Monday, November 13, 2006

Theatre Of Cruelty

I feel like doing a little trend-spotting. This month has seen the arrival of two movies that have more in common than you might think. BORAT: CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR MAKE BENEFIT OF GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN is a pseudo-documentary in which a bumbling idiot reporter interviews real Americans and coaxes terrible statements out of their unsuspecting mouths. THE BRIDGE is a real documentary about people who committed suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate bridge, with actual footage of the suicides. Both movies are doing great business, although the real documentary is nothing compared to the fake one.
When my wife skipped work last week to catch the first matinee of Borat, she came back raving about it. Through a combination of phony guilelessness and false assurances that the "documentary" would never be shown in America, Sacha Baron Cohen somehow managed to coax the most horrible statements out of people. Apparently racism, homophobia and a wistful desire to keep slaves still lives on in the American psyche.
It takes a kind of cruel genius to do what Cohen does. Cruel because people spend their lives training themselves to keep some opinions to themselves, or at most express those opinions in whispers to their most trusted friends. Genius because somehow he got people to say this stuff out loud to a total stranger with a camera lens pointed at them.
Sacha Baran Cohen has refused to do interviews as himself, choosing instead to appear as Borat. This indicates that his own private thoughts are of value to him. He's not playing fair. Because of this, I hope the frat boys who are suing 2oth Century Fox win the case. Because they were tricked into making their racist remarks for the record. After all, the movie is making a fortune. They can afford to settle. Not that I would want to hang out with those frat boys - they are a bunch of racists.
THE BRIDGE is similar because it also shows people at their worst, and you can bet no one signed a release before they commited suicide. The last thing these people wanted was for their loved ones to watch them do this. And you can take "the last thing" literally in this case. But the movie also contains interviews with the loved ones and friends of these jumpers, and you learn a lot from them; chiefly that you cannot take responsibility for someone else's self-destruction. That's a very valuable message and you may not go to see it without the sick lure of watching these people fall to their deaths. Callous, but valuable.
And the same can be said for Borat. You can laugh at those horrible Americans and the awful things they say but sooner or later you have to recognize that they sound a lot like you. Potentially Borat could provoke a national dialog along the lines of "why didn't somebody tell me I came off like this?" Does this movie make my hate look big?
So these are movies which are cruel to individuals but offer tough love to society as a whole. Could this be the trend I've been waiting for? I'd like to think that as a nation we are strong enough to take a little valid scolding. Like Jeff Bridges said in TUCKER, it's not the heat, it's the humility.


Reel Fanatic said...

I don't think I've laughed as hard in years as I did at Borat's movie, though it is indeed a sometimes painful mirror on American culture .. my favorite scene, if I had to pick just one, would have to be when he gets "saved" at the revival meeting

Anonymous said...

Wow. International media star disguised as a third-world oaf exposes the ugly side of middle America. Sasha Baron Cohen certainly picked a fast-moving target. Beating up the American middle class has been hip even since "American Beauty."

I'm probably not gonna see this film, but not because Mr. Baron Cohen is making fools of us. It's that style of squirmy discomforting humor I don't care for. I think it breaks down to a (slightly outdated) comparison: "Friends" or "Seinfeld"? Gimme Rachel Green.

Apropos "The Bridge:" Glen Kinion, my news-cameraman friend, said on the afternoon of September 11, 2001 the highlands over the Golden Gate Bridge were lined with stringers, news-camera people. They were waiting for the jumbo jet to show up and take the bridge out. Someone must have taken this rather ghoulish idea to it's logical conclusion.

Danielk said...

I gotta recommend BORAT. Yes, it goes after the low-hanging fruit, but there are some truly inspired sight gags in it. My favorite one involves a bear's head. And besides, everyones going to quote it at you anyway. You might as well get that stuff first hand.