Sunday, February 24, 2008

Be Kind to Rewind

I rarely do movie reviews here, and it's even rarer that I like a Gondry film (I couldn’t watch Human Remains) but I’ve got to jump into the critical fray on Be Kind Rewind, as I thought it was a perfect movie for the times – a zeitgeist film (though not a Zeitgeist one). Be Kind plays as a cinematic homage to YouTube. It’s about many things that are playing out in interesting ways in the media world right now. While made by an auteur, it celebrates “amateur” filmmaking, pushes a model of community/participatory filmmaking as superb to Hollywood, not to mention the power of media to build community, and even while it gives sweet tribute to the VHS and theaters, its very much molded with the YouTube generation in mind.

In addition to the homage to YouTube, the film picks up on the remix culture of sampling and remaking through the “sweded” videos, and it definitely comes down in favor of opening up copyright in order to stimulate creativity. The film even gets in some digs at the MPAA and the ridiculous way it deals with what’s going on – scared to death of something that can help them.

It's interesting that Gondry picks Jazz as the underlying theme for the film – in the premiere he noted it's because he’s s fan, but I think it's more interesting because of the way Jazz has always been about re-mixing while paying homage; playing and improvising while still having rules; and riffing off established well-known tunes while building entirely new visions.

I think it's also interesting to see all the other realities of our society right now being dealt with so smartly. Witness the switch of power from the baby boomers to the new generation as Danny Glover and Mia Farrow – two real world activists from back in the day – begin giving up on their dreams just as the younger generation comes up with new ways to solve the problems. It shows the changing nature of our neighborhoods - not just the bad side of gentrification, which is very real in the film, but also in the possibility of working together. It also shows the continual decline of culture, even in the smallest ways, such as when local kids tag over the beautiful graffiti across from the store. Sure, it’s a joyous film and simplistic in some ways, but so are the opposing stereotypes. One of the best moments, and most hilarious, in the film is when Jack Black and Mos Def break into the rival, big-chain video store to steal a projector and find that behind the monolith is another struggling local businessman losing money. Nothing is as simple as it seems in this film.

Another example of its subtle complexity: I love that near the end of the film, we watch the audience watching the film. They are in a theater – in a sense – watching the film together. The glow of the film washes over their faces, and the obvious tribute to watching cinema together is prevalent. But what’s interesting is that they are watching the film they made, together, not the work of one auteur. That’s the film we’re watching of course, but it still suggests that the group will win out.

But this scene is touching to me for another reason – one many people may find hokey on the surface – as the screen has been hung up over the front window, and we find an entire community watching with them on the other side of the screen. I can’t imagine Gondry wasn’t aware that in this he was once again talking about race in this scene. Race plays throughout the film. At the screening I attended, Elvis Mitchell went on a bit too long about this, but one can’t deny that this is a very sophisticated look at the nuances of race relations, and their history. While the digs at Driving Miss Daisy get laughs, you can feel that the pain on Mos Def’s face is real when he lashes out at Jack Black for the continued humiliation. Gondry wanted to film a remake of Back to the Future which would have been hilarious, but couldn’t because of legal issues. Interestingly, the reason he wanted to do it was to change the part where a white man gives the idea of rock to a black man. That one scene angered many in the black community, and Gondry wanted to “right” it in the sweded version.

So, what’s so poignant about this last scene? Many people don’t know this, but it was once common practice in many movie theaters, especially in the segregated South, to have the black audience sit on the back side of the screen and watch the movie backwards. Theater owners often had double sided theaters – one for white and one for black – and I am willing to bet this was not just an interesting trick for the film, but one that brings up race once again, but to say – look, on the other side of that screen was a community, and now they are part of the story.


Bill said...

EXCELLENT article on REWIND...!

I greatly enjoyed the movie too and thought it cleverly hit on several sub-surface elements, but your article very thoughtfully detailed specifics and brought out points that I wasn't aware of.


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