I had two highly anticipated screenings tonight. The first was Fido, better known around TIFF as "you know, that Canadian zombie flick that's kinda like Shaun of the Dead." The film, which stars Carrie-Anne Moss and Billy Connolly, is a fable about a tiny town permastuck in the 1950s. Space dust fell onto earth years back, causing all the dead to rise, becoming hungry, flesh-eating zombies, until Zomcom came along and invented a zombie collar that makes the zombies placid and obedient. The zombies have become a slave-worker class, doing all the crap work no one else wants to do. Full review to come on this one, but it was sure a crowd pleaser at its premiere. The audience was laughing so hard around me I almost missed some lines a few times, and at the end there was much whooping and hollering.
The hottest ticket in town tonight, though, was for the midnight screening of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. This show was one of the first to sell out at the fest, a people were offering to pay up to $400 a ticket. The pic above shows the line behind me -- and I got there late due to the Fido screening.
I met a guy in line who had been waiting in the Rush Line for Borat since 5PM, and then some guy just gave him an extra ticket he had with him, and I was offered, at various points, $150 and $300 if I would sell my ticket. (And remember, kids, scalping your TIFF tickets is a big no-no, and if they catch you either selling or buying, you'll be in big trouble!) The mood in the line was energetic and anticipatory -- these people knew they had the hottest tix in town and they were glad to be there. Adding to the allure was a pink and black hearse parked across the street that had something about Andy Warhol painted on it, and then Borat himself (Sacha Baron Cohen) rode onto the red carpet riding with a donkey, accompanied by an entourage of women in peasant attire.
Sacha Boren Cohen, aka Borat, heads up to intro his film.
Finally we got inside and I snagged a seat near the back, where I prefer to sit so I can (A) keep track of walkouts and (B) escape quickly if the audience hates the film and things get ugly. After a brief intro by Borat himself (whose arrival both on the red carpet and the inner theater were accompanied by shouts of "Borat! Borat!"). Just in case you haven't heard of Borat, he is an immensely popular satiric character -- a clueless, anti-Semitic Kazakhstani journalist created by British comedian Sacha Boren Cohen. The character is a regular on Cohen's television program, Da Ali G Show.
There was a VIP from Fox standing behind me taking in the crowd response. He was obviously thrilled with the buzz and energy, he kept talking to the people near him about how great it was that people were so excited about the film. When the audience laughed and applauded during the opening credits, he smiled and noted that things looked good for the film if they thought the opening credits were that funny. When the film proper started, the audience was wholly into the film, laughing hysterically at scenes of Borat in a hideous variation on a thong bikini (I can't even begin to describe it but I never want to see anyone wearing one of those ever again), and kissing his sister and bragging that she is the "number four prostitute in all of Kazakhstan!", while she proudly displayed a battered trophy. In the film, Borat goes to America to learn -- on film of course -- all about life in America, which involves a lot of shots of him trying to greet and kiss random New Yorkers. If you live in New York, you can imagine how well people on the subways responded to a man with a strange accent attempting to kiss them. Things were going along swimmingly, with spectacular audience response that must have had the Fox folks about to bust their buttons -- until the unthinkable happened. The film ground to a sudden and painful stop.
The audience waited patiently, and then a staffer came up and said they were working on it, please be patient and just talk to your neighbor. Cohen (still in his Borat alter ego) himself stood up unexpectedly from the back row and told everyone he was very sorry and embarrassed about the delay, and that's what happens when you make film in Kazakhstan and patch the film together with household glue. He talked for a bit, which kept the crowd happy and light-hearted, then slipped out, probably to tell someone to fix the damn movie already (which I'm sure the poor TIFF staffers were already hearing from the Fox folks -- they must have been having a collective aneurysm, to have their film so incredibly well-received, only to have it brought down by technical issues).
Michael Moore (l) and Larry Charles (r) do their very best to salvage a bad situation.
