Match Frame

Thoughts from an American editor and filmmaker in New Zealand about film and video production and post-production. Plus whatever else I feel like talking about.

Location: Balmoral, Auckland, New Zealand

A work in progress.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

the problem with Borat

So you might have heard of this movie, with this guy who pretends to be from Kazakhstan, exposing the "true" America. More likely, even if you haven't heard of any movie that's opened in the past month, you've heard of BORAT.

There's no question that BORAT is, more than occasionally, really damn funny. It's also in my mind incredibly problematic. The difference between BORAT and the (even funnier) JACKASS 2 is that, after JACKASS 2 did something in public in front of unsuspecting people, they copped to who they were, and got release forms signed, and if you wouldn't sign one, they'd pixelate your face or not use the footage. BORAT, by contrast, claimed to be a small production not intending to distribute in the States, and often not only set things up under entirely false pretenses but maintained those false pretenses well after the fact. (One first-hand account can be found here.) This is a massive breach of filmmaking ettiquette (and, most likely, law); further, expect people who aren't nearly as funny to duplicate the same kinds of stunts in the near future; further, as a result, expect any serious but seriously underfunded short-film or documentary filmmakers to have increasing amounts of trouble getting releases to film places.

Additionally, the film really tries to have it both ways: by being "documentary" it's supposedly telling the truth about the intolerance of America or some-such (as if the average person around the world would somehow be more tolerant of him), while by being "drama" they can set up any sort of thing they want and pretend it's real (like the RV, being driven by crew members, which has our memorable and memorably racist frat boys who are supposedly travelling across country in it). Plus the editing (while quite good) is very, very stacked, leaving any patina of "truth", or cause and effect that's not revealed in the same shot, as being highly dubious as best.

Anyway, the ever-brilliant George Saunders (of PASTORALIA and CIVILWARLAND IN SEVERE DECLINE, two must-reads if there ever were any) rips open the film's hypocrisies in his own inimitable way, entertainingly and depressingly pointing out the issues at hand.


Blogger Conor said...

If something as funny as Borat is wrong, then I don't want to be right. But perhaps it was a plot all along by the nefarious Mr. Cohen to get Pam for real. Check this out:


- Conor

29/11/06 9:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jesus - the George Saunders piece was brutal. I think he has a good point, though, and now feel slightly guilty about enjoying the movie as much as I did.

Point of fact: I read the release that they used and it's clear they had good lawyers. Releases like this, even poorly-drafted ones, generally hold up in court. The moral of the story: read the whole damn thing before you sign it (or even better, hire a lawyer). Distasteful? Sure. Unethical? Often. But illegal? Probably not.


29/11/06 10:42 AM  
Blogger Scoutie said...


I haven't seen Borat, nor did I intend to, as I'm not a huge fan of Baron Cohen, and there was something about it which rubbed me the wrong way when I saw the trailer for the first time. I couldn't shake it, even despite the glowing reviews, so I opted not to go. After reading the story from the guy at the hotel in Dallas, it really hit the nail on the head.

The thing with Jackass which makes it so funny is that-- for the most part-- they're doing it to themselves. The people who appear in candid roles are told what's going on after the fact. The producers of Borat, however, offer only a pack of lies to get rubes to behave a way they might not under normal conditions, or to portray them in any way they please as a means to an end.

It's quite sad actually, and now I'm glad I chose not to see the movie after all. It probably wouldn't have been such a big deal had they come clean with people after the fact, but they clearly misrepresented themselves, and the result is a shame.

29/11/06 2:44 PM  

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