BRUNO Hits the Big Screen and Leaves a Mushroom Print


The first time that I became aware of Sacha Baron Cohen was back in 2000 and it was through a Madonna video.  Baron Cohen, dressed as his alias Ali-G, was driving a limo for the pop-star in the video for her song “Music” and, like everything else that Ms. Ciccone has done through the past 20yrs, I wasn’t even remotely impressed.  The cameo placed him in a Steve Urkel-type role, where-in Sacha tried desperately and unsuccessfully to get into elite clubs with the songstress as she ran through the video fighting crime, acting like a pimp, displaying super human prowess as a DJ beatmaster, and being an all around “superstar”.  It was said that he was a “comic genius” from overseas, but the focus was clearly on helping Madonna continue to appear vital, as usual, and it was a poor representation of what the comedian was capable of.

About 5 years ago, I was sitting alone in a huge farmhouse in Olympia, Wa and smoking a spliff all by myself.  I found one of my roommate’s DVD‘s that I had never noticed before.  It was the first season of Da Ali-G Show and I popped it in.  It didn’t take long for me to figure out what all of the hype was about, because that shit was amazing and nothing like what I had expected.  For the next few years I would try to turn others onto the program and hoped that they would share my enthusiasm.  Sometimes I was successful.  Many times, I was not.

I had planned to check out the Ali G movie, Ali G Indahouse, but, after getting poor feedback from a fellow fan, I blew it off.  The very thing that made the HBO program so great was the real life component of the unsuspecting being taken completely off guard.  Once I knew that the film was created as a standard scripted storyline and that those elements that I loved had been removed, I lost interest and figured that I would be better off watching old episodes.  When Borat hit theaters in 2006, I could tell that those elements had returned.  Out of the 3 characters featured on the program, Borat had stood out the most.  I was excited about the prospect, but I didn’t expect the mainstream US public to give a shit about it.  Obviously, that film blew up like a crate of Mentos in an AMC Spirit gas-tank full of Diet Rite.  Whether there was a subconscious elitism that kept me from being part of the herd, the fact that the same people who had stiff armed my recommendation for the original program were now suggesting the film to me, or simply that I slacked and had already been beaten to death with word of mouth, I never even got around to seeing it.  Last week, I was offered a free ticket to see Bruno on it’s opening day release.  This would be an opportunity for me to finally view an Ali G related film with an open mind and a discerning eye, before being overly suffocated with a pillow case full of media hype and bullshit.

Bruno babyIt was a Friday afternoon showing and the audience was surprisingly sparse for what was being advertised as a Hollywood blockbuster.  The seats slowly but steadily began to fill up with a wide variety of attendees, from Asian couples to frat boys to young professionals, posh broads…etc.  I was curious to see who would walk out first.  Some terrible, over the top/derivative movie previews played and people were responding positively to them.  Is Sacha Baron Cohen mainstream entertainment?  I’m admittedly ignorant to this fact, as I usually only go to theaters to see some limited release art film that everyone else seems to hate.  Perhaps blatantly offensive humor from the UK is what we really need to fuse America back into an honest union.

BRUNO began with the star speaking to the camera and going through an introductory monologue about the character’s life as the host of the fictional Austrian gay television show, “Funkyzeit“.  The segment also included makeshift gadgets created to sodomize the fashionista during elaborate sex acts.  I’ve seen people smoke weed out of just about everything, but I’ve never seen a dildo thrusting in unison with the movement of a stationary bike that its strapped to.  You can always take a hit through a baby goat’s femur, but this was true innovation and resourcefulness.  The beginning was all right, but the real comedy came when the contraption was being dragged through public or displayed in clear view of the hotel staff, which had been called up to unchain him and his “partner” from the entanglements of their bondage gear.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long before Baron Cohen was fucking shit up for real.  By utilizing his disguise as Bruno. the actor quickly disrupted fashion week and stumbled out onto a Milan catwalk.  Looking disheveled, he was wrapped in a curtain and various garments which clung to the velcro suit that he was wearing.  This was the first time that he was shown getting arrested.  This incident helped to establish the future of the storyline and addressed specific aspects that parallel Sacha Baron Cohen‘s actual life.  After he is blacklisted from attending future fashion events in Europe, Bruno relocates to the United States with the intentions of becoming a bigger star than “Hitler“.  It’s the classic tale of a con-man moving to a new town after his cover is blown as a snake oil charlatan.  The HBO episodes allowed the chameleon to work his hustle on unsuspecting marks in The States, such as Ralph Nader, Donald Trump, and Newt Gingrich, after his ability to infiltrate his home country undetected became jeopardized through his growing popularity.  The first arrest, the chaos that surrounded it, and Baron Cohen‘s brazen indifference to both, quickly proved that the comedian would go to any length required to manifest his latest vision.

