Cast: Jack Black, Mos Def, Danny Glover, Mia Farrow, Melonie Diaz
Director: Michel Gondry
Runtime: 101 min.
There were once these three kids from Mississippi – Eric Zala, Jayson Lamb and Chris Strompolos – all in between 11 to 13, who were spellbound by this one film in 1981 called Raiders of the Lost Ark. We all were, you know, but these three friends were so intrigued they decided to remake it shot-for-shot. Imagine a Hollywood blockbuster contraption that took $20 million to be made, at the dawn of the eighties I might add, with special effects and stuntmen. And these kids did it all slogging it out for six years. Six whole years. The films was buried somewhere for a long time in some or the other attic, only the local townsfolk having a whiff of it, until Eli Roth discovered it, named Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, and showed it to Spielberg, who expressed his wonder to the kids and to their own adventures. This is love for films, plain and simple, and it illuminates every frame of this guerilla film.
Through this bliss that engulfs movie love, Be Kind Rewind celebrates this do-it-yourself mantra of indie filmmaking. It all starts at this old-fashioned, non-catalogued, haphazardly arranged Video rental store, in this small town of Passaic, New Jersey. Not DVDs mind you, but that extinct species we used to call VHS. Don’t most movie love affairs start at a video store? Tarantino? Don’t I want to be lost in one of them stores, under a heap of these videos? Ah, never mind.
The fact of the matter is, the video store is under the threat of obliteration as is the old rickety building that houses it. Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover) is the owner and has been warned by the proponents of a local redevelopment scheme of the hazards that loom large over the ancient structure, whose concerns for a change seem genuine. Fletcher is fortunate to have a loyal employee in Mike (Mos Def), who is fascinated by the tale Fletcher has to tell of jazz great Fats Waller and his birth, supposedly not in New York but in this building – Be Kind Rewind. Mike lives with this whacko nuisance Jerry that Jack Black so often has been in a nearby trailer. Without much by the way of finance to save his building from being razed and reconstructed, Fletcher sets out on a mission of researching the big professional video rental stores, as in the ones with the genre-catalogued DVDs while leaving Mike in charge of the shop. Of course, not before warning him of the perils that welcoming Jerry into the shop would bring.
It is a quirky little film, alright, and when it comes to Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep) I guess you expect that. The premise here takes a turn in that very direction, when Jerry, believing for real that the powerhouse is their source of controlling the minds of the general public, ‘their’ being the FBI. Black thrives on roles as these, with an outward bend to them, giving him a chance to flex those eyebrows of his and speak in a spectacularly overbearing manner. He decides to undertake a siege and destroy the powerhouse, but ends up getting magnetically charged himself. And when he walks into the store the next morning, throwing up all over, his proximity destroys every tape there is, rendering them nothing more than blanks.
What happens next is the fun part. An old lady Ms. Falewicz (Mia Farrow), a loyal customer, walks in that morning and demands the tape of Ghostbusters. These guys succeed in earning time until the evening, and set out to make their own version of the film and fill the tape. Fill they do, and when everybody starts enjoying these tapes, the business starts rising. Films from King Kong, 2001: A Space Odyssey to Boyz in the Hood to Rush Hour 2 are ‘Sweded’ in a hilarious chain of frames, and rented to the townsfolk who accept them in glee.
Now, you got to buy the premise out here, and Gondry walks the film through this weird predicament as if it is a commonplace development. Which it isn’t in the least. In this very approach lay both the film’s strength and its weakness. It doesn’t dwell on one surprise; it just keeps hopping from one genre to the next, and thus doesn’t explore even one of them to any appreciable degree of satisfaction. Much of the plot development isn’t story telling. It feels like the trick of a writer, as if the film wasn’t invented with the camera in hand but with the pen, and the director follows it slavishly.
Still the brilliance of it all lies in the fact that Be Kind Rewind boasts of just about the same shabby look as the film it remakes. Not in texture alone, but in its structure it feels clunky as an independent experimental film. A film not made with big bucks in mind, but just for fun and love. It holds no pretense of showing forced reverence (read homage) to the films inside, but instead there’s contempt that tags along with familiarity. I think with VHS, and even with DVDs, when you start owning a picture, you can feel a growing sense of belonging inside of you. The pride in the fact you can relive it anytime you want, and that makes it as much your world as it is of anybody. Your world belongs to you, and so do the films you love. The most obviously visible poster on the wall in the film is that of that awful Brendan Fraser starrer Blast from the Past. I think Gondry just wanted the title, the literal meaning of it, with the video, and the old building raking up nostalgic memories.
More than that it needs money for its existence, the greatest inherent curse cinema has had to contend with is it being relegated to an entity that provides escapist entertainment. Something external, trivial at that, which holds as much significance to a day as an evening stroll in the park, and that is a shame. More than any medium, and that includes the written word, cinema has the power to be an extension of ourselves. It touches us deeper, captures that much wider space of our imagination, and the time is not far in the future when each one of us wouldn’t be shoving tickets just to pass our time catching some eye candy, but produce the moving image to personalize the world around each of us.