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Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan


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#1 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 05 October 2006 - 02:25 PM

Oy vey. If Will Ferrell movies have prompted us to search our hearts and think deep thoughts about the relationship between Christian moviegoing and vulgar comedy, I can only imagine what this film will do.

At the beginning, it starts off like a SLIGHTLY more risque version of Woody Allen's depiction of Russian villages in Love and Death (1975). But then Borat comes to America and things get progressively weirder and buttons get pushed progressively harder.

I mean, I was laughing pretty much all the way through it, but I wasn't sure that I SHOULD be ... especially since I wasn't sure how much of what happens in front of the camera is staged (some scenes were obviously shot in multiple takes from different camera angles) and how much is genuinely spontaneous, like a reality show to see how much rudeness people will put up with if they think the rude person might not know that he's being rude.

And then there is one scene in particular that had me wondering how the film got away with an R rating. I was reminded of various critiques over the years regarding the PG-13 and R ratings and how the MPAA seems to go easy on juvenile comedy while coming down hard on mature art even when they are showing the same basic things. Let's just say that if a certain scene had been
Spoiler
instead of
Spoiler
, there is no way this film could have avoided an NC-17.

Oh, and one of the places Borat goes is a Pentecostal worship service. When Borat speaks in tongues, he REALLY uses his tongue. But this is actually one of the milder comedy bits in the film; in a way, it's as though Pentecostals are so used to craziness that there isn't much that Borat can do there. Certainly it's not like the genteel dinner party he attends in another scene after taking lessons in etiquette -- a dinner party attended, in part, by a pastor and his wife who seem to come from a more reserved, conservative denomination.

#2 Anders

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Posted 05 October 2006 - 04:04 PM

QUOTE(Peter T Chattaway @ Oct 5 2006, 11:25 AM) View Post

Oy vey. If Will Ferrell movies have prompted us to search our hearts and think deep thoughts about the relationship between Christian moviegoing and vulgar comedy, I can only imagine what this film will do.

At the beginning, it starts off like a SLIGHTLY more risque version of Woody Allen's depiction of Russian villages in Love and Death (1975). But then Borat comes to America and things get progressively weirder and buttons get pushed progressively harder.

I mean, I was laughing pretty much all the way through it, but I wasn't sure that I SHOULD be ... especially since I wasn't sure how much of what happens in front of the camera is staged (some scenes were obviously shot in multiple takes from different camera angles) and how much is genuinely spontaneous, like a reality show to see how much rudeness people will put up with if they think the rude person might not know that he's being rude.



Just out of curiosity Peter, how familiar were you with the original material from Da Ali G Show (in both it' UK and HBO incarnations - much of which is available freely on the Internet via YouTube and other sites)? How many gags are merely recycled and how much is new? Does the "narrative" element of the film disrupt it and go against the spirit of the original (Ali G Indahouse failed, IMO, on this respect)?

#3 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 06 October 2006 - 02:27 AM

I don't watch TV, so I have never seen the earlier incarnations of this character. I think my first exposure to this actor was when he voiced a lemur in Madagascar, whose complete off-the-wall-ness I rather enjoyed, and then of course when he played the gay French race-car driver in Talladega Nights.

#4 MichaelRay

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Posted 06 October 2006 - 09:35 AM

I haven't seen the film, but one Ali G episode also had Borat learning etiquette and eating a meal with a group of rather conservative people. I just borrowed the seasons from a friend because I heard about the movie.

#5 Tony Watkins

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Posted 06 October 2006 - 09:43 AM

I found Ali G really offensive - perhaps particularly because everyone seemed to be falling over themselves to say how wonderful it was and how parodic it was of the things which it seemed to be encouraging (racism, sexism, rudeness). I am not going to be rushing to see Borat.

#6 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 06 October 2006 - 02:44 PM

MichaelRay wrote:
: I haven't seen the film, but one Ali G episode also had Borat learning etiquette and eating a meal
: with a group of rather conservative people.

