October 14, 2006

Movie Review: Borat

Last Thursday, I was walking thru the U.C. Berkeley Campus, & I stumbled into line for free passes to an advance screening of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. There was a slight confusion about my status as student (I told them I was a Scientology Major), but I got my big postcard. So I saw it this Thursday, in a hall full of rowdy, fully-appreciative 18-to-22-year-olds, probably the only suitable environment.

I walked the twenty blocks to campus, many hours early, & drank a few “soltice”-style pints in the university “lair”. There was loud thumping music, of course, but I spent both lemon-tinted pints reading Nabokov's Ada; Or, Ardor. With some European upper-class inflection, as Ada's mother has, both title & subtitle are supposed to sound about the same. I'm about a hundred pages into this book, about one-sixth. It's shocking, like Borat. It was a shocking night. Ada, in its own way a sequel to Lolita, is about cousins who are actually siblings, who have, whilst summering in Eden, their first physical contact. Wordplay & entymology, it's about anagrams: insect, incest. I guess it could be a companion-piece to Lolita – Humbert Humbert, you remember, had a proto-nymphet experience when he was a youth, which set the stage for his later perversion. A better way to understand it, both Van Veen & Humbert recognize true beauty & respond with an unquenchable erection. Humbert is fundamentally un-creative tho, & although he loves his nymphet, he doesn't get her intellect, & he's never really interested in her beautiful brain, his fatal flaw if anything is – one critic compares the book to a despot possessing a population, demanding allegiance thru rape whilst shutting himself off from true connection. I shouldn't comment yet on the quality of Van's lust, but I think he is legitimately turned on in part by his sister's intellect, even if he's bored by her pretentious scientific descriptions of caterpillars.

Sasha Baron Cohen is in a great position to mock American culture, expose it as racist & backwards, & Americans are dying to be constantly reaffirmed in this suspicion. At his best on Da Ali G Show, he acts far over the top, so that no sane focused individual could be fooled by the fraud of a fake foreigner making impossible & impossibly offensive cultural mistakes – yet they routinely are fooled. It's a similar charade with Ali G, the A-side of the shtick, with a “how stupid do these politicians think the 'hip-hop generation' actually is?” But, damn, what's with all the poop humor in this new movie? Maybe, because of my indoctrination as enlightened humanist, or my upbringing with Gallagher, I am not surprised nor scandalized by masturbation or feces, & therefore cannot be grossed-out or moved to a chuckle by gross-out stunts. If taking down Americans & exposing their prejudices is so easy, what can be learnt by bringing your own poop in a bag to the dinner table (because the foreigner didn't understand the flush)? Wouldn't anyone, not just racist Southern Christians, be dismayed? There are priceless moments – like when Borat, at a rodeo, gets the whole audience to cheer for something like “May George Bush drink the blood of every last Iraqi woman & child”; or when a cowboy tells him in confidence to shave his mustache so that he doesn't look like a Muslim terrorist. I guess I wanted more sociology & less scatology. I'm still convinced that the best movie ever made about racism is Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles, using humor to discuss gray areas of the soul that a cheesy movie like Crash can't scrape away at. Borat, with its mockumentary format & deceiving character acting, had a potential to take Blazing Saddles into a post-9/11 world, but it seemed more inspired by Mel Brooks' fart jokes than by his comic insights.


charity said...

interesting review. i don't want to see this movie. i didn't before and i certainly don't want to now. ever since i saw shreck at a small town theater in asheboro (north carolina) and listened to the parents trying to explain what beautiful means to children (ugh, were you even WATCHING the movie?) i lost my faith in u.s. audiences' ability (or desire?) to see deeply into comedies. and i hate poop comedy. so i don't think i'm going to see this movie. it would be too painful.

but blazing saddles was really good. i agree with you there. and crash was totally cheesy. i also agree with you there.

MrA said...

James, I have to say that I loved this movie. I think that the humor and genius of Borat is that, such as in the poop-in-a-bag at dinner scenario, it DOES dismay everyone, not just racist Christians from the south. He goes far beyond anything remotely acceptable in every scene, and he makes fun not only of the unsuspecting victims, and of the audience, but also of himself. He pushes every type of boundary he can, whether it is political, social, or anal.