And The Award For Best Actor Goes To... Bob Dylan?
By Daniel Kraus

Last week, Variety reported that music legend Bob Dylan is in talks to appear in a film tentatively titled "Masked and Anonymous." Dylan would star as Jack Fate, "a wandering troubadour who is brought out of prison by his former manager for one last concert."

Dylan won an Oscar for best original song last year ("Things Have Changed" from the film Wonder Boys), and perhaps he, like many, has realized that you just can’t DO a whole lot with just one Oscar. You can’t make Oscar bookends. You can’t fashion Oscar numchuks. And you certainly can’t modify them into Oscar salt and pepper shakers. Yep, having one Oscar is almost a slap in the face, a big, golden sign of a promising thespian future that you never lived up to.

To get a taste of what Bob the actor may offer us at the ripe age of 60, it might help to look back at his last starring role: aging rocker Billy Parker in 1987’s Hearts of Fire. Hearts of Fire is not a good movie, and Bob is not good in it. Yet, it’s fascinating just to see the old boy puttering around up there on screen, whether he be scratching his face or giving you one of those patented "I’m looking at you but I’m thinking of something that happened to me 17 years ago" Bob Dylan looks. Either way, it’s Bob Dylan, man, and it’s worth a second look.

Rock star Fiona (remember her long, kick-ass career?) plays Molly McGuire, a small-town Pennsylvania girl who sings in a cover band at a bar (OK, a SEEDY bar). She meets rock legend Bob (his character name is Billy but let’s just call him Bob), who hires her to play guitar in a show he’s playing in England. While they’re there, Fiona/Molly impresses British rock idol James Colt (Rupert Everett), who takes her under his wing and elevates her to super-stardom. Something ensues, although I’m not sure what.

Bob’s interesting acting style could be described as "naturalistic." Another possible way to describe it would be "Acting style? What acting style?" His stumbling, dodgy-eyed screen presence combines the geeky, "Hee-hee, I’ve lost my mind" stylings of Crispin Glover with the menopausal, maternal presence of "Golden Girl" Bea Arthur.

Whether the script calls for "Thoughtful Bob," "Tender Bob," or "Downright Angry Bob," Bob’s got a one-size-fits-all expression that caters to them all. Basically, what he does is look at the other actor (sort of), say his lines (sort of), while the entire time (and here’s the genius part) kind of glancing off into the distance as if watching another, much better movie. On an emotional scale of 1 to 10, Bob thoughtfully keeps it down to an energy-conserving 2 or 3. During a scene where Bob tears apart his hotel room and tosses all of his furniture out the window in a blind rage, Bob’s face tells a somewhat different story, something like "Boy, a pickle would be tasty right about now."

At least you can’t accuse him of trying to nab the spotlight from his fellow actors. Unfortunately, Fiona also graduated from the musician’s school of acting, a program that apparently encourages lots of mumbling and a general lack of enthusiasm. As the film’s "bubbly, 18 year-old go-getter," Fiona is supposed to be out-of-her-mind giddy when she meets her idol, James Colt. But her face tells a somewhat different story, something like, "Boy, I sure like the color brown. It sure is a nice, brown color."

Between Rupert Everett’s thick English accent, Fiona’s mumbling, and Bob’s nasal buzzing, entire scenes pass by like this:

FIONA: Mummbawamumba.

RUPERT: Snotsa bloody hell, blo.

BOB: Ebba-webba weeza.

FIONA: Mubba bubba muzza!

BOB: (with finality) Eeeza wonga wibba.

Thankfully, these bewildering exchanges are kept short in order to make room for the numerous concert scenes in which Fiona trades her Springsteen-ette image in for leg warmers, ruffled sleeves, and bangs that just won’t quit. Meanwhile, Dylan stumbles around the stage like he’s drunk and even stage dives, all the while looking like he’s thinking, "I hope they don’t put mayonnaise on my sandwich again today."

Eventually, the story focuses on the budding love affair between Fiona and Rupert. But Bob keeps on popping up out of the woodwork like a scary leprechaun or make-believe friend, spouting puzzling philosophic gems like "You like stars? Those stars in the skies are dead and a million miles away" and "I used to be the Pied Piper; my pockets used to be full of gold."

Because of Bob’s reputation as, let’s face it, THE MAN, he’s in constant danger of being cast as a wizened old bad-ass. But Bob’s never really been a bad-ass. His on-screen personality is more like an awkward 13 year-old who’s really smart and knows the answer to the teacher’s question, yet is too embarrassed to say it. His face twitches uncomfortably while reciting lines and he tugs at his sleeves like a nervous 6th grade girl.

To confuse matters more, director Richard Marquand (Jagged Edge, Return of the Jedi) skates uncomfortably around the concept of the 47-year-old Bob as a leading man/sex object. Is he? Isn’t he? His relationship with Fiona is mostly paternal, but there’s plenty of weirdly sexual scenes of Fiona in her underwear while Bob looks at her blandly, perhaps longing to ravish her, or perhaps simply wondering, "Will they ever solve the mystery of the Loch Ness Monster? Man, I’m hungry."

It’s fascinating to watch Bob in Hearts of Fire for the same reason it would be fascinating to watch your dad star opposite Julia Roberts —he simply DOESN’T BELONG THERE. The best part of the film—the music—is unfortunately negligible by Bob Dylan standards and is gummed up with too many Fiona tunes that sound as if they belong on the Rocky III soundtrack.

Hearts of Fire suffered a disastrous three-week UK release in 1987; subsequently, Lorimar Pictures abandoned its US release, and distributed the picture on video some three years later.

Still, there’s hope for Bob’s "Masked and Anonymous" project. Does anyone remember Bob’s performance during last year’s Academy Awards ceremony, beamed in via satellite and shot in an unsettling, extreme close-up of Bob’s pasty, unblinking face? It was what performance viewers called "chilling" and "really scary," and was eerily reminiscent of the late Vincent Price. And if our Bob can be that startling on prime-time live TV, who knows what he’s capable of on the big screen.