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March 18, 2008

Be Kind Rewind

By George Bishop

With his latest offering, Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) has given us a valentine to the filmic medium. Be Kind Rewind is goofy, maudlin and full of flaws but is also witty, genuinely sentimental, and relentlessly inventive. Mr. Gondry has wrapped up everything that America loves about the movies, from the laughable lows to the spectacular highs, and presented it as a gift to the audience.

The action unfolds in a shabby video store nestled in downtown Passaic, New Jersey. The impossibly dilapidated shop is owned by Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover) whose quasi-adopted son Mike (Mos Def) mans the counter. The store, which deals only in VHS and bears the moniker Be Kind Rewind, is frequented by a gallery of nerds and miscreants, most prominent among them Jerry (Jack Black), a cracked out conspiracy theorist with too much time on his hands. When Mr. Fletcher leaves on a mysterious trip to update his inventory and save his shop, Jerry, despite Mike’s best intentions, manages to erase all the tapes. Rather than buy new copies, or face the music and tell Mr. Fletcher, Jerry and Mike decide to remake the blanked titles with their own creative flair.

The duo’s first “sweded” offering, Ghostbusters, runs through Passaic like a viral YouTube video and soon Jerry and Mike are flooded with requests. It is in these bits of films within the film that Mr. Gondry shines. His ingenuity with simple camera tricks, optical illusions, and clever props becomes that of Jerry and Mike’s. A few model houses beneath a jungle gym becomes the setting for a skyscraper showdown a la Rush Hour 2 and streamers and aluminum foil, along with some very funny jump cuts, are all that the boys need to recreate the action from the Ghostbusters finale. Their creativity culminates in a feature length biopic of Fats Waller (a jazz legend alleged to have played in Passaic and been raised in the building now inhabited by Be Kind Rewind) whose story is rebuilt through the various tall tales of the town members.

It’s a testament to his own love of the medium that a magician like Mr. Gondry would share his secrets with the audience. He has always been vocal in his disdain for digital effects and, after viewing such a spectacle of invention, I have to wonder why moviegoers have become so taken with glossy, CG laden blockbusters. Be Kind Rewind’s dada aesthetic breathes magic back into film like no computer ever could and reminds us that great movies start with passion and creativity.