Martha Bayles: November 2006 Archives
The New York Times just ran an article about two bio-pics in the works about Miles Davis. One, based on the autobiography Miles "wrote" with Quincy Troupe, is produced by Rudy Langlais in conjunction with Patriot Pictures and Beacon Pictures. The other is an official bio-pic authorized by the Davis estate. From what I read, neither has solved the problem of whom to cast in the title role. How do you substitute for an icon?
Some free advice: Instead of casting well known Hollywood actors such as Don Cheadle or Wesley Snipes (both have been mentioned), cross the pond and ask David Oyelowo, the young British actor best known to Americans for playing Danny in the excellent spy series MI-5 (known in the UK as Spooks). Handsome and charismatic, Oyelowo, who cut his teeth doing Shakespeare on the stage, steals every scene while also projecting a degree of sophistication that transcends color and nationality. What could be more suited to a portrayal of Miles at his best?
The question is, will either of these films bother to portray Miles at his best? Or will they go for the usual cliched portrait of the jazz musician as drug-addled celebrity and sourpuss victim of racial prejudice? If I were Oyelowo's agent, I would ask!
Well, the good news was that the Deputy Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan, Mr. Rakhat Alievthe, proved even cooler than Sacha Baron Cohen -- by inviting the British comedian, better known as Borat, to visit the country he has been so gleefully lambasting. (See entry below.)
But now uncooler heads are prevailing, as the Russian Federal Culture and Cinematography Agency, which certifies films for distribution in Russia, has banned Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan , on the ground that "it could be offensive to some religions and nationalities."
Uh, duhhh ... Mr. Cohen's film is every bit of that, with the number one religion and nationality it mocks being Christian Americans. It is also screamingly funny, which makes all the difference. (If only those German opera directors would acquire a sense of humor, not to mention those Danish cartoonists, they might get a pass from me.)
Suggestion to Mr. Cohen: Invite the spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Yury V. Vasyuchkov, to be a guest in Da Ali G Show. On this show, Cohen (in his persona of Ali G, a patois-speaking Brit-hip-hopper) holds mock interviews with real guests, only to ambush them with exquisite vulgarity until they sit frozen and blinking like a moose in headlights.
This is hilarious, if painful, when the guest is 1) unhip; 2) self-righteous; and 3) comedically challenged. Among the worst casualties have been Pat Robertson and James Lipton (the stuffy and rather silly host of Inside the Actors' Studio). It is even better, though, when the guest catches on and tries, at least, to stage a counter-ambush. These do not always succeed, but they do stimulate Cohen/Ali G to greater heights of outrageousness. What's more exciting, watching a cat kill a baby mouse or watching a mongoose kill a cobra?
Anyway, it would be fun to watch Cohen/Ali G do his thing with Mr. Vasyuchko, a man whose job it is to say things like, "We do not have the right to ban a movie ... We simply refused to certify it." Also Michael Schlicht of Gemini Films, the distribution company for 20th Century Fox, who not only accepted the ban (what choice did he have?) but also felt obliged to echo Vasyuchko's doubletalk: "Russia is a liberal country. They make recommendations, and we follow them."
Ali G, me main man, what you waitin for? We peeps want them tongue-forkers now.
It's hard not to laugh out loud at the young British comedian Sacha Baron-Cohn's various comic personae: da hip-hop MC, Ali G; the Austrian fashionisto Bruno (star of "Funkyzeit mit Bruno"); and, of course, the antic Kazakh bull-in-America's-china-shop, Borat, star of the new film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (now in theaters -- and for a glimpse of all Cohn's characters, see reruns now on HBO). In these tense times, one might question the wisdom of making such an obscenely uncivilized character come from a real country instead of a fake one (such as Andy Kaufman's Caspiar). But not to worry: peace between the US and Kazakhstan is being saved by Kazakhstan's classy Deputy Foreign Minister Rakhat Aliev, whose response to Borat is to invite Cohn on a state visit to Kazakhstan, where he will "discover a lot of things. Women drive cars, wine is made of grapes and Jews are free to go to synagogues."
For a full account of this refreshingly smart act of public diplomacy, see this story by Patricia Lee Sharpe at Whirledview.