Cami and I went to see Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan on Saturday and I’m still trying to figure it out. Part of me really enjoyed it. Both for it’s shock value and for it’s ability to reveal ugly truth about the prejudice buried deep in people’s hearts that they express only when they think no one is looking.
It’s very interesting to watch Borat interact with these people. In his own peticular way, he makes these individuals feel safe when exposing their uglier sides. "He’s a foreigner," I’m sure they think. "He probably only understands about half of what I’m telling him anyway!" I just keep thinking about that man at the rodeo in Virgina that tells Borat to shave his moustache so he looks less like a Muslim and I cringe, cringe, cringe.
That’s the problem with Borat. While you may respect Sacha Baron Cohen for what he’s brought to the surface, the film isn’t always entertaining. It’s shameful, in some respects, to have your country portrayed in such a way. I’m not talking from a patriotic standpoint. I don’t believe America is exempt from this kind of examination. But at the same time, it verifies the opinion of every university educated European who thinks that Americans are nothing but a gaggle of slack-jawed yokels – and I hate to give them the satisfaction.
That said, the interviews and the bits and pieces of guerrilla filmmaking on display here are truly brilliant. Several of the interviews show Baron Cohen’s exemplary improvisational skills as well as his complete committment to the character. To me, it’s the scripted material that falls flat.
Under the pretense that Borat is in America on behalf of his native Kazakhstan to learn from our citizens the ways in which this citizens of his country can improve themselves. This leads to the several interactions with comedy coaches, feminists and Southern dinner parties that makes the film so clever.
The B Plot about Borat being mesmerized by Pamela Anderson and traveling cross-country to meet her are somewhat contrived. The scene at the very end where he finally meets the object of his longing felt somewhat staged and it immediately cast the rest of the movie into doubt. All of a sudden the scene where Borat hitchhikes with a group of University of South Carolina frat boys who lament the abolishment of slavery is cast in suspicion.
For the psycho-politcal statement Borat makes, I think it’s worth seeing. For the shock-value stuff… less so. All the same, try to see this movie with a large crowd. I think it’ll play better when the vibe in the room is consumed with discomfort rather than sitting in a theater with only a handful of people trying to figure out how seriously to take this.
SIDE NOTE: This is something interesting that happened when Cami and I when to see Borat. I was going to make a comic out of it, but I couldn’t figure out the best way to do it. So I’m just going to share the story with you instead.
Finding our seats a few minutes before the film started, we saw a handful of elderly people waiting for the film to start. We found this somewhat surprizing since the film was very vular and didn’t seem suitable to the sensabilities of the retirement crowd.
The situation was made more unexpected by the fact that Cami knew one of the elderly people in attendance. She was an associate of hers at a previous job.
For the sake of the story, I have to inform you that she is Jewish. Normally, that is not a detail worth sharing. But within the context of this story and the movie we were watching, it is. Borat is probably one of the most anit-Semetic characters ever to grace the silver screen this side of Mel Gibson. While Baron Cohen himself is Jewish and uses Borats racism to make social commentary, there is always a fine line when you work with this kind of material.
At any rate, Cami’s former associate and her friends were totally fine during an early scene where Borat reports on the annual tradition of "The Running of The Jew" in his native Kazakhstan. They didn’t make a fuss when Borat and his producer Azamat inadvertantly wind up in a bed and breakfast owned by a kindly Jewish couple and claimed the pair had "changed shape" when two cockroaches crawled into the room, frantically throwing money at them to escape.
No, the straw that broke the camel’s back came when Borat discovered Azamat… "taking advantage" of some printed material containing information about Borat’s beloved Pamela Anderson and a very prolonged and disturbing bout of nude wrestling took place that eventually spilled out into the hallway of the hotel they were staying at, into the elevator and eventually on stage at a rally that was held in the hotel conference room.
At this point, Cami’s former associate and several other people walked out, too offended to go on. Here we thought that the terrible racist material is what would scare them away. But in the end, it was two naked men grappling in a hotel elevator that was too much for them to bear.
I’m not trying to make any kind of comment on this. I just felt it was an interesting observation.
At any rate… this has been an interesting way to start the week.
I want to remind everyone that I will be at Wizard World Texas this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. You can find me at table 2140 B on Artist’s Alley alongside my friends Mitch Clem, Zach Miller, Dave Sherrill and Taki Soma. If you’d like to view a map of the Arlington Convention Center so you know where to find us, you can view it right here.
Cami will be traveling with me to Texas because she has family in the area and she’s planning on spending some time on the convention floor. Come on down and say "Hi!" to both of us! We’d love to see you there!