Rudy Giuliani must be sweating hair dye in buckets. Seven months after Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm caught him ‘tucking’ his way to infamy, new footage from the filming emerges due – as Borat explains in an introductory segment also detailing his, um, unconventional attempts to achieve herd immunity – to the fact that Kazakhstan has finally managed to procure an extra 30 minutes of national VHS tape.
Giuliani can rest easy. The only careers at risk from these two films – Borat: VHS Cassette Of Material Deemed “Sub-Acceptable”: By Kazakhstan Ministry Of Censorship And Circumcision and Borat’s American Lockdown – and series of six short videos called Debunking Borat, are those of the blurred-out white supremacists sieg heiling Borat’s country and western protest song. Instead, we get to revel in Sacha Baron Cohen and his equally quick and immersive ‘daughter’ Maria Bakalova confusing and terrorising the shop clerks, babysitters and etiquette coaches of America with their feral behaviours and medieval social viewpoints.
Both are masters at work. VHS Cassette…, essentially the ‘bonus scenes’ reel, holds some of Baron Cohen’s finest slapstick work to date, as Borat struggles to conceive what a ‘golf’ is to the exasperation of a coach with the patience of several of the more understanding saints, and becomes a barber for a day in a routine that would’ve done Chaplin proud. And watching the pair rampage politely through a makeover session drinking perfume and eating all the lipsticks thinking they’re “monkey schrams”, or Bakalova’s Tutar interrupting a grooming lesson to open a bottle of beer with her “small hole”, makes you gasp anew at the sheer comedic gall of the two.
From Borat pointing at a picture of Harry Potter and asking a shop assistant “is this man a sex criminal?” to a cartoon of Melania Trump as Cinderella (but with grabbed vaginas instead of glass slippers), VHS Cassette… is essentially more of the same, and all of it worthy of the original film. The real fascination of this new material, however, will be Borat’s American Lockdown, one of the finest insights yet into the lengths and depths Baron Cohen goes for his comedy.
This is a 35-minute film, delivered like a reality TV flatshare show, diving deep into the five full days that Borat spent in lockdown in a cabin with all-American good ‘ol boys and conspiracy guzzlers Jim and Jerry, remaining in character the whole time. They discuss all of the more misinformed right-wing ideas from fraudulent mail-in ballots to Bill Gates providing bricks for protests and Hillary Clinton blood libels, write a song calling COVID a “liberal hoax” and swear an oath not to try to “make sexy time” with each other for the duration. It’s like a Louis Theroux documentary, if Theroux had ever exercised in front of his subjects wearing a large dildo jockstrap or served them breakfast made from an egg which, the previous night, he’d used as an anus alarm device.
Such dedication to his comedy prompts as much amazement as hilarity; even when left to his own devices Baron Cohen wastes no time in sleeping under the bed or trying to seduce the cabin’s Alexa. But as the expanded footage from the climactic performance as hillbilly singer Country Steve at the March For Our Rights rally in Olympia only highlights, there is so much false information flying around Jim and Jerry’s gaff that the film doesn’t just need a disclaimer, it needs an entire secondary series of six-minute episodes exploding the most virulent conspiracy theories included. Debunking Borat features Jim and Jerry, over video-call, facing down scientists, conspiracy theory experts and even Clinton herself, as they’re given the facts behind the lies in order that Borat’s techniques of exposing underlying bigotry in his targets through his own simple-minded prejudices don’t end up merely adding fuel to a raging fire. Which makes you think: maybe that’s why Facebook fund all those fact-checking websites…
Thanks to their willingness to listen to the truths, and having challenged Borat on his attitudes to women’s rights in the cabin, Jim and Jerry come out of the enterprise almost seeming like the acceptable face of conservative ideology, perhaps even a glimmer of hope that the democratic bonfires of Trumpism might be dampened a little with reason. Borat, on the other hand, comes out seeming even more vulgar and unredeemable, and for that reason who should all club together to buy Kazakhstan another hour or so of VHS tape.