Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Corporations and gentrification killed the video star

Be Kind Rewind is a perfect surprise, but what kind of surprise will depend largely on the expectation of it's audience. I don't normally recommend movies with qualifiers, but a decidedly inventive visual stylist like Michel Gondry practically demands some reservations about his films to interested viewers. For one, I think having a high tolerance for Jack Black will help enormously. I've always enjoyed the man but I can understand why some find him unbearable. Second, I would suggest you think of this as a fairy-tale sort of story. With that comes a need to enter the theater without your cynicism.
The story is silly but simple. When an accident at the Passaic, New Jersey power plant causes Jerry (Black) to become magnetized he accidentally erases all the VHS tapes (its what they used before DVDs kids) at his friend Mike's video store, the two are in a serious bind. When a local woman played by Mia Farrow drops by to rent Ghostbusters the two tell her it's out and then set about to film their own slap-dash version of the film. The film doesn't endeavour to be so dumb that Farrow or her nephew and his urban friends are fooled into thinking they're watching the REAL Ghostbusters but it does stretch credibility by having them insist on making more of these cheap, amusingly inventive films. As the two set about making more of these "sweded" films (among the ones we see are Rush Hour 2, Driving Miss Daisy, 2001, The Lion King and many others) forces begin to conspire against the creatively freeing enterprise. The store and neighborhood are in danger by encroaching gentrification and chain stores, plus the building itself is out of code. With owner Danny Glover (playing the grown-up in this sandbox) out of town pursuing alternate options, Jerry and Mke start getting the entire community involved in their films. Among the merry band of eccentrics is the adorable, charming and talented enough to bring the same energy as Def and Black, Melonie Diaz. Aside from the phenomenon of sweding, which should be taking youtube by storm any day now, it is Diaz that is the sensational discovery of the film.

Alas, things soon come to a head when word gets out to the studios that Jerry and Mike are infringing on their copyright shortly before the bulldozers come to destroy the condemned building. In a last ditch effort both the protagonists and the film come together to create something that doesn't fall under copyright law, a biography about local jazz legend Fats Waller in order to save the store. I wouldn't dream of spoiling the twists and turns of the making of this film because if I've intrigued you at this point it would be criminal to ruin it.
There are two worlds at war within the film. The first is the more mainstream "let's put on a show to save the local business/ranch etc." comedy and the second is the more artsy meditation on how art and pop-culture are consumed and subsequently become "owned" by the public consciousness. The audiences for both these films don't necessarily dovetail into each other. The indie-hipster crowd may find it too broad and Joe Sixpack may find it too weird. However, those that Gondry manages to hook with his premise will likely be enchanted. Gondry has a lot to say and he tries to say it all at once, sometimes garbling his message. He wants to look at community dynamics, who owns a movie, what constitutes "truth" and the joy found in making art. Gondry eventually become clear, surprisingly through the seemingly pointless sub-plot about Fats Waller, the end-result has an achingly surreal beauty.

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