I saw a preview screening of “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” yesterday. I went as Borat the last two Halloweens (not my idea, the first year was so popular with my close friends that a repeat was demanded) and no more than two or three people (other than my friends) would recognize me all night, even if they claimed to know who Ali G was. After hearing a million suburban teens imitating Borat on my way out of the screening you can be sure that the costume is retired for good this year. I would advise knowing as little as possible going into the movie so you can better appreciate all the surprises. Looking at the IMDB reviews I saw that far too much of the movie was revealed in the many reviews.
I couldn’t have had higher expectations going into it. When Borat would end up in the news while filming it I assumed it was for a third season of Ali G. When everyone was asking “Where is the third season of Dave Chapelle?” I was asking “Where is the third season of Ali G?” Once I learned a movie was coming out I finally understood why Borat kept popping up in the news but no new season was forthcoming. According to some of the reviews of early previews of the movie it was originally two hours long. Since the version I saw was only one and a half hours long I am now hungry for all the deleted scenes. I felt like I wanted the movie to be denser with many more set-up situations. I wonder how much of that material got cut.
The movie will no doubt foment many discussions in the U S and A. When audiences are laughing at Borat’s anti-semitism, racism, sexism, homophobia, how much are they laughing at him, and how much are they laughing with him? When there were some homophobic statements made in the film I certainly felt as if part of the audience was unironically cheering them on. I will say, without revealing anything, that Sacha Baron Cohen is smart enough to give any homophobes in the audience far more than they bargained for. It will be interesting to see how many people feel that the movie exposes anti-semitism and how many people just think it is anti-semitic.
On the back of the screening pass there was strict language about how no camera phones of any kind would be allowed in the screening since they are “recording devices.” Apparently anyone with a camera phone would be denied entrance. When I told that to a car-full of camera phone owners on the way to the screening everyone pooh-poohed my concerns and said there was no way they were going to search people or deny entrance to camera phone holders, or otherwise no one would be able to see the screening. Acquiescing to peer pressure I kept my phone on me even though I wanted to leave it in the car. The joke is that up until quite recently I’ve had an antique cell phone that wasn’t even capable of sending text messages, much less taking pictures. Sure enough as we come upon the line to enter the screening there is someone with a metal detector wanding everyone before they enter the theater and forcing people to hand over their cell phones or take them to their car. We had to round up all our phones and have a volunteer take them all to the car. Inside the screening a representative of Twentieth Century Fox told us that the movie was already available on the internet in an attempt to explain all the security. If it’s already on the internet what point does security serve at this point? He said three security personnel would be wandering the screening and would eject anyone who was using a cellphone for any purpose, texting, whatever.
The movie is certainly funny. The rhythm is much different than the punchily edited eight minutes he normally gets on an Ali G episode. There is a narrative, and an attempt, however ridiculous, to humanize Borat and have him win our sympathies. Having wished there was more to the movie when I saw it I am now quite interested in the deleted half hour. The same thing happened to me when I found out how chopped-up the released version of Jet Li’s “Fearless” was. I am going to see it again, so that should put my disappointment in context for you. Sacha is certainly responsible for a very unique (and challenging) form of ethnomethodological comedy. I have a feeling it will be more copied than Jackass-styled stunts before too long.