Time dragged on, and the crowd was getting restless. Fortunately, Borat director Larry Charles (also known as He Who Created Seinfeld) got up on stage -- sporting a full beard that kind of made him resemble the Ayatollah Khomeini, no less -- accompanied by director Michael Moore. This got the crowd's attention off tearing up the theater, thankfully. Moore and Charles graciously did a lengthy impromptu Q&A to pass the time, and in view of the overall tension of the situation, security relaxed the "no cameras in the theater" rule and let everyone take pics to their hearts' content. Someone asked Charles if the beard was real or a disguise, and how did we know it was him and not someone just acting like him? Charles replied that yes, the beard was real, and yes, it was also a disguise. As for the rest? "Look, I'm acting right now, see? I'm acting like this is all cool when really I'm pissed off about all this!" And no, he wasn't really joking. Look at that body language -- he was seriously unhappy.
Moore piped up to offer that he had gone to the projection booth himself to see what was up, that the projector was broken, and that he himself knew how to fix it as soon as they had the part. Moore said that they had sent a team -- of Americans, naturally -- over to another theater to steal the needed part. Charles fielded some questions about Borat: Was this or that scene scripted? No, said Charles, nothing in the film was scripted, it's all done live and is completely real. When asked how they get people to sign waivers to be on screen, Charles quipped that mostly people are excited they're going to be in a movie -- until they hear it's this movie.
Then it was Moore's turn to catch a few questions. Was he ever worried about his personal safety? Typical Moore deadpan: "Should I be?" Someone asked Moore what he thinks of Tom Cruise's baby. Moore went off on the subject, "I think it's time to stop picking on Tom Cruise. I mean, the worst thing the guy did was jump on Oprah's couch!" to which Charles, without missing a beat, added, "Michael converted to Scientology just this afternoon." Moore laughed and said, "Yeah, I'll be making out with John Travolta in the lobby later. 'He's the one that I want!'"
Some kid -- high school age, I think -- asked if Charles would give him a note excusing him from being late for school tomorrow because of the technical issue. Charles actually obliged; the kid came trotting up to the front and Charles wrote him his note, which he waved triumphantly all the way back to his seat. And still, the technical issue dragged on. Moore finally asked, "Okay, show of hands. How many of you think you're actually going to get to see this film tonight?" less than half the audience raised their hands. "See, that's what comes of electing a conservative governor -- it's brought down the people of Canada!" That got thunderous applause from the Canadians in the crowd.
Another guy shouted out, "How do we know you're not Borat in disguise?" -- presumably to Charles. Moore ( who is not known for his slender physique) shot back, "I think the thong scene gave it away that it's not me." A few minutes later, Borat himself returned to join Moore and Charles on the stage, again making his humble apologies for this "leetle meestake". The programming director for the Midnight Madness screenings came out to join the fun, interviewing Borat on stage. He asked why Borat wanted to make a film in America.
Borat makes a second appearance to appease the rowdy crowd.
"Ah, well, you see, I could not get visa to travel to Europe due to leetle sex crime misunderstanding," Borat offered, as the crowd hooted. "This has since been resolved since I proved the horse involved was over seven years old -- and she really wanted it, too!" The crowd loved it. Next question: "It's been said that Kazakhstan is oppressive, what do you say to that?" Borat: "Uh, yes! Thank you very much!" When asked what films are popular in Kazakhstan, Borat replied that his own film had recently taken the top spot from King Kong -- which had been number one since 1932. There was a bit more along those lines until a couple minutes later when the unfortunate bearer of bad news stepped on stage -- the projector could not be fixed, the screening has been rescheduled to Friday, September 8 (that's tonight, if you're here in Toronto and were at the screening) at midnight at the VISA Elgin Screening Room. Your ticket stub from last night is your ticket in, so if you lost it, you're pretty much screwed.
Charles, Moore and Borat himself certainly stepped up to save the day, because it would have gotten really ugly, I think, had the crowd not been so sated with the combined humor of the three men -- and deeply appreciative of their efforts to make a bad situation better. I feel awful for the Fox folks and everyone connected with the film, though -- imagine the effort it took to make the premiere of this film so extravagant, all the marketing dollars that went into it, the excitement of knowing your film is one of the hottest tix at the Toronto Film Festival, and to see the audience responding so strongly to the film as it played -- only to see it all unravel due to a broken part. I'm sure tonight's screening will be packed with loyal Borat fans. Will Charles be back tonight? Will Borat? One thing is certain -- I'm keeping my fingers crossed for everyone connected with the film that there are no more technical issues that keep the film from being seen.