Bruno Milan
{actual footage from Italian Television Sept. 2008}

The scripted portions were not overdone and worked mostly to frame the storyline and to help it to progress.  Simple sequences, like a conversation about a delayed furniture delivery, helped to set up authentic and shocking interactions with oblivious targets.  One such celebrity was Paula Adbul, who agreed to sit with Bruno on the backs of Mexican men that worked as substitute sofas and a coffee table.  When Bruno determines that his sexuality, and not his overtly abrasive and destructive antics, may be the cause for his lack of success, it unleashes a chain of events, including a hunting trip, a conversation with a christian gay “reprogrammer”, and even an on site viewing of some real life swinging couples partaking in a full-on thrust fest.  The best way to explain the balance of reality and fiction through the storyline is to compare it to a program like Jackass.  Imagine if Johnny Knoxville and his crew made their films with scripted storylines and completely fabricated scenes Hollywood stuntmen.  That was the big mis-step with Ali G Indahouse.  Instead, Jackass and Jackass 2 worked only as extended episodes with slightly more vulgar content.  Nothing really pushes the film forward or requires the viewer to sit through the entirety of those films; they could be started or stopped at any point without a loss of continuity.  Bruno has combined both elements in a way that is successful at formulating more than just a mixed bag of unrelated skits.  Furthermore, the brief segues and interludes provided the much needed moments to catch my breath in between laughter induced chest pains.

By now, you have most likely seen one of its many advertisements and previews, but Bruno isn’t the type of film that blows it’s entire load in the trailer.  Anytime that a recognizable clip came through and I thought that I knew what I was getting into, I was abruptly jostled and sent reeling back like an amateur porn star with a quick, stinging blast to the eye.  The film rests on a structure of awkward and uncomfortably tense situations.  The grating intensity continues to rise like an acid trip and, whenever it seems like the vulgarities and tensions have peaked, the next scene manages to become even more awkward and uncomfortable.  My plush movie seat felt like it was ascending a rusty and questionable roller coaster assembled by a tweaker on a meth crash.  I have never felt so much like I was in my element and out of my comfort zone at the same time.   Half of the viewing time was spent waiting for somebody to attack and/or murder the actor.  Beyond the live sex acts, which were admittedly blurred, there was an up-close shot of a dick swinging away on the big screen.  I can’t honestly claim to know the specifics of how the rating system works, but I was shocked that much of Bruno‘s material made it into the theaters at all, let alone with only an “R” rating.  A couple of people walked out during the wang zoom shot but, surprisingly, most people actually made it through to the end.  One of the final scenes involved Sacha renting out a stadium in Arkansas, offering dollar beers to the public, and advertising the event as a pro-wrestling bloodbath, complete with “hot chicks” and “hardcore fights“.  By the Bruno cage fight flyertime Baron Cohen entered the caged ring dressed as the camouflaged “Straight Dave“, Bruno in another attempt to appear “heterosexual,” the crowd was packed with belligerent good ol’ boys, tanked on light beer and demanding violence.  They are quickly sobered up by erotic disrobing and male on male action, which prompts them to throw whatever they could get their hands on, including fold-out chairs, into the ring.  As the offended crowd dissipated from the arena, many of those in the theater mirrored their actions.  Two men kissing did what racial insensitivity, child endangerment, and blasphemy couldn’t do.  It was a not so surprising example of where the priorities of US citizens may actually lie.

I may have been overly presumptuous by assuming that the film was actually appealing to the masses, based simply off the turnout and early box office draws.  Not unlike Borat, lawsuits and controversy are already beginning to surround the film.  The Los Angeles premier was held at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on June 25th, just hours after the death of Michael Jackson was announced {you may have read that the scaffolding set up for the event had blocked MJ‘s star on the walk of fame and caused confusion for those who gathered to mourn around the star of a radio personality of the same name.}  A last minute decision was made to cut a scene, featuring Latoya Jackson being urged to imitate her brother while seated on the aforementioned Mexican actors backs, prior to the premier screening.  Unfortunately, this attempt at sensitivity was not enough to silence or appease the endless other groups and individuals pissed off about the remaining content.  Another cut scene involved a woman named Richelle Olson hosting a charity bingo event.  Long story short: Bruno yells out obscenities, Olson flees the stage hysterically, knocks her head on a concrete slab, incurs two “brain bleeds”, and ends up confined to a wheelchair.  The original suit involved an assault claim, but was later amended, after video evidence proved that Olson actually assaulted the comedian and not the other way around.  The suit was reworked based on California case law, which states that “any injuries deriving from intentional infliction of emotional distress are recoverable.”  At of now, the entire case has already been dropped, but I’m sure that it is only one of many suits being filed for such claims as irreparable damage and defamation of character.  The Austrian Tourist Board are up in arms about the numerous Nazi/Holocaust references and The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation are just pissed off all around.  GLAAD, who was invited to view the film content in advance and offer their input, is upset that the scenes that they had the “biggest concerns about remained in the film.”  One of these major “concerns” is about how his actions involving an adopted African child, who Bruno claims he traded for an IPod, will effect views about gay adoption.  After it’s tremendously successful first day revenue, the film was estimated to yield upwards of $50 million in its opening weekend, however, the attendance quickly plummeted and never reached that mark.  Bruno is tentatively being labeled as the first film ever to fall victim of what is being deemed “The Twitter Effect“.  Negative tweets are being credited with damaging public opinion and movie goers motivation to view the film.  Most likely, many of these tweets warn of the ever frightening male organ that graces the screen.  When I visited IMDB only days ago, there were only 9 others ratings entered  and the film was holding strong at 9+ stars.  Since then, there have been over 18,200 ratings, dropping it to a score of 7.2.

