It’s not for nothing you have to sign a drawer full of legal protection agreements before you ever get to pitch a story to the likes of Steven Spielberg or that all Lord Steven’s scripts are numbered and that you have to sign for them individually, if he deigns to let you read a copy.
But enough about that. What about Borat? For those few of you haven’t seen it, is the mockumentary about a Kazakh newscaster who comes to America to tell like it is about about the “US and A” to the Slavic rednecks at home as good as they say? Yes. In fact, better. This Sacha Baron Cohen guy is the real deal – the best comic to appear on screen since Richard Pryor. And he shares with Pryor that key ingredient that makes the most memorable comedy work – the courage to go all the way. Or most of the way anyway, because you know there are things on the Borat cutting room floor that couldn’t have made it through any censors. Nevertheless, Cohen is in that direct line of comedy that runs from Aristophanes to Rabelais through Groucho and Harpo and on to Pryor. These men were all ruthless and transgressive. If they had something on their minds, they just said it; some vile, hostile comic act to perform, they just did it. (Harpo gives everyone his leg to hold just as Borat innocently kisses every male he sees in America.) Of course in our modern era of political correctness this is a rare phenomenon, which makes Cohen all the more funny and startling. Compare him to the so much blander Comedy Central duo Stewart and Colbert. It’s hard to imagine either of them with anything close to enough guts to do something as outrageous as the now famous nude wrestling scene in Borat. I also couldn’t imagine them making a group of real life New York feminists seem like complete idiots. Cohen does the same thing later in the film with a right-wing rodeo rider as well. He is an equal opportunity destroyer. And we know they all deserve it.
But Cohen does more than that. He makes you believe in movies again and what they can do – that they can move and amaze you. And let’s face it, film art is a pretty pathetic enterprise these days, decades past its glory years when movies really had something to say about our culture. Don’t believe me? Mosey on over to the Janus Films site and take a look at the package of 50 classic films they are putting out in a giant DVD collection for Christmas – The Seven Samurai, Umberto D., The 39 Steps, The 400 Blows, Grand Illusion, Wild Strawberries, La Strada, etc., etc. Masterpiece after masterpiece – and not one of them made after 1973, the vast majority considerably earlier. Personally, I haven’t seen a movie I really liked on that level in ten years. Except Borat.
Roger L. Simon wrote the movie Bustin’ Loose for Richard Pryor.