There are so many layers and references in this movie, the New York Times called it both an inchorent mess and possibly a masterpiece. Last night, at a San Francisco screening, director Larry Charles (Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm) jokingly called it a 'mess-terpiece,' and warned the audience "You will not catch all the references, and that's OK. It's a show. Let it wash over you, and see how wet you get."
The screenplay is credited to Sergei Petrov and Rene Fontaine, pseudonyms for Mr. Bob Dylan and Larry Charles. Given this tip-off, the central character of Uncle Sweetheart can only be taken as Larry Charles' alter ego. Uncle Sweetheart (played by John Goodman in a sky blue tuxedo) is the concert promoter/ring master who helps promote a benefit show with a venal and world weary chick promoter (Jessica Lange). Together they sell it as a world-wide cable-cast event, and jump through major hoops to arrange for the perfect headliner: Jack Fate (Bob Dylan's alter ego played by none other.)
Larry Charles is either in the middle of a mid life crisis, or his vision for the future of cinema is apostatic. Although Charles says his body of work is consistent with this sci-fi/documentary/comedy/musical, it seems he is turning the medium on its ear with this marginally narrative cultish film made outside--or in spite of--the Hollywood juggernaut.
Masked and Anonymous was made in 20 days on a ridiculously low budget, which is evident from the skanky, futuristic set, shot entirely in LA. Parts of LA can tend to look third world anyway, so it's not much of a stretch to create a civil war in Babylon by slapping up wall-sized posters of a generic dictator and putting an uzi in every extra's hands. It feels like a message movie, yet the only big message, near as I can tell, is that 'things fall apart,' as Fate says in voice over. And they fall apart even quicker when the inmates are running the asylum.