Bruno cuts Jackson scene - who’s the biggest loser?
Gifted comic Sacha Baron Cohen has shown misplaced restraint by snipping an inoffensive Michael Jackson joke from his upcoming moneymaker Bruno.
[Bruno in the early days. Clip contains strong language]
So what do we deduce from this? A public figure’s ripe for a skewering as long as they’re alive, but become off-limits on death?
When can we start forwarding those corny text message jokes about Jacko’s plastic surgery and questionable private life? How soon is too soon?
In the original cut of the film, Jackson’s oft-troubled sister La Toya is interviewed by Cohen as the fictional Bruno, his camp-as-caricature Austrian TV host.
During their unscripted chat, Cohen raids La Toya’s BlackBerry in search of MJ’s phone number. She giggles compliantly while Cohen barks his alleged findings, in German, to an assistant off-camera.
According to an official statement, the short sequence was hastily removed “out of respect for the Jackson family”.
The scene also sets up a throwaway joke that pays off later in the film, but unless you have sharp eyes and a working knowledge of how largely plotless verite comedies are paced and edited, you’ll hardly miss a thing.
Even with the trim, Bruno marks the best work on Cohen’s already bulletproof CV but the edit is a rare side-step for the Ali G and Borat mastermind, whose career has been built on razor-sharp satire and routine boundary-pushing.
As satirist, his role is to stimulate. Who cares if a gag sets audiences briefly murmuring or prompts tut-tutters to tut-tut? Are Cohen or his backers at Universal really punting on nailing that lucrative tut-tutter demographic?
To anyone outside his circle, Michael Jackson barely registered as a human being. He literally became an icon, something superhuman… a metamorphosing face on a screen whose life was portrayed as one of the great eccentricities of our time.
It’s troubling to consider the emotional and physical pain Jackson likely lived with, but Cohen’s cute BlackBerry routine was hurting no-one.
So who is being appeased by the edit? Let’s make a list of potential harmees:
Jackson family members. They’ll be grieving in earnest or searching his home for caches of cash. Either way, a trip to the multiplex to check out Bruno should be quite low on their list of priorities. No harm done.
Jackson’s fans. I’m pretty sure two highly publicised child sex scandals and acres of libellous tabloid reporting across three decades will have steeled them to just one more joke at their idol’s expense. They’ll live.
Joe Popcorn. Joe’s the innocent victim of our piece. He goes along to Bruno expecting myriad of laughs and squirms. Bruno’s cultural purpose, aside from providing a great value movie ticket, is to surreptitiously get punters thinking… about prejudice, about gay marriage, even about the commercial adoption of African babies (Bruno names his O.J.).
So what better platform than Bruno for a hot-on-the-heels gag about a deceased pop icon whose entire life has been laid bare for public scrutiny?
Bruno: a comedy buffet, the film that delivers a little bit of slapstick (often involving sex aids), some biting social comment, plenty of redneck goons in the hot seat and, oh look, a softball joke about Michael Jackson.
“But he just died! Hmm… how does that make me feel?”
The timing seems perfect, perhaps even serendipitous, to me.
Now at the risk of shooting myself in the foot - (Ouch! Can you imagine all those splintered bones? Not fun) – I must concede that the other big motivation for the cut could well be craft.
Cohen, wanting to deliver shocks and laughs, just might not trust how the La Toya gag would play given his audience’s awareness of The Biggest News Story of the Year.
Either way, we’re unlikely to find out more for quite a while as Cohen has yet to publicly break character as Bruno. Instead, he makes The Funniest Movie of the Year and leaves us to ruminate.
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