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Movies as Memories

Michel Gondry's weird Be Kind Rewind is a lo-fi, movie-mad reverie.



There just aren't enough weird movies being made. That's the conclusion I came to after seeing Be Kind Rewind, French filmmaker Michel Gondry's ode to VHS and Fats Waller.

Jack Black and Mos Def star as Jerry and Mike, two dopey New Jersey video-store denizens. After Jerry (Black) is magnetized in a power-plant accident, he erases all the tapes in the store, leading Jerry and Mike (Mos Def) to remake the films themselves to replenish the stock. (That's the straightforward part.)

Be Kind Rewind isn't just bizarre; it's positively oblique. But weird for weirdness' sake is of limited use, so it's a good thing Be Kind Rewind has all kinds of add-on attributes that help make it as good as it is: charming, touching, funny, silly, harmlessly intellectual, and only recommended for those with a high-tolerance suspension of disbelief.

Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover) owns Be Kind Rewind, the Passaic, New Jersey, VHS-only rental store where the movie is set. His building is slated for demolition to make room for a condominium development, and he has 60 days to vacate the premises or come up with the money to bring the building up to code.

Fletcher takes a trip to New York City, and he leaves the store in the hands of his sole employee, Mike, with one major bit of instruction: Keep Jerry out of the store. Jerry is the neighborhood conspiracy nut who works in a junkyard and frequents the video store. He also has Black's manic energy, so he leaves a wake of carnage behind him wherever he goes.

Once Jerry gets magnetized and destroys the store's inventory, he and Mike remake the movies so that word won't get back to Fletcher that they've ruined Be Kind Rewind.

Writer/director Gondry was behind the 2004 jaw-dropper Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. As expected, Be Kind Rewind is visually playful, particularly when Mike and Jerry start remaking films. These moments have a lo-fi glory as we're shown the nuts and bolts of the duo's amateur movie magic.

As Mike and Jerry redo Ghostbusters, Rush Hour 2, RoboCop, Driving Miss Daisy, and When We Were Kings, Gondry's film makes its primary statement: Our interpretations and memories of films and history are more important than the original artifacts. As one characters says, "Our past belongs to us. We can change it if we want." Historical truth bows to the personal one.

The subtexts don't stop there, though. Be Kind Rewind is also a cautionary tale, examining the effect of economic and political forces on art, and, specifically, how Hollywood squelches creativity and enterprise as it dumbs things down for the marketplace.

As a VHS video-store vet myself, I reveled in the re-creation of the subculture — though, critically, Be Kind Rewind takes place in the unhip variety, as opposed to the hyper-literate world of Clerks. Be Kind Rewind's motto is "1 Video. 1 Day. 1 Dollar. Everyday." The independent store's battle with a big-box video store rings thoroughly true, and the film wonders, what is destroyed by progress? Pour one out for Collierville's Movieland, R.I.P.

Be Kind Rewind

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