Why I have a problem with Bruno

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?

Film: Helvetica

There are some film titles which guarantee to make my eyes pop out on stalks the moment I hear about them.

Helvetica an 80 minute documentary featuring the a typeface used the world over for the past 50 years may not immediately appeal. But seeing as it appeals to my inner graphic-design-trainspotter tendencies, I figure there must be quite a few others out there for whom the opportunity to watch such a lengthy piece about something which appears so fundamentally dull is an exciting prospect.

We went go and see the film at The Institute of Contemporary Art’s where the £8 ticket price failed to meet expectations. The box office staff were full of attitude, the bar staff less than accommodating, the seating intimate in an uncomfortable kind of way and the man sitting to my right reeked of body-odour.

If that wasn’t enough, it frequently felt as though I was watching the documentary with a collective of graphic designers for whom every other line in the documentary offered an opportunity to snort with tiresome self-importance. There really is nothing worse than people laughing at things which really aren’t that funny. I can tell immediately when its going on and then it starts to wind me up considerably.

Fortunately, I did take action, something I urge everyone else to do if you find yourself in a situation where the entertainment you’ve paid for is in danger of being a let down. The tall man with curly hair who sat directly in front of me and the screen seemed happy to grant the request I whispered in his ear to move slightly further down in his chair. The man beside also seemed to think twice about laughing quite so much after I whispered under my breath (although it probably wasn’t a whisper) that “it wasn’t that funny”. Sadly, there was very little I could do about his appalling body odour and to point it out at the end of the film seemed redundant, if a little insensitive.

I did enjoy the film, however. Helvetica is a remarkable piece of documentary filmmaking. It’s stylishly directly, and effortlessly edited resulting in a visual experience which will result in you leaving the cinema feeling as though you’ve been a graphic designer for the whole of your life even if the job you actually do is something completely different. Amid street scenes and real life examples of the font itself, expect to hear passionate and amusing anecdotes from the film’s many contributors along with an account of the typeface’s development.

I know. It may not immediately sound like a must-see film. It’s a surprise genre and an even more surprising subject. Still, if you’re up for something a little different from the norm then be sure to give it a go.

I heartily recommend you watch it at home when it’s available on DVD, however.

Been listening to this all day

Keep it simple, that’s what they say when you’re thinking about what to write.

So it is with this particular (rushed) blog posting. There’s strawberry jam to be made this evening (yes really) and some cleaning up and general preparation for a big day tomorrow. I can hardly wait. I am, quite literally, counting down the hours until 6pm when I’ll be home (albeit at work still) but at home.

I only have one MP3 on my mobile phone and I’ve been listening to that one track all day long. Sadly, rules and regs prevent me from posting a link to the MP3 itself. To do that, frankly, would be Thoroughly Bad.

Nothing to stop me from pointing you to the original soundtrack as featured in the opening credits of one typically British, entirely lewd, corney and brash film from a series entitled “Carry On .. ” This particular is my favourite.

The music you’ll hear in the clip featured in Prom 2 performed by BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by the marvellously enthusiastic John Wilson, who I’m delighted to say will be conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Festival Hall in their 75th anniversary season which starts in September time.

Now .. to the kitchen.

Oh and by the way .. if I had the choice I’d probably want to play the scurrying violin part although would probably settle for the thunderous timpani solo in the middle of the clip. Oh yes .. that’s an indication of just how many times I’ve listened to this one minute thirty seconds.