Be Kind Rewind
Written and Directed by Michel Gondry
Starring: Jack Black and Mos Def
When all the tapes in the video store get erased, an employee and his friend decide to replace them by re-shooting the movies on a shoestring budget. These two geniuses, played by Mos Def and Jack Black, crappily recreate a slew of classic movies including “Driving Miss Daisy” and “Ghost Busters.” Their hilariously lo-fi remakes, replete with cardboard special effects and overacted catchphrases, become an unexpected hit with the locals. Soon the whole town is onboard with their movie reinterpretation scheme, acting and producing remade hit after hit.
The two protagonists hope that by renting out these remade movies (Sweded as they call them. Don’t ask why—it’s about as random as it gets), they can raise enough money to save their struggling store from being closed. Thus begins the harebrained premise of Be Kind Rewind,” a new film by Michel Gondry.
Is there more to this movie than watching Jack Black hilariously recreate some of our generation’s favorite cinematic scenes? First off, if you need more than that, this movie probably isn’t for you. But to answer, yes there is more, a lot more. Just be warned.
“Be Kind Rewind” is a meta sandwich. A layered mess of narratives surrounds and complicates the good-natured story of two buddies willing to do anything to save their beloved video store. To start, it’s a movie about people making movies about movies. At one level (say lettuce), it’s a wry jab at the age of YouTube, where all it takes is a cell phone camera and a free afternoon to construct your own blockbuster. For the rotten tomato, there’s a tongue-in-cheek commentary about copyright culture and the impersonal nature of the Hollywood movie-making machine. To top if off with the cheese, it’s a meditation on the past and what we really leave behind when we leave this world.
Gondry’s movies often dwell on the subject of memory and “Be Kind Rewind” is no different. It’s a vein that runs deep into his persona.
“I think I have this anguish to disappear,” he recounts. “As I grew up my faith sort of disappeared. I was always in anguish of dying. When I was six I realized I might be dead one day and what’s going to happen to me? So obviously I gravitated towards those scenes, say when you are old and about to die, you’re just a collection of memories. And before you die you forget as well everything, you still are somebody but it’s like you didn’t leave anything. What’s the different when you’re dead if you had a good life or bad life if you didn’t leave anything?”
To kill off the metaphor, what’s the meat of it all? What does “Be Kind Rewind” leave behind? If you manage to get past all the postmodern entrapments, what’s left? I posed this question to Gondry, and he evoked a very simple ideal – that “Be Kind Rewind” is a film about the joy of making movies, movies that you can call your own.
As Gondry describes of the characters’ motives, “They make them from the memories they have, they don’t watch the films and compare, it’s just a sort of collective vague memory that they share. And don’t forget, they recycle all their junk, their location, their home; they recycle themselves in a way. It’s the difference between watching a home movie and a movie on TV. You look at yourself, something you created, and you enjoy that because you feel good about yourself. It’s very indulgent, and you aren’t very hard on yourself with what you’ve done. It’s good enough that you did it.”
Jack Black sums it up nicely on the movie’s promotional Web site:
“Here’s what Sweding is. You take what you like and mix it with some other things you like and make a new thing. It’s not the thing it was, but now it’s a new thing based on the old thing. It’s putting you into the old thing you like.”
What it really boils down to is the extremely personal nature of creation. Chances are nobody reading this made “Ghost Busters.” But with a lot of aluminum foil and some tinsel, you can. You can take any movie you love and inject some of yourself into it. Despite the cardboard effects and obviously lifted dialogue, it can be a work that is both personal and endearing. It’s a very egalitarian ideal that Gondry poses in “Be Kind Rewind,” an ideal that our home movies are our own masterpieces, our own creations. As Mia Farrow toasts in the film, “Here’s to movies with heart and soul.”