David Remnick Brings Borat to New York

No Jews were thrown down wells on West 57th Street this weekend, but that might only have been for lack of decent wells in midtown. The New Yorker Festival presented two screenings of Sacha Baron Cohen’s hyped and hyperventilated-over Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan at the Directors Guild of America Saturday night — at 10 p.m. and at 12:30 a.m. — and the enthralled crowd, it seemed, would have gladly done whatever its favorite Kazakh TV journalist asked.

Around 11:30 p.m., a well-heeled, first-show crowd began streaming out of the DGA Theater. “That was the funniest movie I’ve ever seen,” exclaimed a woman of a certain age. A younger man concurred. “That was sick,” he said. Most people wore gleeful expressions, as if they had recently been injected with a strong dose of a serotonin reuptake inhibitor. Another large crowd — audience No. 2— was penned behind a velvet rope in a line that stretched down the block toward Sixth Avenue, almost reaching the corner. The waiting-to-get-ins looked upon the on-their-way-outs with a mix of wonder, delight, and envy. They knew that they, too, would soon experience what might be called the Borat High.

When Borat debuted at the Toronto Film Festival, Cohen arrived in a wooden carriage pulled by four vaguely Gypsy-looking women, allegedly citizens of Kazakhstan. For the New York premiere — and these were the first two public screenings of the film here — Cohen was nowhere to be found; instead, New Yorker editor David Remnick addressed the crowd before the first show, offering Borat’s frequent show-opener, “dziekuje.” (It means “thank you” in Polish, but that’s of no matter.) Remnick milled about outside the theater for a few minutes after the first screening. He, too, seemed to be on a Borat High.

As the first audience disappeared into the night, the second group began to get more restless. “We paid $30 a ticket” — twice the official price — “on Craigslist,” one woman, standing in line with her husband, said. They had left their 3-year-old son at home with a friend. “We’re big Ali G fans.” They mentioned friends who’d adopted a Kazakh baby; they mentioned their friends — unlike the government of Kazakhstan — were not offended by Baron Cohen’s shtick.

A large man in a checked suit and red tie named Charlie was on crowd-control duty. At 11:45, he began letting the audience in, in batches of ten. “Have your cell phones and tickets out,” he yelled periodically. Camera phones were being held by the theater; no iPods were allowed inside either. As the crowd slowly filed in, fans who hadn’t managed to get their hands on tickets were lining up near the entrance in the hopes of scoring one. “You should’ve come earlier,” one of the ushers told them. “People were selling tickets like crazy.” The usher did not say for how much.

— Doree Shafrir


David Remnick Brings Borat to New York