Huh. Would it be safe to assume that these people were not Americans, or Southerners? (I believe the people in the film even live on "Secession Dr." or some such thing.) If not, then it does sound like this film is something of a rehash, or at least has rehashed elements.

Oh, and Anders, re: the narrative element: The film is basically just a road trip across America, from New York to California, and there is almost no connection whatsoever between the various episodes. It's basically a series of sketches.

Interesting that yet another British comedy should have to take place in America when it makes the transition to the big screen. Something similar happened with Rowan Atkinson's Bean (1997).

#7 Tony Watkins

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Posted 06 October 2006 - 06:39 PM

QUOTE(Peter T Chattaway @ Oct 6 2006, 08:44 PM) View Post

Interesting that yet another British comedy should have to take place in America when it makes the transition to the big screen. Something similar happened with Rowan Atkinson's Bean (1997).

I've often thought it's probably do with where the money is coming from.


#8 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 09 October 2006 - 03:45 PM

Behind the Schemes
In 'Borat,' Sacha Baron Cohen plays unsuspecting folks for big laughs. Meet the real people who became punch lines.
Newsweek, October 16

#9 MichaelRay

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Posted 10 October 2006 - 02:53 PM

QUOTE(Peter T Chattaway @ Oct 6 2006, 03:44 PM) View Post

MichaelRay wrote:
: I haven't seen the film, but one Ali G episode also had Borat learning etiquette and eating a meal
: with a group of rather conservative people.

Huh. Would it be safe to assume that these people were not Americans, or Southerners? (I believe the people in the film even live on "Secession Dr." or some such thing.) If not, then it does sound like this film is something of a rehash, or at least has rehashed elements.

They were American in the show, but I can't remember if they were from the South. That's the problem with watching the series on DVD, they all kind of blend together. Borat has had dinner with several groups on the show. One element of that particular event was he intercut an etiquette lesson with the dinner. At the dinner he did the opposite of everything his lesson taught him.

#10 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 17 October 2006 - 05:08 PM

German gypsies in legal bid against Borat creator
A German group representing Roma interests said on Tuesday it had filed a suit to try to stop British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen showing his latest film in Germany.
"We are accusing him of defamation and inciting violence against Sinti and Roma (gypsies)," Marko Knudsen, head of the European Center of Antiziganism Research, told Reuters. Antiziganism refers to hostility to gypsies.
The group said it had filed a complaint to prosecutors over the film, "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," saying it treated violence and discrimination against Roma peoples as acceptable behavior. . . .
The complaint adds to a series of protests against Cohen's creation, whose views are not only racist and anti-Semitic but also misogynist and homophobic. . . .
Reuters, October 17

- - -

Yeah, and Steve Taylor supports bombing abortion clinics, too. Tee-hee. I cannot help but find such cluelessness amusing, so long as it remains powerless. (The protestors say they contacted the distributors, "but they laughed at us" -- and rightly so!) If anyone takes these guys seriously, well, then, that's another matter entirely.

And let us not forget that Cohen himself is Jewish. So, y'know, unless he is really treating anti-Semitism as acceptable behaviour, there is absolutely no basis for assuming that he is treating any of these OTHER things as acceptable behaviour. In fact, as Carina Chocano of the Los Angeles Times observed two days ago, "Wherever Borat goes, he encounters a real threat -- not to him, but to his creator. Cohen was educated at Cambridge and is a practicing Jew who clearly finds more than humor in the fact that he can wander into a gun store, ask for the best weapon with which to kill a Jew, and not have the salesman bat an eye."

#11 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 18 October 2006 - 01:02 AM

nardis wrote:
: There is still tremendous prejudice toward Roma in Europe; Eastern Europe particularly.

Yes, and I hear there is still lots of anti-Semitism in Europe, and I hear Jews were victims of the Holocaust too. Your point?

#12 Anders

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Posted 18 October 2006 - 11:46 AM

QUOTE(nardis @ Oct 17 2006, 07:45 PM) View Post

There is still tremendous prejudice toward Roma in Europe; Eastern Europe particularly.




