Monday, October 30, 2006


Although I hardly ever have time to read it cover to cover before the next issue shows up, The New Yorker may very well be the grand dame of the literary world. Nevertheless, not every word of its extensive essays is automatically substantiated by the overall prestige of the publication. Anthony Lane's Borat review certainly shouldn't be taken as gospel. There are problems from the very first (very lengthy) opening paragraph, and they continue all the way through:

"[Sacha Baron Cohen's] first coup was the invention of Ali G, a would be rapper from the London suburbs...[n]ext up, and more addictive still was Borat Sagdiyev, the bony and wire-haired journalist from Kazakhstan. Unlike Ali G, who found only a televised niche, Borat is, as he would boast, becoming huge. Uncontainable on TV, he has swelled into cinemas, his wooing of America aided by the simple trick of filming him in America...So why send his character here? Because where the money is, but also because, to the connoisseur of hurt pride, it is where the sore spots are."

Well, here goes: First of all, if Lane every bothered to watch Da Ali G Show, he'd know that the title character wasn't invented before Borat-- or even Bruno, the third character on the show and the subject of Baron Cohen's next feature film, according to the trades. Ali G is the most memorable character because he's the most immediately likable, unlike Borat and Bruno, whose respective savagery and homosexuality obviously intimidate certain members of the audience. Second of all, a little biographical research on the fascinating career trajectory Baron Cohen has followed since the days of his thesis on the Black-Jewish Alliance tells you that, if anything, the Borat persona made its showbiz debut before all the other characters (one of his earliest audition tapes featured him performing as an invented Albanian reporter).

Second of all, while Ali G did indeed find a "televised niche," his movie, Ali G Indahouse, was a box office smash in the UK and at least got some air time on HBO, allowing for a cult following and decent DVD sales here in the States. The reason why Borat came to America doesn't have anything to do with whatever "hurt pride" nonesense Lane is trying to explicate; Baron Cohen brought all his characters here simply because he got way too popular in his native country, to the point where even the Queen was puportedly quoting his catchphrases. He was so recognizable that the gimmick of his show didn't work because everybody knew when they were being duped. And anyways, dude, the sore spots are all over the place. Borat could make a fool out of people in Paraguay, if he spoke bad Spanish.

Look, Lane, you're totally entitled to hate on movies if it gets you the badass reputation you seem to relish without fail. But at least do your homework.

Also, if you can bear to read the rest of the piece, you'll notice that Lane just doesn't seem to get the humor. Not one iota. He can't seem to describe what makes this type of performance art so fucking hilarious, and he ends up being condenscending towards Baron Cohen as a result. Which makes him another Borat victim.

And this, of couse, allows me to plug my upcoming review of the movie later this week in The Reeler, where I promise to at least try to sound like I sort of know what I'm rambling about. Dig it.


Blogger Alper said...

Isn't Cohen's gay fashion character called Bruno and not Gunter?

7:29 AM  
Blogger Eric Kohn said...

Yep. My bad.

8:58 AM  
Blogger Reel Fanatic said...

Anthony Lane should stick to reviewing snobby arthouse stuff, because he clearly can't comprehend the concept of a good movie that will appeal to the masses and have them rolling in the aisles

1:07 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Well appart from the pass on Ali G Indahouse (I'm not sure about the chronological order of his characters, the first time I saw him on Channel 4, he was Ali G), I'm not sure what is so outrageous about this review...
Actually I'd say Lane paints a fairly representative portrait of Borat's humor (by citing how tasteless he can be), and I even thought the review was somehow positive (with Political Correctness reservations). When I read this, I immediately identify Borat, and am appealed by the menu of the film. Ok Lane isn't overtly enthousiastic, but only partisan fanboys would be...
There are actually a couple of insights on the mechanics of Sacha Baron Cohen's humor, based on unspoken intolerance and PC tolerance.

4:35 PM  
Blogger Eric Kohn said...

harrytuttle makes a valid point-- that Lane doesn't overtly discourage people from seeing film, which makes this piece a tad more acceptable than his usual all-out pans.

But Lane seems to think that Baron Cohen is mocking America as a place that suffers from a unique brand of racism, whereas I believe most people understand that his performance art takes a stab at the racism plaguing the core of every human soul. Feel free to disagree, of course...Borat would want it that way.

8:36 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Well, like all comedians, he only keep the "good clients", the people who walk in his cues. So the films could suggest that there are only stupid racist people in America. But it's part of the caricature.
Personaly I think he goes so far that it takes a second thought to figure if it's mocking racists or if it's plain insult.
Although his stunt his typicaly adaptated to Americana idiosyncracies and a specific critique of this society's mentality. He had slightly different punch lines in the UK. So in this way this show is definitely hitting the USA soft spot, and it's a satire niche few comedians dare to confront in the USA (there is Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic though).
If it makes you feel better, there are as many stupid racists in France! ;)

6:23 AM  
Blogger Eric Kohn said...

It doesn't make me feel better, but it could definetly serve as Borat's next stop, if the character lives on.

11:39 AM  

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