Sunday, 5 July 2009

Do I amuse you?

An interesting report was published 18-months ago that confirmed once-and-for-all an alarming prejudice. The UCLA-Harvard study analysed almost 20,000 films and determined that the odds of Oscar success heavily favour dramas over comedy. More specifically the researchers found that actors were nine times more likely to be nominated for acting in a drama than any other genre.

The annals of film history are littered with great comedy performances that have gone unrewarded. The best that most performers can hope for is a nod in the supporting category - take a bow Whoopi Goldberg for single-handedly making the otherwise awful Ghost at least watchable.

So spare a thought for Sacha Baron Cohen, a man whose commitment to method acting makes Robert DeNiro look like Ben Affleck. Often dismissed as little more than a trickster comedian, Cohen is actually an extraordinarily committed actor. Think about it - his performances as Ali G were so believable that he actually managed to convince otherwise intelligent people that he was in fact black, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Then came Borat in a bright green mankini, fooling the credulous and the cretinous all over the US with his bushy moustache, disarming naivete and casual racism. All it took was a new outfit and a different approach to facial hair to completely transform Cohen into an unrecognisable Kazakhstani journalist.

When that movie grossed over a quarter of a billion dollars, film studios were desperate to sign up Cohen for more of the same. But there was concern that with Cohen now Hollywood's hottest enfant terrible, he would be unable to dupe the public all over again in a new guise. But they underestimated his chameleonic commitment.

So now we find ourselves anticipating the imminent release of Bruno, charting the adventures of Austria's pre-eminent flamboyant fashion doyen. Throwing himself into the role with gusto, Cohen risked life and limb to expose the homophobia lurking in America's heartland.

As well as sneaking naked into an unsuspecting hunter's tent, simulating sex in a hot-tub and offering Dr. Paul Cameron, chairman of the Family Research Institute, a blow job, Cohen has also stayed in character long after the film's completion.

In doing so, he has turned the film's staggered premières into a kind of experiential showcase that further blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction. But given the uncomfortable issues he scrutinises in his films, perhaps that's exactly what's needed. Let's just hope that Oscar is paying attention...

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