Sunday, December 31, 2006

I Went And Saw Borat

I won't even get into why, except that we were going out with friends to the newly reopened Cerrito theater, where you can sit on couches and eat pizza while watching the movie. Anyway.

I am still not sure what to make of Borat.

The impression I had of the 'point' of the movie from reviews was that by being outrageous, Borat gets Americans to reveal themselves as messed-up bigots. This, to my eye, did not occur. In fact, the majority of the Americans Borat encounters behave with an almost superhuman dignity and patience in the face of absolutely ridiculous provocation. He does find a couple of genuine bigots--one genial Muslimophobe homophobe at a rodeo, a couple of frat boys who get very drunk and moan about minorities having all the power. He finds a couple of guys who carry on straightfaced (although rather dour) with their sales routine, (car and gun), while Borat asks about how to kill Gypsies and Jews. But the reviews led me to believe that, for example, the people at the rodeo he attends screamed with approval while he talked about drinking the blood of every man, woman and child in Iraq. Actually, they scream with approval when he talks about supporting the troops. As he gets weirder and offensive, they quiet down. The scans of the stands reminded me, in fact, of the scene in "The Producers" where the first big Nazi-musical number goes on. Faces sober up, and get baffled. One man tentatively claps, and then stops when his wife glares at him.

The guy whose Civil War memorabilia place gets trashed is quite calm, and simply asks that they pay for the damage. Alan Keyes and Bob Barr, plus the veteran feminists, behave with dignity in the face of aggressive weirdness. (One thing I did not expect was that Borat would make me feel admiration for Alan Keyes.) The teenagers hanging out in a black neighborhood in the dead of night are quite kind to the nut passing through, and teach him some hip phrases. The Southern etiquette expert he consults is kind too, and when showed obscene family photos, calmly tells him that Americans will not appreciate these. The people whose dinner party he attends are almost superhumanly nice, only kicking him out when the situation becomes intolerable. The Pentecostals are nice to him while speaking in tongues, and tell him that he should forgive the woman (Pamela Anderson) who has betrayed him.

And so on.

So, um, is there a point to this, except for the tasteless over-the-top physical humor? I'm really not sure. None of the 'explanations' of what we're laughing at, or not supposed to be laughing at in Borat really ring true to me.

It's a gross-out fest. It's funny. But it's not 'edgy', 'smart', or 'transgressive'. And it's not all that clever. If you want a really good wacky foreigner's-eye road-trip view of America, watch "The Leningrad Cowboys Go America", which is a much finer movie, even if there are no naked hairy men in it.

1 comment:

Amishav said...

I agree with you that we as Americans do come off rather well in the face of outrageous provocation- but the humor to me rested primarily on the portrayal of anti-semitism- all of it, the Jew as devil, the Jew as supernatural being, the Jew as part of conspiracy - has its roots in real beliefs- some extant, some from the past. As Cohen presents these, the audience is forced to recognize the absurdity of the anti-semitic Borat and that is the real genius of the film. But the wrestling scene has to go. As a well known rabbi said to me, "Borat is forbidden due to the rabbinic injunction of wasting time- except on Purim, when it is a mitzvah!"