to go through.
It’s that subversive nature that makes the film is so intense and so great. ‘Masked and Anonymous’ totally subverts the notion of how a film should be. It isn’t a movie as you would define a movie, it isn’t a conventional movie, but that’s why it’s so great. Once you get into it there’s so much.
I totally agree, I mean I want to almost not call it a movie, because it’s so Brechtian and so theatrical and so literary and so poetic… It seemed almost limiting to call it a movie.
So is it a work in progress? Every time it expresses something slightly different.
Yes, well one of the things that I've said and I've felt a lot about this, is the concept of the finished product. We’ve come to believe in this society that something is finished, but that’s really an illusion and this is a movie that really can be… if I could I would work on it for the rest of my life and change it and play with it and re-do it, and take the pieces apart and put it back together. Really it’s a flowing fluid thing rather than a finished product.
The passion that watching the film creates seems to last and especially in your case.
Well I feel responsibility to it. I feel that it was something that was born out of a very organic, pure process and I feel like it’s my responsibility to take care of it. It’s a very precious thing and yet it’s a very resilient thing and I want people to experience it. I really think that everybody who winds up experiencing it is glad they did. But its been hard to get it to people, that been the biggest obstacle really.
But it’s great that you and Bob can put up your receivers and allow this stuff to flow through you and for the art to seep through…
Well again, that’s the inspiration that he has been to me, I mean he is a purely instinctive person, he doesn’t judge his thoughts. These are my thoughts and they might have levity they might not, lets find out. He really just follows his instincts. Look, they made him Bob Dylan so he has reason to trust those instincts and so that was the philosophy I adopted. It was like, “we’re just gonna trust our instincts here and see where it takes us”.
One of the phrases that strikes me, and seems to resonate through the movie is the phrase “As long as I keep talking I know I’m still alive”. All the characters seem to be governed by this idea, this frustration, in finding something real, such as Pagan Lace’s tragic pleas of, “Save me, save me”.
Yes, exactly. That’s exactly right. There is a sense of the film on one level being about communication and the breakdown of communication and how do we even hear, what do we hear? What is the process by which we hear someone else, when the words come out of someone else’s mouth? Things like that we were interested in. We’re interested in language itself. Language itself becomes a theme of the film. What is the purpose of language? How is language used to transmit ideas? These are kind of interesting, complex themes that are there again, part of the fabric as well.
Of course the film itself uses language in many different ways, not just musically, or vocally, but its there visually, it’s in what you hear and what you don’t hear. It’s everywhere. It’s often only suggested. In fact there are suggestions everywhere in the film. And all of these things going on simultaneously can lead you off in so many different directions.
Right, and even when your seeing a visually dense frame you are also hearing a cacophony usually in the background of that frame as well, that could be peeled away as well to hear a lot of different things going on too.
Well. even the reference to “Evil Doers” as spoken by Edmund certainly has a resonance with the ‘here and now’.
Yeah and at the same time there’s a kind of, almost a quaintness to that expression. And Bob is very interested in that and I think if you listen to ‘Love and Theft’ its there too. And I think this is part of that same period in his work which is the juxtaposition of the old and the quaint and the old fashioned with the post-modern. He’s trying to really juxtapose those forms and see what happens.
He seems to have retained – and it certainly shows in the film – or regained what he had in the 65-66 period of stream of consciousness, but there’s another element to it completely. I was wondering is there any connection between ‘Love and Theft’ and ‘Masked and Anonymous’? Did either/or inspire the other? Did some of the lines from ‘Masked and Anonymous’ appear in ‘Love and Theft’ and so forth?
Yes, what happened was, he was working on ‘Love and Theft’ at the same time and in fact I had the privilege of going to the recording studio and what happens is, a lot of lines that didn’t wind up in ‘Masked and Anonymous’, winded up in Love And Theft and vice versa. Again we’re mixing and matching and sort of making our own puzzle. And so there were quite a few things like that, that emerged. Again, it was part of his interest at the time. I think from ‘Time Out Of Mind’ through this movie you can almost look at now as a period, like the born-again period, or the electric period. And I think that now he’s done that, the culmination is maybe the movie, now I think you’re going to see him drift for a while until he finds that next thing that interests him.
This movie explores the idea of things that are not defined, in many ways and Dylan doesn’t go for perfection.
Right, he very much embraces the imperfect, and the beauty of the imperfect, the beauty of the flaw and he’s not afraid of that. And that’s part of his courage as an artist. Also, you know, he recognises the illusion of perfection… This goes back to the idea of the finished product also, which is why there is such a wealth of Bob Dylan bootleg material also.
Well he inspires a lot of that. Mainly because he is an art form, what he does is an art form. There’s a respect for the art so much so that people want to hear more because he’s such an experimentative performing artist.
And ‘Masked and Anonymous’ is as much an example of this performance art.
As Pagan Lace says about the songs, “They may not be recognisable”, the idea of change and the thing with ‘Masked and Anonymous’ and even Dylan as a performing artist is that you may see something once, but the next time you see it, it won’t be the same.
That’s right; it’s constantly fluid and ever changing. It’s like a natural bi-product of who he is. Very interesting that way… he’s very comfortable also – and inspired me to be more comfortable – with the concept of ambiguity. He is willing again to court ambiguity, court confusion, in order to explore the ambiguous nature of whatever it is we’re talking about and when people are finally able to straddle that ambiguity they get some deeper level out of the work and people who don’t, people who cant handle the ambiguity, turn away and those are the people that don’t wind up benefiting from him.
And ultimately there’s a message there, or as the editor states, “There is a story there” and it comes in many different ways in the movie, whether it be moralistic or not, there is a message.
Yes exactly and again it depends who you are and where you are when you see the movie what you’ll draw from.
