Michel Gondry stopped by the Union Square Apple Store in San Francisco on Monday to answer questions from SF360‘s Susan Gerhard, part of a promotional event put on by indieWire for the upcoming film Be Kind Rewind. Film geeks lined up nearly to the end of the block, with some taking their stations as early as four hours before the event was due to start. And, bonus: Mos Def showed up.
Gondry is a critically acclaimed modern master, but comes from decidedly outside of the Hollywood system. That he managed to pull off a movie which suggests maybe there’s more value in homemade, hand-crafted fare than blockbuster production values is nothing less than subversive. I, for one, would almost rather see this version of than the original.
Flight-of-fancy Rewind starts with a hilariously implausible MacGuffin — Jerry (Jack Black) becomes magnetized from exposure to a toxic power plant near his trailer home and accidentally erases the entire VHS library of his local Passaic, N.J. video store. Rather than, say, pay to restock the shelves with replacement cassettes, he and Mike (Mos Def) instead begin to remake popular titles in their own inimitable fashion, and actual hilarity ensues.
That the technology used in the film’s story to propel the premise — analog, magnetic tape — is an anachronism shouldn’t distract you from its message. Namely, that there is room for great work from even those with the most modest of resources and pedigrees.
And that intersection of intimate production and low budgets — matched with a unique phrase — is where memes are born. And “sweding” your own movies as the characters in the film do could have legs — there’s even a handy guide. As part of the promotion for the film, a small “backlot” of simple sets will be set up at Deitch Projects in Manhattan where strangers off the street will be allowed two hours to write, direct and shoot their own “sweded” masterpiece.
A cynic might point out that New Line stands to gain from thousands of Internerds tagging their YouTube clips “sweded,” but it could also be argued that Gondry has made one of the most interactive and inclusive installments of a feature film to date — a new form that encourages audience participation and presents a challenge to the online video community of which he is a part.
An audience member asked Gondry about how the process of making a big budget studio feature presents difficulties. “This profession is very well protected,” Gondry pointed out, alluding to the restrictions on and requirements for hiring that are imposed by the guilds. “You can make an independent film if it’s a below a certain amount of money — there are different rules — but my movie is a little bit above that, which makes it difficult.”
The highlight of the discussion was a screening of the sweded version of the movie’s trailer done by Gondry himself (playing all the roles). Guffaws ensued from the crowd when Gondry pretended to be Mos Def pretending to be Ricky Baker (Morris Chestnut) bleeding to death on a sidewalk in Boyz n the Hood (a title to swede suggested by Dave Chappelle — who, according to Mos Def, was originally slated to co-star).
The San Francisco audience got it: Where inexpensive technology, enthusiasm and hand-crafted showmanship allows us to build, repurpose and share common culture, there is movie magic to be made.