There are a few private jokes in "Borat." One, which might merely be an example of a low-budget flick, is that the same bedspread appears in three different hotel room scenes. Another is that the anti-Semitic protagonist from Kazakhstan occasionally speaks fluent Hebrew throughout the movie.
An Associated Press dispatch referred to him as a "Jew-fearing journalist" and stated: "In the end, it appeared that naked wrestling, toilet jokes and anti-Semitic satire hold universal appeal." In fact, Rob Eshman, editor of the Jewish Journal, confesses that he laughed so hard he spit out his gum. Moreover, the following excerpt from a review in The Jewish Week was subsquently forwarded on the Internet by an anti-Semitic listserv:
"The first time I saw Borat I fell madly in love with him. For a journalist who writes about culture in a major Jewish newspaper, seeing this fictional, mustachioed, deeply offensive, thoroughly anti-Semitic man for the first time on HBO two years ago was more than entertainment. It was a clarion call....Played with fierce doggedness by Israeli-born comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat--supposedly a reporter from Kazakhstan who travels the United States asking his hapless interviewees the most unthinkable of questions--was that mythological beast that all young Jews secretly dream about, a character cool and commanding who puts, if only for a moment, all things Jewish at the cutting edge of popular culture."
Well, any movie that serves to unite Jews and anti-Semites can't be all bad. Certainly, both sides appreciate, for different reasons, Borat's explanation that the reason he and Azamat--his insanely fat "producer"--drive rather than fly across America in this documentary-style parody of a buddy movie is because he's scared that Jews would hijack their plane "like they did on 9/11."
(John Stauber, co-author of Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq, told me, "Skilled propagandists can plant gossip and, if it takes root and spreads successfully, it can serve a useful propaganda purpose. For instance, gossip has helped spread the false propaganda that Jews stayed home from work at the World Trade Center on 9/11 because they were warned of the attacks in advance. This is an outrageous lie, but that has not stopped it from being spread and believed by those predisposed to so believe.")
To be fair, though, the anti-Semitic listserv--whose editor hasn't laughed out loud so much since he saw Schindler's List--also called the Jewish critic "hypocritical."
Sacha can be compared to several other performers. Like Lenny Bruce, his sense of irreverence enables him to communicate from the villain's perspective. Lenny, in his boldest satirical critique, perceived reality from Holocaust orchestrator Adolf Eichmann's point of view. Like Sarah Silverman, Sacha can make light of rape, advising his father, the hometown rapist, to keep his standards high by raping only humans. Sarah pretends in The Aristocrats that she was once raped by show-biz legend Joe Franklin. Like Robin Williams, Sacha becomes the characters he plays so thoroughly it seems he loses his own center. Like Chevy Chase, he's a practitioner of pratfalls. Like Andy Kaufman, his sense of absurdity can stretch the patience of an audience beyond its ordinary limits.
Sacha is the contemporary version of a professional prankster, the latest stage in the evolution of a tradition, from Candid Camera to Tom Green to Punked to correspondents on The Daily Show. He stays in character with the determination of a salmon swimming upstream, blurring the line between courage and foolhardiness, just as Steven Colbert did so uncompromisingly at the White House Correspondents Dinner.
On the Tonight show, as Borat, he outdid Mel Gibson's drunken outburst, informing Jay Leno that "The Jews were responsible for the end of the dinosaur period." Later, he leaned across the next guest, Martha Stewart, grabbed Leno's finger and said, "My sister. This tight."
Sacha's schtick depends on tricking people into becoming his theatrical props, who tolerate his outrageousness in order to be hospitable and not hurt his feelings. In the process, they reveal the state of their own humanity, for better or worse.
Of course, everybody sees any film through the filter of their own particular subjectivity, so it's logical that my friend Nick Kazan, a screenwriter who treats his craft with great respect, would say about Sacha, "His commitment to his character is absolute and admirable, but I wish there'd been a little more narrative focus. A better plot. I wish it hadn't been just the same as the TV show."
Through Kazan, I was able to find a source in the industry who gave me a montage of outtakes from the raw footage of "Borat" on condition that it neither be auctioned on eBay nor posted on YouTube. I was given permission to describe some of those scenes that remain on the cutting-room floor--a concept, incidentally, which has been laid to rest in the metaphor graveyard by the grace of digital editing.
However, permission has been revoked concerning the details of a specific scene showing fraternity boys getting drunk in a bar with the producers, due to their lawsuit claiming that they were duped into making racist and sexist remarks, "behavior that they otherwise would not have engaged in." (This news inspired mention of "the Mel Gibson defense" as instantly as Britney Spears' divorce inspired mention of her former husband Kevin Federline as "Fed-Ex.")
The scene following the one showing three feminists walking out of Borat's blatantly misogynous interview is left out, wherein the producers persuade them to return, only to be subjected to the unrelenting Borat's request that they remove their tops. Another segment--ostensibly to contrast a county jail in California with the brutal conditions of the Kazakhstan prison--was passed over entirely because the film crew was ordered out of the premises when Borat pretended he was being arrested and said, "I like-a this place. Very nice. When you make all the mens do a pyramid, can I be on top?"
In another scene that was omitted from the final product--if only because it would have interfered with the basic premise, a continuity of innocence, whether faked or real, of Sacha and his participant-victims alike--Pamela Anderson is forewarned that, at a bookstore signing, when he asks her to marry him, he will thrust a Kazakh wedding bag over her head, an act that would otherwise have terrorized her. Plus, a scene at Malibu Beach with Borat--wearing his skimpy jockstrap-style chartreuse bathing suit--chases Pamela and finally tackles her. Also appearing only in the rough cut, there was footage of her then-husband, musician Kid Rock, pacing back forth, looking extremely agitatated.
A few scenes were excised because their inclusion would have resulted in an NC17 rating for "Borat" instead of an R. One scene involving his handing a plastic bag of his fresh feces to the hostess at a dinner party made the cut, but the preceding scene--Borat actually defecating as seen from the inside of the toilet--was deleted for that rating reason, but it was also considered too artsy-fartsy.
There was a hysterical scene on a porn set where Borat wouldn't have sex with an actress because her vagina was shaved. To solve the problem, he cuts locks of his own hair off and pastes them to her crotch. But this scene was eliminated, not only because of ratings-fear, but also because it would have been inconsistent with the scene where he tells a car dealer he wants to buy a car that will be "a pussy magnet" for a woman who "shave down there," and the dealer suggests a Corvette or a Hummer.
In the naked wrestling scene with the blubbery yet agile Azamat, a black rectangle would have to be superimposed on Borat's penis in post-production because of his erection, which was not a stage direction in the skillfully choreographed script.
My favorite missing scene, which does allow the revelation of his penis because it's flaccid--acceptable under the rules of the ratings game--takes place in the office of a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon. Borat is there to discuss having a foreskin sewn back on because he doesn't want Pamela Anderson to think he's Jewish on their honeymoon night. After he drops his pants and fishnet underwear, he points to his penis and says, "I have seen on the televisions you will draw lines in magic marker, that is correct?"
The doctor pauses. He looks puzzled. Then suddenly he realizes something, snaps his fingers and shouts, "Wait! You're Ali G! You're Ali G! You used to be on HBO! You're Ali G!" The crew's attempt to stifle their laughter fails, but Sacha stays Borat. "Aha," he says, "so you recognize it, yes?"
Ironically, the more famous Sacha becomes, the less likely his schtick will work. His cover has been blown, even if he has not.
Paul Krassner is the author of One Hand Jerking: Reports From an investigative satirist--available, along with the Disneyland Memorial Orgy poster, at paulkrassner.com.