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Why I have a problem with Bruno

June 18, 2009

Bruno on the front pageI can be relied upon to form an impulsive often irrational opinion on any given subject. Usually such opinions flow effortlessly at around 9.30am every day. That’s the time I look over the Guardian. And by “look over” what I mean is, merely glance at the photographs.

Photographs are easy to consume. They’re not words. They don’t demand concentration, merely a glance. I can speed through the entire newspaper in a flash and in so doing form opinions on nearly everything from the personality of individual correspondents or judge whether my life can be improved by the latest special series of “free” booklets the Guardian. I don’t consider this to be something to be proud of. It’s something I find myself doing.

Today, it’s the film Bruno taking the top slot on the front page of the Guardian. It’s a picture of Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest celluloid creation – a former Austrian TV presenter by the name of Bruno. There’s styled bottle-blonde hair, a massive fringe and lips, fantastic lips.

Page 10 of the Guardian presents the review of the film. A satisfyingly neither-one-thing-or-the-other 3-star judgement of the film accompanies a picture of Baron Cohen with a entourage of pumped men all in tiresomely short leather shorts marching up along Leicester Square. Baron Cohen has the skinniest legs on a bloke I’ve seen in a long time (although now I come to write this I seem to recall being surprised when we’ve caught sight of his legs before) and a smile which makes me want to slap him.

Baron Cohen is in character in this picture, just as he is in the head and shoulders shot on the front page and just as he was when he was playing Borat both in the film and in the untold number of appearances we saw him and his mankini in various newspapers. There’s a theme emerging there, you see. Borat had a mankini. Bruno wears short shorts. They’re gimmicks.

Bruno in Leicester squareOf course they’re gimmicks. Gimmicks command a paparazzi’s attention. Telephoto lens swing to focus on the most breathtaking shot, usually accompanied by a shout to “look over ‘ere”. It’s all part of a big PR machine. Do or say something different and you’ll get the attention and we’ll have something different to plaster all over the freesheets. Mr Baron-Cohen has had quite a lot of coverage. His PR machine is well-oiled.

I can’t criticise him for that. It’s what promoting a film is all about. You need to command attention for your film and if its a film which is shockingly funny as a lot of Cohen’s material is, then is part of the film. Those of who seek attention always hope for publicity of any kind. Whether all of us have the same level of shamelessness and our own similarly eye-catching outfits like Baron-Cohen’s mankini is something else.

But what bothers me most is whether Cohen’s justifiable success going from the small-screen with Ali G to the big screen is meant to make feel proud of home-grown comic genius. I should, you see. His is a great success and his is a great talent. But there’s something which doesn’t add up when I see him pictured in character in all of his PR output.

It reminds me of people who nearly always project an image of themselves based on comic voices and funny turns of phrases. At first it’s amusing, sometimes rip-roaringly funny. Then when they do it time and time again it grows tiresome. When you slowly begin to realise they’re doing it all the time you begin to wonder … what are you really like? Could the real you please reveal yourself?

It will sound like I’m being mean. The whole point of Bruno the film is the central character and the whole point about the central character is to be over the top. We’re meant to think of the character like we know him. That’s why we knew Borat as Borat and we’ll come to know Bruno as Bruno. It’s first name terms. He’s the hero (or anti-hero). I see why he’s doing it.

And yet, this time around I end up rather wishing I knew more about him the man behind it. I am tired of seeing the comic performance and wouldn’t mind seeing the bloke behind it.

I know that all performers (comic or dramatic) have to present some kind of persona to audiences and the media alike. I’m certainly not demanding unbridled access to Baron-Cohen the man. He is entitled to a certain amount of privacy.

But, I’m tired of the characters. I know he’s not a one-trick pony. His performances are too well-thought out and too polished to suggest he’s a fly-by-night performer looking to cash-in before his ideas run dry. The boy needs to reinvent himself and needs to make sure he remains pretty much fully clothed throughout. Don’t go for the cheap gag delivered by over-the-top costumes. Do something different. Be you.

I should, must and will slam on the brakes in terms of impulsive opinions. In fairness to Baron-Cohen I should judge him not on his PR but more on his output (although one might argue that both the PR and the film is all part of the same output).

So, treat this small but charming rant as nothing more than a snapshot. It’s a response to PR. Who knows I might change my mind entirely once I sit down and watch the film. And when that happens there’s nothing better than seeing an opinionated so-and-so eat humble pie, is there?

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