ONE 3 • Putting Yourself in the Picture

When director Michel Gondry wrote his latest feature, Be Kind Rewind, it seems likely that he worked out the solution to his plot before coming up with the problem it subsequently resolved…

Starring Jack Black and Mos Def, the story begins bizarrely when an accidentally magnetized Jerry (Black) inadvertently wipes all the tapes at the local video store owned by Mike (Def).

With loyal customers to satisfy, the pair break out the camcorder, gather a collection of everyday objects and set about replacing the lost stock by shooting their own low-budget interpretations of such movies as Ghostbusters, Robocop and Driving Miss Daisy. They christen this process “swedeing”, but far from being received as turnips, their productions prove a smash with local audiences and eventually attract the suspicious attentions of Hollywood copyright lawyers.

Gondry, an alumnus of the Paris art school scene, made his initial directorial impact with Bjork videos and Levi’s ads before coming to mainstream cinematic attention with the redefinition of a “sleeper hit”—Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. His kaleidoscopic realization perfectly complemented Charlie Kaufman’s script, proving once again the benefits Hollywood can reap by turning to outside influences. What’s more, the mature performance the director extracted from Jim Carrey should reassure Be Kind Rewind audiences wary of the genuinely funny Jack Black letting his narcissistic, angry American man-child persona overpower the new film.

After Eternal Sunshine, Gondry returned to his roots completing and directing his semi-autobiographical script, the critically overlooked, multilingual dreamscape of The Science of Sleep. This bittersweet tale of rejection confirmed the director’s creative vision as unceasingly inventive and engagingly idiosyncratic. In fact, the somewhat rambling definition of “swedeing” provided by Black’s character in Be Kind Rewind seems to encapsulate Gondry’s approach: “You take what you like and mix it with some other things you like and make a new thing—your thing… It’s putting you into the things you like.” But is it one with which mainstream Hollywood can be entirely happy?

Studios, such as Be Kind Rewind distributor New Line, must view real-life equivalents of the “swedes” with considerable concern. Amateur film-making has exploded online, where increasing numbers are taking the opportunity to show the big boys how it’s done. Most famously, The Phantom Edit was judged by many to restore to The Phantom Menace the pace and tone George Lucas himself had brought to the original Star Wars. To his credit, Lucas now supports the Official Star Wars Fan Film Awards, but entries are restricted to parodies and documentaries, and the annual event has not halted the unsanctioned expansion of his far, far away galaxy.

Imitation may flatter, but studios lose when amateurs compete for the lucrative online audience.

The current writers’ strike illustrates the threats to domination of this market from within the system, whilst the increasingly ambitious barbarians at the gates have already pitched a sizeable, free-for-all encampment outside, offering original stories set in previously established cinematic worlds. Could it even be that, ironically, it is the studios’ own increasing reliance on franchises driven by lazily multipliable sequels that encourages these amateurs most?

Hollywood executives may wish to take a magnet to the internet, but they’ll surely need to apply some truly creative solutions to reach an accommodation with the amateur enthusiasts. Perhaps whatever resolution Gondry supplies to the copyright conflict in Be Kind Rewind will provide a template? Or maybe happy endings are reserved for celluloid fantasies?

—Stuart Wallace