Monday, December 04, 2006


by Jackrabbit Slim

I had resisted seeing Borat, but being out of the loop, culturally speaking, was getting the best of me, so I finally took it in this weekend. I had resisted it because I generally don't care for humor in which not all participants are in on the act. This ranges from Candid Camera, to prank phone calls, to the "found" style of humor practiced by personalities like David Letterman.

I did find Borat to be funny, sometimes brilliantly so. There were elements of satire in the film that are worthy of Swift. I will admit, though, that it was not easy to watch. Sacha Baron Cohen, the creator and inhabiter of Borat, is so extremely gonzo in his approach that anyone with any shred of empathy will feel crushingly embarrassed for him.

The story, for those who are living in a cave, has Cohen playing Borat Sagdiyev, who is a TV reporter from Kazakhstan (a fictionalized version, mind you). He has come to America, "the greatest country in the world," to learn new things to take back to his homeland. While in his hotel room, he stumbles upon an episode of Baywatch, and becomes enamored with Pamela Anderson, and he changes his mission to heading to California to make her his wife and "make a romantic explosion on her stomach."

Along the way he meets various types of Americans. Part of the time while I was watching these segments I had to wonder how much of it was staged and what was ambush. Some frat boys from USC, who reveal themselves to be bigoted lushes, are suing, which indicates they weren't in on the joke. But how could they not, with a camera stuck in their faces? Were releases signed? Did Cohen really go to a dinner party in the south (on Secession Drive) and hand his hostess a bag of his own feces? And have a hooker come over? If so, the mind boggles at his temerity.

In addition to sending up American values, Cohen also has some classic slapstick and deliciously rude humor, such as a naked wrestling match with his corpulent producer, played by Ken Davitian, that has to be seen to be believed. Suffice it to say that Borat later yells at him, "I can still smell your testes on my mustache!"

Borat is a classic of its kind, but it also gave me a nervous stomach. Prepare to watch part of it through your fingers.


Blogger Brian said...

I had a similar reaction, I suppose. Good sketch comedy is still sketch comedy; not an inferior art, but one that doesn't lend itself to features. For every sequence that was really funny - and there were several - there was one that didn't work for me.

12/04/2006 05:15:00 PM  
Blogger jaydro said...

It was my understanding from the Da Ali G Show TV show that people thought they were signing a release to appear on a Kazakh TV show (or a British rap star's show, or an Austrian designer's show).

12/04/2006 06:36:00 PM  
Blogger Jackrabbit Slim said...

I'm not a lawyer, but if that's the case, the releases would be worthless because they contained willful misinformation. Makes Borat II much more problematic.

12/05/2006 07:07:00 AM  
Blogger jaydro said...

I'm not a lawyer, either, but I never said the release contained willful misinformation, and I'm pretty sure it probably did not. People think they're appearing in one sort of show and sign a generic release form for Some-Name Production Company.

12/05/2006 09:32:00 AM  
Blogger Count Olaf said...

Here's one account (from Linda Stein):
"My initial contact came from Chelsea Barnard, a name that, in retrospect, might have tipped me off to a set-up (I’m still not sure if it was real or not). In a chirpy e-mail, Chelsea said she heard about me because I am on the large board of Veteran Feminists of America, a New York group that highlights the successes and history of women leaders such as Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan and Coretta Scott King. My role with the group has been to mount shows of my works to engage people in the arts at public events.

Chelsea said she was working on “a documentary-style film about America” —although by this definition, “The Daily Show” is a documentary, too. “We are working in conjunction with Belarus Television and a foreign correspondent,” Chelsea wrote, covering up even the fictional nationality of Borat. She wanted to arrange “a round table discussion about the recent history of feminism.” Members of the producing team have worked on productions about women war correspondents and female boxers, she reported.

12/05/2006 11:23:00 AM  
Blogger Jackrabbit Slim said...

Thanks, Olaf. I think this is the most important paragraph of her account:

I finally agreed, although I admit that I failed to read the fine detail on the “Standard Consent Agreement.” Since I thought this was a documentary, I probably would have signed it anyway. When I did study it later, I realized that it’s anything but “standard.” Buried are statements asserting that I waive claims for “offensive behavior” and “misleading portrayal” and “fraud (such as any alleged deception or surprise about the film or this consent agreement).” While I’m no legal expert, I can’t believe that you can agree to be defrauded — or wouldn’t every used car dealer use the same clause?

12/05/2006 12:42:00 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

I'm no legal expert either, but I would guess that you can pretty much agree to do anything as long as you're not coerced into doing so. Or, even if you are coerced, probably.

I can sympathize with those who were misled, but at the same time, not really. This is not a tough joke to spot if you have any kind of working bullshit detector at all, whether you're familiar with the character of Borat or not.

12/05/2006 12:53:00 PM  
Blogger Jackrabbit Slim said...

The frat boys lawsuit can be found on The Smoking Gun, and they are maintaining two things--they were drunk when they signed the agreement, and the agreement states that the film would never be released in the U.S. If the latter is true, then they do have a leg to stand on. It also clarifies that they did not pick up Borat on the side of the road in an RV (they were provided the RV, and the alcohol, apparently).

12/05/2006 02:31:00 PM  
Blogger jaydro said...

Consent agreements have gotten ridiculous anyway. I recently went to the National Whitewater Center near Charlotte, NC, and I had to sign some kind of waiver making the usual promise that I wouldn't sue them if I got killed etc., but on top of that they had me assign to them all rights to any photos or videos they might take of me for whatever purpose. I balked at that, suggesting that this allowed them to sell photos and videos of my potential death to snuff film distributors in Thailand (or to Borat!), but they wouldn't budge and I wasn't about to abandon my group. I hate shit like that. Damn lawyers. But I did have a blast there!

12/05/2006 03:04:00 PM  

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