by Andrew Lewis Conn

A protean physical phenomenon and never less than a spectacular camera subject, Bob Dylan has met with uneven success in movies. Given his imagistic radiance and gifts of storytelling compression, he would seem the most naturally cinematic of artists. (Compare the dramatic punch of Dylan’s “Hurricane” to Denzel Washington’s.) And clearly he has some ambitions in this direction, participating, in various capacities, in at least nine films. Yet outside of the documentaries, onscreen Dylan is all odd angles.[1]

In scripted roles like those in Hearts of Fire[2] (1990) and Masked and Anonymous[3] (2003), he perversely offers himself as an object of contemplation only to play the Sphinx.[4] He does nothing to ingratiate himself, yet you can’t stop looking at him: not since Buster Keaton have we been treated to so great a stone face. This powerful anticharisma becomes something of a running gag in Masked and Anonymous:[5] his impassivity becomes a scrim onto which the other characters—and the audience—project their dreams and desires.

  1. In description, Todd Haynes’s upcoming I’m Not There: Suppositions on a Film Concerning Dylan puts this problem front-and-center by casting a multiplicity of actors (Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere, etc.) as the singer in various stages of his life.
  2. About this film, the less said the better, though it’s a boon for trivia buffs: Which Dylan movie is cowritten by Joe Eszterhas? Which one shares a director with Return of the Jedi?
  3. The title neatly sums up Dylan’s movie career.
  4. Driving this strategy home, Dylan opens his self-directed 1978 film Renaldo and Clara singing “When I Paint My Masterpiece” from behind a plastic mask.
  5. Three good reasons to see this much maligned picture:

    1. He looks great, introducing the world to the mustachioed gentleman cowboy look of Love and Theft;
    2. He performs a masterly rendition of “Dixie”; and
    3. The Big Lebowski fans will not want to miss the Bridges/Goodman reunion.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Andrew Lewis Conn is the author of P (Soft Skull Press, 2003). He recently completed his second novel.

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