I’m glad that I had the opportunity to view Bruno without the option of comparing it to Sacha’s previous box office smash and, simply based on the character’s transition from Da Ali G Show segments to the big screen, I feel that it was incredibly successful.  It’s rare that I laugh out loud during a movie, but this time it was uncontrollable.  In short, I loved this film.  If you were offended by viewing it, I have to question what you went expecting to see in the first place.  I understand that GLAAD is upset by some of the content, but I think it’s important to take a few things into perspective.  Sacha Baron COHEN is a Jewish man, who made a film about an antisemitic middle easterner, and he is also an ex-model, who is now attacking the vacuous and shallow elements involved in the entertainment  and fashion industries.  I feel that most of his actions, surrounding the adopted child especially, were intended to reflect his character as a superficial fashionista.  The shapeshifter never breaks character, as evidenced by Ali G‘s constant positioning of his hand in the West SideW“, and each persona is multi-dimensional.  At times, these different character traits can easily cross over and offend one group, when they are really intended to poke fun at another.  Back in High School, I formed a duo called Cookies & Milk with a friend of mine.  We claimed to be the first “Interracial Homosexual Gangsta Rap Duo“; maybe you heard our break out hit “Flamboyantly Gayngsta“……no?  A couple of years ago, we revived the act to headline a show at a Mexican restaurant in Auburn, Wa (aka: Bathtub Crank Central).  Our opening act was a father/son Death Metal trio and, as we tried to win over an angry crowd of drunken, tattooed maniacs, there was a good chance that we were gonna get stabbed in capri pants and a fur collar. When Cookies & Milk began, the rap music scene was all about Death Row records, gangster shit, and being a thug, so we created a fictional version of the last thing that we thought that we’d ever see.  Since then, however, I have been fortunate enought to see a legitimate gay rap industry blossom and have even made good friends with people like the the talented lesbian rap duo, Scream Club [check them out].  My intentions were never to exploit the homosexual lifestyle for anything other than to make the close-minded people in my suffocating small town as uncomfortable as they made us.  I feel that Bruno‘s intentions come from a similar place.  Sacha Baron Cohen manages to summon and extract the innermost demons and truths from his subjects and forces them to expose themselves.  The other members of the Talking Heads had huge reservations about David Byrne‘s content in True Stories, due to its potentially offensive social commentaries, but that was the very thing that made that film so incredible.  Bruno‘s at its greatest when it is operating with its own powerful social commentaries about the fears of humanity and self worth and/or questioning what lengths people will go to to attain celebrity status and maintain it.  Sure, it’s alarming to see stage parents offering to employ liposuction, so that their infants can score a modeling job, or an actual charity organization mispronounce “Darfur“, while explaining how the exploitation of such causes can benefit a public image in the entertainment industry, but these attitudes and people clearly exist in our world.  The only really jarring part is how seldom that they are so blatantly and undeniably captured in a feature film.  Many would argue that Bruno displays a lack of progress and moral fiber.  I would have to agree, but I don’t feel that it necessarily promotes them either.  One thing that I am sure of is that progress isn’t typically generated by remaining in a comfort zone; it requires some level of provocation.  For now, I am eagerly anticipating the DVD release because, if this amount of controversy and entertainment can be compressed into a mere 81 minute span, I’m curious to see what parts Universal felt were necessary to leave on the cutting room floor.

Dead C

Located in Seattle, Dead C is the founder/editor, as well as the principal writer and photographer, of Monster Fresh. Creating the site in 2007, he did so with a specific dream in mind. Unfortunately, being a muscle relaxer-fueled fever dream, it's hard to recall all of the details. "I remember that my mom was there, but it wasn't actually her in the dream, it was actually 70s heart throb, Jan Michael Vincent. And everything took place here, in this room... but it wasn't actually here... it was different. The colors were washed out and, for some reason, there was a raccoon kicking it with us and it was wearing a holographic monocle."

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