Archive for July 2009

Attn: Comedy Nerds

July 18, 2009

Please enjoy this phenomenal special for BBC Channel 4 – an hour long conversation between Ricky Gervais and Larry David!  Enjoy:

BRUNO Take Two

July 14, 2009

I’m half worried that Jeff will kick me off the blog and suggest that I set up a separate domain to fanwank about Sacha Baron Cohen, but I guess I’m just spoiling for a fight, and until someone sees the movie and engages with me about it I’ll have to settle for picking a fight with Anthony Lane, whose New Yorker piece has me seeing red.  Anyhow, it’s Bruno week!  Enjoy!  There’s a lot of infuriating misinformation in the essay, but I’ll start with his most egregious assertion.

mein camp

… a martial-arts instructor, confronted by a foreigner with two dildos, doesn’t flinch. He teaches Brüno some defensive moves, then adds, “This is totally different from anything I’ve ever done”…  I feel that the patsy, though gulled, comes off better than the gag man; the joke is on Baron Cohen, for foisting indecency on the decent. The joker is trumped by the square.

– Anthony Lane, Mein Camp, The New Yorker

The idea that the martial arts instructor in Bruno is “decent” is disgusting.

If you want to see a decent martial arts instructor, let me show you it.  After seeing Bruno, I came across a clip of one because like Borat before it, Bruno recycles premises from Da Ali G Show.   Baron Cohen repeats premises, but the scenes themselves are nothing alike, because despite all of the handwringing about how he “makes people look”, he can’t actually make anybody “look” like anything.  If you are a decent person, that shines through, and if you are an anti-semite or a misogynist or a homophobe or a racist or are otherwise awful – all he’s done is create a space where you feel comfortable revealing yourself.

Here’s the scene with Borat, which mirrors the “dildo fight” footage featured in the Bruno preview (if you’re in a hurry, the relevant section starts at 1:10):

In this original version of the scene, Borat asks a martial arts instructor How do I defend myself from a Jew? The instructor stops him, and gives a brief, perfect precis of the American value of religious tolerance.  When Borat persists at coming at him with “Jew Claws”, the instructor laughs and harmlessly bats the “Jew Claws” away.

In Bruno, the set up is the same, but the results are entirely different.  Bruno (who at this point in the narrative is trying to be straight) asks how to defend himself against homosexuals, and the Karate instructor takes this premise entirely seriously.  There is nothing harmless about him – he is vigorously homophobic, comparing homosexuals who “don’t dress any different from me or you” to a terrorist infiltrating a police department and making himself invisible in a uniform.  When Bruno comes at him with dildos, he doesn’t slap away the absurd “weapons” like his counterpart in the Borat scene – he takes Bruno through an elaborate demonstration of stage combat, narrating as he demonstrates in slow motion how he would knock Bruno out, break his arms, break his ribs.

(It’s the funniest scene in this deeply weird movie).

It’s wonderfully silly and horribly funny, but in retrospect it’s chilling to remember the scene in connection with the film’s finale, where a flying chair narrowly misses Bruno’s head and garbage rains down on him because he’s kissing a dude…  But now we’re getting into my own analysis and opinion.  My assertion that the martial arts instructor in Bruno is not shown to be a “decent” person, however, is not an opinion, it’s a fact.  Not digging this movie or Baron Cohen’s schtick in general is entirely understandable and easily argued… but it’s wrong to make the case that Baron Cohen is a bully by pretending that the martial arts instructor seems a lovely man.

BRUNO Take One

July 12, 2009

bruno horseI’m not going to talk substantively about the movie until people have had a chance to see it.  That said – while the reviews are all over the place, nearly all agree that the movie is hilarious – and that’s something I’m not so sure about.  There were funny parts, definitely, and I laughed all the way through – but I think I laughed more out of anxiety and shock than I did because something was humorous.  What I’m trying to say is that I watched most of the movie with my hands on my face.  What I’m trying to say is that the second half of Bruno was actually pretty terrifying, and deeply unsettling.  It was the most aggressive movie I’ve ever seen, and it’s primarily a movie about aggression, and I still feel off kilter and like I can’t quite figure it out.  You oughtn’t read reviews until you’ve seen it for yourself, but of all the reviews I’ve read, the one in the Guardian feels closest to my own experience.  Before this, I had thought Michael Haneke was the only figure of world cinema with the power to knot up my intestines in horror. But Baron Cohen has done something comparable. Yes, that.

BRUNO Pre-Show

July 7, 2009

Sacha Baron Cohen is an extraordinary performer (although “performer” doesn’t begin to describe what he does).  He’s phenomenal at creating and inhabiting his characters, and his fearlessness is breathtaking.  Borat was hilarious, but the pressure to create a laugh-a-minute spectacle and the elaborate nature of the set ups may have prevented audiences who are not familiar with Baron Cohen’s other work (specifically, his HBO series Da Ali G Show and his prior incarnation on BBC television) from fully appreciating what his characters can reveal.

I say this because there are actually three levels to what Baron Cohen does with his characters (each of whom is a feared outsider – the urban youth, the immigrant, the queer).  The trouble with Borat (which made me laugh harder than any movie I’ve ever seen) is that it’s so successful in hitting the first two levels (the outlandish behavior of the character, and the shocked-or-shocking reactions of the marks) that it was easy to miss the third level (which is the most important).  Level three is simply the truth of the situation itself, where each interviewee is confronted with a character who is a clown of a caricature of a stereotype, and if you believe that this person is real?  Then you have already lost the game no matter what you say.  This is exemplified perfectly in this clip from Da Ali G Show, where Ali G interviews Newt Gingrich about the risks inherent in election of a woman president. The beauty of the clip is that Gingrich is being baited with sexist jokes – and he resists, such that you can tell that he thinks he’s just nailing the interview…  but we can see that by accepting the reality of the interview in the first place, he’s revealing uglier aspects of his own ignorance than he would had he just gone along with the gag.

Check it:

So, while I’m actively refusing to read any reviews or watch any promotional clips from Bruno (I am keen to remain entirely unspoiled for what is almost certain to be the last such film from Baron Cohen) I do have fond hopes that the over the top gay panic humor promised by the preview won’t be the only type of scene that addresses American homophobia.  I also hope that the other functions of the Bruno character as he was deployed in the HBO series made it into the film.

Fashion / Social Class:

Media Criticism:

Anyhow – Bruno drops Friday!  Who wants to go?