Last night—by which I mean, this morning—I went to the North American debut of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, and I thoroughly enjoyed all 20 minutes of it. Oh, it's actually much longer than that—some 80 minutes, rumor has it—but since the projector broke during its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, well, who knows.
Too bad, as the movie contains a good portion of footage shot in Dallas—scenes were filmed at the Adolphus, the Mesquite Rodeo, the Premier Athletic Club and elsewhere—but the projector came unhinged while Sacha Baron Cohen's character was learning "not" jokes in New York; there was still much country for Borat to cross. There's a make-up screening Friday at midnight. Oh, goody. Looking forward to waiting in line another two hours for half an hour of movie. At this rate, I will spend an entire day trying to see an entire movie. Might be worth it. At least I now know what a "back pussy" is and that it's being "moist" is a good thing.
Of course, all was not lost. I could have spent $400 for a ticket, as did many of the 1,200 packed into the Ryerson Theatre here; the people sitting next to me shelled out $150 in long green, which is about $20 U.S. (or more—I can't get that conversion thing down just yet). And a few hundred started queuing up at 3 p.m. on the off chance some tickets might become available; yeah, not so much. "If you want the rush line," said a TIFF volunteer directing wannabes to the maybe queue, "it's three blocks that way," and she might have been underestimating its length by a quarter mile, which, I believe, is 4,294 meters, more or less.
The projector meltdown did have its upside: When the film stopped sputtering and the lights came up, Cohen, as Borat, jumped out of his seat, which was two rows behind mine near the back. "I am very embarrassed," he insisted, sporting that familiar jackass grin. "We had best projectionist in Kazakhstan stick it together with horse glue." Forced into doing a few minutes of improv, Cohen finally said he would take the audience back to his hotel "so we can wrestle or maybe you can shoot dog from window."
He excused himself, and every so often a TIFF programmer or technician came to the stage to promise it would only take another minute—which became another minute and another and another, till at long last the movie's director, Larry Charles, and his guest, director Michael Moore, leaped to the stage for some audience-quelling Q&A. Charles, whose resume includes stints writing Mad About You and Seinfeld and directing Curb Your Enthusiasm, and the Fahrenheit 9/11 filmmaker tried to keep the audience from getting restless—and sleepy, as it was already past 1 in the morning.
"I used to do this for a living," said former projectionist Moore, clad in a blue T-shirt and khaki shorts. "We are scrambling to steal a part from another Canadian movie projector, and because they don't lock the doors here, we've sent two Americans to another theater to steal the part." Charles, who's also written a few episodes of HBO's Entourage, pointed out to the audience that Ari Emmanuel, the agent who's the real-life inspiration for Jeremy Piven's character on the show, was in the audience. People were so amped up and worn out they treated it like a big deal; more ooohs and aaaahs than in a celeb porn. Then it turned into The Michael Moore Show: He took questions about why he was awake so late ("You can't sleep these days if you're an American"), whether or not he's seen Team America: World Police ("I hear I get blown up—I gotta see that some time") and what he thinks of Suri Cruise's baby photos ("I really think it's time to stop picking on Tom Cruise," he said, to a chorus of boos). The audience was getting a little worked up; felt like a riot a-brewin'. "Yeah, but a polite riot," said Larry Ratliff, film critic for the San Antonio Express-News.
After 15 minutes of this road to nowhere, Cohen once more emerged from the back of the audience to work his way through the crowd—many high fives, though he looked low—and back to the stage. He thanked "Mr. Lawrence Charles and the fat man" for killing time, answered a few prepared questions with some prepared jokes, expressed his frustration ("Our countries are very similiars—and not just because of projection system") and got the bad news that the screening would not continue. After the audience was told there would be another one Friday at midnight, Cohen turned to the crowd and said only, "I blame the Jews!" Then he walked off into the early morning, his moustache dragging the Canadian concrete. He will try again tonight. --Robert Wilonsky