Exactly, which is Sascha Baron Cohen's point with Borat's stupid comments! He's not mocking the Roma, but rather those who treat them with such clueless disdain! IT'S SATIRE, PEOPLE!

#13 Overstreet

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Posted 18 October 2006 - 01:15 PM

QUOTE
Exactly, which is Sascha Baron Cohen's point with Borat's stupid comments! He's not mocking the Roma, but rather those who treat them with such clueless disdain! IT'S SATIRE, PEOPLE!


Yes, like Ricky Bobby praying to the Baby Jesus... he's not mocking Jesus, but lampooning the ways in which Christians sometimes behave with some childishness and absurdity.

However, the difference between the two: Ferrell's is entirely an act. If Baron is doing his satire and luring in unsuspecting folks to take part in the sketch, then the pain they feel in the midst of their being duped... that's real pain, and that raises other issues about appropriateness and compassion.

I haven't seen the film, so I don't know if this applies.

#14 Anders

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Posted 18 October 2006 - 01:40 PM

QUOTE(Jeffrey Overstreet @ Oct 18 2006, 10:15 AM) View Post

However, the difference between the two: Ferrell's is entirely an act. If Baron is doing his satire and luring in unsuspecting folks to take part in the sketch, then the pain they feel in the midst of their being duped... that's real pain, and that raises other issues about appropriateness and compassion.

I haven't seen the film, so I don't know if this applies.


Fair enough. Then let's discuss the questions of appropriateness and compassion. But let's not have people making posts suggesting that some of us are unaware of racism and prejudice toward minority groups. If that were the case, we wouldn't be laughing at Borat, but rather finding ourselves agreeing with his "subjects."

#15 Overstreet

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Posted 18 October 2006 - 01:43 PM

Agreed.

#16 Overstreet

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Posted 18 October 2006 - 06:46 PM

QUOTE
Because Cohen isn't funny to all Americans or Western Europeans. His humor is so edgy that it often plays very un-humorously.


You could substitute the name Cohen with:

John Stewart
Stephen Colbert
Eddie Izzard
Woody Allen
Steve Martin
Saturday Night Live
going all the way back to
Mark Twain
and beyond.

If we start censoring or suppressing comedians because some people aren't sophisticated enough or educated enough to get it... or because it's not the kind of comedy certain people like... then there will be no end of trouble, and the "c" word (censorship) will loom dark and threatening.

There's a lot to be said for considering the appropriate times and places for comedy, and there's a lot we would do well to consider regarding discernment in what we watch. But as soon as we decide that Cohen's movie is bad because people who don't get it might be offended, we've just opened up a huge can of worms that will eat away at some of the best comedy going.

There are plenty of examples of healthy "edgy" comedy that would be vulnerable to such critiques...

The Screwtape Letters, anyone?

I've heard people slam Steve Taylor for the song "I Blew Up the Clinic Real Good," totally missing the point.

Bono took a lot of heat from Christian fans for dressing up like Satan onstage. (See "Screwtape Letters.")

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet, 18 October 2006 - 06:47 PM.


#17 MattP

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Posted 18 October 2006 - 07:08 PM

QUOTE(nardis @ Oct 18 2006, 05:02 PM) View Post

Sorry, but my point all along has been how and why Roma in Germany might be offended by Cohen's act. Context is very important in this case, as I said in my last psot re. humor not "translating" well.

and hey, I can't blame Kazahks and the goverment of Kazakhstan for being upset over Cohen, either. smile.gif

If you're worried about the Roma being offended because they're not getting the comedy since it doesn't translate well, aren't you the one "assuming that they're clueless, or, for that matter, taking offense at nothing"?

#18 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 19 October 2006 - 01:42 AM

Jeffrey Overstreet wrote:
: However, the difference between the two: Ferrell's is entirely an act. If Baron is doing his satire and
: luring in unsuspecting folks to take part in the sketch, then the pain they feel in the midst of their
: being duped... that's real pain, and that raises other issues about appropriateness and compassion.
: I haven't seen the film, so I don't know if this applies.