Exactly, and where you are in your life as well.
The film will continue to grow I know that in maybe ten years time a line in the film will jump out like never before, it will have a resonance. This even applies with ‘Love and Theft’. I don’t know if Dylan or anyone else is aware of this, though he probably chuckles to himself over it, but there are lines in ‘Love and Theft’ that come from…
The Japanese book?
Yeah, the ‘Confessions of a Yakuza’… Yeah, well a couple of things about Bob: First of all, he is like one of the last of the well-read people, you know what I mean? He’s so well read and well read in the sense that he can quote anything. He can quote the Bible, he can quote Rimbaud, he can quote Yeats, he can quote whatever it is and he has just a really innate knowledge of literature, no matter what the source, in many different languages also. By the same token, he is constantly… he has these fragments, these bits rolling round in his head all the time and he’s constantly – almost like a roulette wheel – trying different bits together and seeing what happens and so when people say, “Oh this is from ‘Confessions of a Yakuza’, I think he laughs, because he’s taken a totally non-poetic sentence, perhaps out of the middle of a paragraph of ‘Confessions of a Yakuza’ and turned it into art.
The album itself conjured up the feel of the America South in places, so how can you take a line from a Japanese book about a gangster and make it part of what appears to be a vision of the American South or the lost American South?
Exactly, taking these seemingly mundane lines from this Japanese book and totally re-imagining them in this other context. It’s the way art is actually made and I think again it was a quick little glimpse into his process, which is fascinating.
In ‘Masked and Anonymous’ that whole idea applies also, references, allusions and so forth and I guess therefore there’s a lot linkage to people like T. S. Eliot.
Absolutely, well again we’re talking about juxtaposing a lot of different forms, almost stripping them together, one after the other; a biblical reference might be followed by a reference to Shakespeare, which might be followed by a film-noir reference. Just constantly pushing and mixing and matching and seeing if they hold together, it’s an experiment to see if they hold together.
There is definitely a noir influence there…
Yes, that was a big influence. We talked about movies like ‘Key Largo’ and I've described it as ‘sci-fi-film-noir-musical-comedy’. And I see Bob as this kind of post- apocalyptic Humphrey Bogart or Clint Eastwood. Yeah and I think Bob is very much of that era also. Those were movies that probably really made an impression on him.
Well, ‘Empire Burlesque’ is made up of lines from ‘The Maltese Falcon’ and so forth.
And of course while watching ‘Masked and Anonymous’, watching the performances and watching Dylan’s performance as well as the use of lines in the film harks back to that whole idea.
Absolutely, that was again, very intended, very intentional.
Most of the critics who see the film don’t see an art form. They have resentment to its experimentative nature and this whole Yakuza situation with ‘Love and Theft’ only fuels their negativity and fuels controversy.
Right, well people thought they had something, again, this sensationalistic aspect of the media today. People thought, “We’ve caught Bob Dylan somehow”. But instead what they did was – and this is why the story fell apart – because it was so much more complex and so much more enigmatic and ambiguous then the way it was presented, that the media couldn’t handle it after a while. It’s like, if you really want to enter this world, the world of Bob’s head, you better take your shoes and get ready for a long journey.
And “You’ve got to be born on my side”.
That’s right, that’s right, and the media was not prepared to do that, and of course this movie is also a movie where Bob really confronts the media and this is another reason why the media have been somewhat resistant to it.
The media in many ways controls the minds of people. It’s destroying art, and there’s a lot of lines in the film that apply to that idea: “They have a reach and resonance more than even they themselves realise”. Again, this whole idea was also presented in Michael Moore’s ‘Bowling for Columbine’, the idea of manufactured fear, to make the masses consume. ‘Masked and Anonymous’ also addresses this issue of the media and corporate powers.
It creates an anxiety and makes it much easier to make people vulnerable and therefore controlled.
Well when you’re around Bob that’s what’s coming out of him. You know, he’s somebody who’s seen more than you have and knows more than you know and if your wise you listen and he will tell you everything you need to know, but your gonna have to do the work of interpreting it and that’s how the movie is also, its like Bob is telling you everything, this is another aspect of the movie. This is Bob telling you everything about himself also, but it’s not laid out clearly, you have to do the work of kind of putting the pieces together.
I think it may have been Andrew Motion, or perhaps Sean Wilentz who spoke of how in ‘Masked and Anonymous’ Bob is able to say the things that as Bob Dylan he cannot say, but it can be done as Jack Fate and with ‘Masked and Anonymous’. Of course when Bob is talking about himself he often refers to himself in the third person.
Absolutely, well there is an aspect of Bob, you know, he needs to be called Bob for instance, because ‘Dylan’ is our problem. Dylan is what we’ve imposed on him and he holds on to his Bob-ness his humanness in way, his realness, because if he gets sucked into the Dylan part, that’s the mythological part that everybody has kind of created, that is almost too gigantic a burden for him to carry.
Yes, it must be hard to retain any form of reality or even normality when you’re faced with that.
In a documentary made about ‘Hearts of Fire’, Bob talks about looking through the windows of a pub and seeing people being very real, but once he’s walked into the room, he knows that realness will disappear.
Right, right. Well I think also when
the time comes people will start to see the connection between Bob’s
cinema work. One of the things I realised after the fact, I was watching
‘Don’t Look Back’ recently and I realised that the scene where he has
the argument with the English journalist, that’s Jeff Bridges character
forty years ago. And then wow! It started to connect to me and then also
and I’d seen ‘Don’t Look Back’ five times and I watched it again
recently and at the end of the movie, there Bob’s sitting at the back of
a limousine after a performance, staring out the window, driving away
and the camera just stays on him and I’m thinking that’s a parallel
ending to the ending of our movie.
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