Jagshemash! Borat makes trip with legs and visits US and A. Nice!

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Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan premiered in American movie theaters yesterday. Bwog contributor Mark Krotov tells you why Kazakh pubis and scantily clad African-American prostitutes may not always be a good thing.

I was really excited about Borat. Like, a lot. I saw every trailer multiple times, frequented the website on multiple occasions, found YouTube deleted scenes, and caught some of Borat’s television appearances, of which there were many. Fox’s strange strategy of mind-numbing over-promotion will have certainly worked to turn Borat into a huge commercial success—every reference to the export of Kazakh pubis meant another five tickets purchased—but unfortunately, the millions spent on commercials and Borat placement resulted in a rather muted reaction to the film on my part.

This is not to say that Borat is not a good movie. It is, in many ways. Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat is a brilliant character, and though his freshness has been diminshed, he is still an amazing and inventive presence. The film also has a fairly satisfying mix of the staged (angry naked wrestling is a truly stunning sight) and the confrontational (as when Borat takes a scantily-clad, African-American prostitute to a formal southern dinner in Alabama on Secession Drive), an alternation that generally makes up the length of the film.

But the film also has a problem, which my friend correctly pointed out. Namely, there is no sense of free laughter here. Obviously, Cohen knows this and exploits this, but quite frankly, he may have it wrong. For every viewer that watches the film and cringes when a Texas rodeo wrangler tells Borat to shave his mustache so that he does not look Muslim, or when a South Carolina frat boy tells Borat that the minorities run the country because everything for them is easier, there will be ten viewers that simply wait for the next gag. Which is fine, of course, but as a member of the former category, I never felt carefree or satisfied. Most of my laughter was filled with fear.

And often, it simply was not that funny, though again, I cannot decide if that is a function of the overexposure, or the repetitiveness of the conceit. Overall, though, Borat is certainly worth seeing. It is rare to find a major studio sponsoring something so anarchic and rebellious (with the notable exception of the Jackass films), and all in all, I would much rather see this top the box office, than last week’s Saw III.

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  1. nobody  

    cares what you have to say

  2. nooo  

    news about Columbia /= personal reflections, asshole

  3. krotov,  

    as editor of the birch, how about some context? like, for example, the fact that kazakhstanis aren't in any way slavic? that most of what borat uses is polish (it's spelled "jak sie masz," dzienkuje bardzo)...

  4. i agree...

    a lot of it is pretty funny but i found myself thinking: are other people laughing at what i'm laughing at? is "all other countries are run by little girls" funny cuz it's an insult or cuz it's totally misogynist? is naked wrestling funny cuz the dude's fat or cuz the whole concept is absurd or cuz there's all these homophobic undertones?

    i enjoyed it, but i agree: no free laughter.

  5. dan

    the pre-movie hype partially ruined it for me, too - particularly Baron Cohen's in-character appearances on every single talk show. mark is right on.

  6. moph

    "no free laughter"--good way of putting it, mk

  7. yes  

    I think that part of the problem is that every American media outlet has been trying to qualify Cohen's comedy as a social commentary on American ignorance. We're too afraid to laugh at caricatures of foreigners or absurd racists, so we apologize for ourselves and claim that we're really laughing our own stupidity. This is a bad way to approach this sort of comedy. If one needs to feel that Borat is a vehicle for self-analysis, one is necessarily going to declare that the comedy is a failure. It's funny because it's ridiculous, not because it's intelligent.

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