Not really, because Baron is not duping gypsies, he is duping dumb Americans who think that anti-gypsy prejudice is an acceptable part of Kazakhstani life (and therefore an acceptable part of life, period).

Once again, for those who are so distrustful of satire that they insist on missing the point: Baron is a Jew whose character, Borat, goes around making alarmingly anti-Semitic statements (e.g. "What gun is best for killing Jews?" or some such) and GETTING AWAY WITH IT. This is not AT ALL an encouragement of anti-Semitism. EVERYTHING about the humour of those scenes hinges on our conviction that anti-Semitism is wrong, and that coming from a foreign culture really shouldn't excuse those sorts of attitudes.

So, as with anti-Semitism, so with anti-gypsyism. It's a bad thing. Baron knows it's a bad thing. But he also knows that many people will put up with it if it comes from a foreigner. And that's a problem. And it's a problem that he exposes in this film. No one with half a brain could possibly watch this film and come away thinking that Borat's ignorance and prejudiced attitudes are worthy of emulation.

I have qualms with a number of aspects of this film, but this is not one of them.

nardis wrote:
: Because Cohen isn't funny to all Americans or Western Europeans.

Gosh, who IS?

: Also, humor is something that tends not to "translate" well. What might be acceptable here can be
: highly offensive to people in other countries and cultures.

You're right, there should never, ever be humour about interactions between cultures, and there should never, ever be jokes about how things got lost -- or accepted -- in translation.

And British shows like Till Death Do Us Part should never be remade in America as shows like All in the Family. They don't "translate" well, and who wants to see bigots as protagonists, anyway?

: At any rate, it might have been kinder to give the German Roma the benefit of the doubt rather than
: assuming that they're clueless, or, for that matter, taking offense at nothing.

Kinder, but not better, given that they ARE taking offense at nothing. (I say this as one who has seen the movie. Have you? Have they? Are THEY giving the movie the benefit of the doubt?)

Plus there is the fact that I have no time for humourless people who insist on banning socially relevant comedies and other works of art because there's a slim possibility that some idiot out there won't get the joke.

And that, my friend, woud be true even if I DID give the protestors (who, of course, do not represent ALL the Roma) the benefit of the doubt. But their accusation that the film "incit[es] violence against Sinti and Roma" or treats anti-gypsy attitudes as "acceptable" indicates to me that we SHOULDN'T give them the benefit of the doubt, because that would be as ridiculous as saying that the film incites violence against Jews or treats anti-Semitism as acceptable.

: Context is very important in this case . . .

Indeed it is. But you'd have to see the movie to know what the context IS.

: and hey, I can't blame Kazakhs and the goverment of Kazakhstan for being upset over Cohen, either. smile.gif

Ah, well, no argument THERE!

Jeffrey Overstreet wrote:
: I've heard people slam Steve Taylor for the song "I Blew Up the Clinic Real Good," totally missing
: the point.

Indeed, I believe I cited that very example earlier in this thread.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway, 19 October 2006 - 02:00 AM.


#19 Darryl A. Armstrong

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Posted 19 October 2006 - 03:39 AM

I haven't seen this yet, but I have watched the Ali G. show and I thought the Borat character was probably the funniest of his three personalities. The thing that blows my mind, however, is the fact that his interviewees don't know who Cohen is or what they're getting into. I don't know who he has appear in the sketches for the film, but he interviewed former director of the CIA, Admiral Stansfield Turner, along with someone from the FBI, David Beckham, and J. K. Galbraith, among others, without them knowing it's a "prank" for his TV series. How does that happen?

Actually, here's someone with a story about just that: How I was Duped by Ali G.

#20 MattPage

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Posted 19 October 2006 - 04:53 AM

FWIW, David Beckham defintiely knew the joke when he was being interviewed.

Matt