Friday, November 17, 2006

A quick thought on Borat

I've been stewing over Borat. If you've spoken with me, or read my review, you know that though I liked Borat, laughed at it, I walked out of the theater feeling underwhelmed. As is sometimes the case, I wanted to like the movie so much I ended up not liking it a whole lot. But I've had trouble putting my finger on exactly why. After all, I laughed and, as I've discussed on Termite Art before, to me a comedy need only make me laugh to be successful (it can be more, but that's the proverbial icing on the cake).

In my review, I discussed the role expectations played in Borat's impact (and, indeed, expectations play an underdiscussed role in the viewing of all movies) but it goes beyond that. I was admittedly irked that so much of the trailer reappeared in the film — and in a movie like Borat, where the plot is totally rearrangeable when it isn't completely non-existant, it ain't difficult to use stuff just for the trailer — but reevaluating my feelings I realize it was more: it was that the audience I was seeing the film with, a preview screening that included a sprinkling of lucky members of the moviegoing public, were laughing at the jokes from the trailer. It wasn't the sort of laugh that comes from surprise, as other laughs in the film would be, it was the sort of laugh of recognition. They were so willing to laugh at everything Borat did, they didn't care if the jokes were recycled from the trailer. I think that was more off-putting than I initially realized.

But here's the thought that moved me to post (I realize this isn't going as quickly as promised). When I watched Da Ali G Show on HBO, nobody I knew knew what it was. I remember family members peeking their heads in to see what I was watching, asking "What the hell is this?!?" shrugging and walking out. I, of course, loved Ali G, Borat, and Bruno instantly. And, being a bit of a cultist, the fact that no one I knew got it, if they knew about it at all, made it more appealling. This tends to happen with all cult objects; those that love it love it more specifically because they see themselves as sort of heroic for having found something that the rest of the public has rejected or ignored.

Now with all of Da Ali G Show characters, being in on the joke is part of it. The audience knows the gag, the rubes on screen do not. So the viewer can think "Well I wouldn't get fooled by Borat, I know he's not real" and it gives the viewer just that extra bit of pride, that extra bit of self-appreciation for his or fine cultitude.

And though cultists love to preach about their favorite obscurity, they are also deeply skeptical of mainstream acceptance of whatever they love — after all, something cannot be worthy of cult status if everyone agrees on it. So a cult object like Sacha Baron Cohen's comedy might already seem less special when it makes millions of dollars over night. But again, the very nature of Borat gives this effect a double impact: now everyone is in on the joke. The secret club we 45 people who watched Ali G had is now kaput. No one would be fooled by Borat ever again.

Though this only just dawned on me now, I think that's a big reason why I didn't like Borat. The cult is out of the bag. Am I crazy?


Blogger Matt said...

I don't think you're crazy. Cults have a habit of coming out of the bag. I remember watching the first Monty Python's Flying Circus shows and being thrilled by the iconoclastic content. Originally it was met by a bewidered public but it soon became a mega success - even to the extent that the Life of Brian was recently voted the best comedy film of all time (so far of course!).
Thanks for the interesting reviews.
Best wishes.

9:14 AM  
Blogger Reel Fanatic said...

I intentionally limited my Ali G viewing to try and retain at least a little bit of surprise, and therefore enjoyed Borat's movie quite a bit .. you're definitely right that the game of expectations is a dangerous one

4:28 PM  
Blogger poorpete said...

For me I think it's like being a teacher, like "You haven't heard? let me play you a song!" Now, if I bring it up in conversation... "I saw David Gray play in a bar right before he became huge" or "See, I played you that Arctic Monkeys song and now everyone likes them" it sounds like bragging, instead of being a lone (and happy) supporter.
Now that's a run-on sentence.

4:36 PM  
Blogger Trailady said...

'Borat' was the worst movie I ever saw! I was literally nauseated afterward. So much disrespect to women, Jews, Russians, Muslims, Black women and all intelligent life-forms. Since when are rape, incest, masterbation, beastiality, abortion and sodomy "hilarious" food for comedy??

All the crassness is now being excused because Sacha Baron Cohen was supposedly "making a deep statement about societal prejudice"? If Mr. Cohen had some deep socio-political message, it could have been wrapped in a more intelligent package.
Any 6th grader with a dirty mind and a video camera could have made this film.

Perhaps Sacha's biggest statement is now his bank statement. He makes a lousy movie, disrespecting several ethnic groups and we make him filthy rich for it.

It's beginning to look a lot like the jokes on us, folks.

12:36 AM  

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