Sunday, November 05, 2006

Bore-at: cultural earnings of America for make Sasha Baron Cohen a lot of money

Is top cyclist and Peter Schmeichel lookalike Alexander Vinokourov in danger of losing
his status as Kazakhstan's greatest citizen to Borat?


On the strength of the film probably not.
Having been amused by the Borat TV show and seen the sparkling reviews in the press (most papers using the 5 star rating system awarded it 3 or 4 stars) I went to see this film in anticipation of a good time. However disappointment ensued.

The film sets out to be part mockumentary, part road movie, but ends up as little more than a collection of recycled sketches like an elongated version of the TV show. The jokes are largely predictable, and although the film would probably appeal more to someone unfamilar with the Ali G/Borat spoof interview format - it doesn't translate particularly well to the big screen

The opening scenes filmed somewhere in rural Romania not surprisingly portray Kazakhstan as a backwards nation of primitive Jew-baiting, incestuous misogynists rather than a confident oil and gas rich state which has successfully shaken off the chains of Soviet subjugation.

In the run-up to the film's release, a headline in one of the free London papers given out in the street read something to the effect of "Borat film causes uproar in Eastern Europe". A Financial Times columnist subsequently reacted to this error as if to confirm that few people really know where the place is let alone anything about it. It is therefore rich pickings for comic satire. However, to be pedantic a tiny portion of Kazakhstan lying west of the Ural River is technically in Europe. The national soccer team is a member of UEFA, the European football federation, and thus plays in the European section of the World Cup qualifiers. An unimportant piece of trivia, but there you go.

My main problem with the film is the difficulty of telling which parts are staged and which parts are for real - ie how many of the ordinary people Borat interviews are actually in on the joke? I suspect that most of the were.

Borat's initial arrival in America plays on the familiar theme of the yokel in the big city. He struggles to get to grips with an escalator and randomly greets total strangers in the street in scenes blatantly ripped off from Midnight Cowboy and Crocodile Dundee.

Baron Cohen as a Jewish comedian can get away with jokes others couldn't - jokes which sound anti-semitic to the uninitiated are in fact supposed to be post-modern irony - in the mould of another Jewish comedian Lenny Bruce who made ironic anti-PC jokes before political correctness had been invented. The scenes of the Running of the Jew with grotesque effigies of Jews with horns chasing Kazakhs in the mould of Pamplona's running of the bulls festival was particularly effective in this regard.
The film does have its moments. One scene at a rodeo where Borat as guest of honour mangles the American national anthem at a rodeo exposes bigotry of redneck Americans baying for blood. The homophobic rodeo manager advises him to shave off moustache so as to avoid looking like Islamic terrorist.

If anything the films has helped boost the profile of Kazakhstan, a country so little is known about and may even provoke a sense of curiosity for people to find out just how inaccurate Borat's depiction of the country is.

Baron Cohen himself is a notoriously secretive character who as far as I know has never appeared in public as himself. Now that his two main characters Ali and Borat have effectively blown their cover it will be interesting to see what he does next. He will no doubt be inundated with offers from top Hollywood producers to star in substandard films, but whether he accepts them is a different matter.

8 comments:

Lorainne said...

CIARAN I LOVED BORAT and laughed so much!!!! It was very very good - the scene where he was at the dinner table learning manners then he brought in a bag of his sh*te and said 'what do I do with this' BRILLIANT

Parnell said...

Hello Ciaran. Try this link to find out more. http://today.reuters.co.uk/news/articlenews.aspx?type=oddlyEnoughNews&storyid=2006-10-30T185926Z_01_N30352253_RTRIDST_0_OUKOE-UK-LEISURE-COHEN.XML&src=rss

Lorainne said...

Interesting parnell - I am looking forward to seeing more stuff from Mr Cohen

Anonymous said...

Thanks to cw for the thoughtful review, and to lorainne for the unbridled enthusiasm. I haven't seen it yet.

I was present at the births of both Ali and Borat, via the British small-screen. So I too feel the loss of something essential in their journeys to US domination. Yes, ironically, that essential element was the particular power and potential of their anonymity. But hey, obviously it's cashing-in time. And so I'm learning to let go.

Still, my favourite and the most edgy Sasha-alter is the next one, Bruno. He is still relatively unknown, and I was looking forward to a few more years of his guerilla exposés. Unfortunately, his cover will now be prematurely blown worldwide by the relentless cashing-in machine. (See Parnell's link above.)

If you haven't seen Bruno in action, go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HlL806Mubgo AND here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dB9a9vn4HI

P

CW said...

Lorainne - yes it was funny in a disgusting kind of way.

Parnell - I had heard about the Bruno film, but won't be getting too excited about it. He hasn't captured the public imagination in the same way as Borat or Ali G (so I'll have to disgree with Paul on that one!) and in any case I don't think the format will work terribly well on the big screen.

There was an article in the "London Paper" - the free one they give out in the street extolling the virtues of the real Kazakhtan and its outstanding natural beauty and providing details of package tours you can go on - so I won't be surprised if the Kazakh tourist board announces record visitor numbers in the coming months and years thanks to Borat. There was also an interview in the Guardian recently with a British academic who stands up for Kazakhstan in the light of the Borat film:

http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/comment/story/0,,1933538,00.html

Lorainne said...

I like disgusting humour - in fact I like all humour

Anonymous said...

i still haven't registered, still anonymous.

P here, as above. so below. hahahaha. well that's my humour. but it IS humour. so lorainne must like it. logic.

i gave Borat a shot. for the first 15 minutes or so i never mustered even a chortle, wondering which bits were 'real'. then i involuntarily guffawed. by the end i was in tears. even at the Pamela abduction. everything depends where you're at, i guess.

it was what it was. 3.5 out of 6. (have you noticed Time Out gives star-ratings out of 6 these days? seems more discerning. i like that.)

so, now Borat's dead. long live Bruno.

(sneezes are funny. look: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljU3VdByKVA&mode=related&search= )

Anonymous said...

QUOTE (cw): "He hasn't captured the public imagination in the same way..."

cw, you seem to suggest that 'being funny' is purely about numbers. i didn't have you pegged as a lowest common denominator kinda guy.

besides, you've elided my point: the power and comedy of all three characters best work rests on their anonymity in the given situation. imo.