Be Kind Rewind (****_)
For director Michel Gondry, cinema begins and ends with its first genius, Belle Époque magician-by-trade Georges Méliès; his other influences (Busby Berkeley, Jacques Demy and, perhaps most of all, Jacques Rivette) can all be traced back to this source. Like Méliès, Gondry has been pegged, wrongly, as an infantilist—someone trapped in cutesy nostalgia—and his new Be Kind Rewind, with its adolescent capering and devotion to all things analog, is sure to suffer similar accusations. But Be Kind Rewind deserves more. It is a treatise on why cinema matters—and on why its modus operandi hasn’t changed a bit since Méliès did A Trip to the Moon in 1902.
Unlike Gondry’s previous films, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep, Be Kind Rewind is divorced from romance, and concerned, instead, with friendship and community. Mike (Mos Def) works at a Passaic, New Jersey video store located on the same site that Fats Waller is rumoured to have been born and that has been marked for demolition by condo developers. When proprietor Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover) leaves on a trip, Mike’s feckless friend Jerry (Jack Black) manages to demagnetize all the tapes, the two decide to make their own, super-cheap, twenty-minute long versions to rent out. The clientele catches on, and loves it; soon Jerry and Mike are struggling to meet demand for their films.
This is a clever satire of piracy that doubles as an exuberantly optimistic depiction of its alternative, DIY. That the latter is so unthinkable, so laughable, to some is not Gondry’s game at all: he isn’t ridiculing VHS and those who still use it (and there are many who do, particularly, as the film suggests, in working class, non-white neighbourhoods) but rather employing the format to explore the ways in which certain modes of creativity get declared extinct by the masses and, above all, by corporations. In this way, Gondry’s ending—which echoes, deftly, the great, cheesy Garland-Rooney endings of the’40s—is both a celebration of the movies, and of the courage it takes to build anything using your hands, your mind and a little help from your friends.
Be Kind Rewind is now playing at Soctiabank Theatre (259 Richmond St. W.), SilverCity Yonge & Eglinton (2300 Yonge St.), The Queensway (1025 The Queensway) and others.