Be Kind Rewind

I just stumbled across a new movie coming out this weekend called “Be Kind Rewind,” starring Jack Black and Mos Def. It’s a comedy about two guys who, after Jack Black’s character mistakenly erases every VHS tape in Mos Def’s character’s store, reshoot all of the films with their own equipment and (lack of) expertise. The film looks pretty clever, and I’m excited to see it. It’s directed by Michel Gondry, who also directed “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” – a film he cowrote with Charlie Kaufman, who also wrote “Being John Malkovich.” So, if you’re familiar with these movies, it’s a pretty safe assumption that “Be Kind Rewind” will playfully tinker around with the nature of storytelling and raise all sorts of fascinating questions. Probing the themes while at the same time destabilizing them. One could almost call it metacinema. And that’s exactly what Be Kind Rewind is. It’s a movie about making movies of movies. As with these other movies, it’s almost like looking down a hall of mirrors, like when John Malkovich goes into John Malkovich’s head, all the people are John Malkovich, and all they say is “Malkovich.”

But it gets better. When I first watched the trailer (which you can find here), I was, I think mistakenly but one can never be sure with these things, directed to this video on YouTube, which is – at first glance – a ramshackle, homemade-looking attempt at a movie trailer made by a some French guy. At first I thought the whole thing might just be a joke, then I found the movie’s official site and watched the real trailer. The first one I had watched was actually a crappy frame-by-frame remake of the official trailer (at which point I decided that the French guy who made it is very clever). The more I thought about it, though, the cleverer I thought it was to do a remake of the trailer in the style of the remakes in the movie. Then I realized that the French fellow in the trailer was in fact the film’s director, Michel Gondry, himself! I was falling even farther down his hall of mirrors without even realizing it.

Except the further down the hall of mirrors you go, the more bizarre the images become. In the remakes that Jack Black and Mos Def do in the movie, they substitute male actors in wigs for female actors and use sub-par special effects that imitate the movie effects. In the crappy trailer, however, the males-substituted-for-females are substituted with male mannequins in wigs, and the crappy cars that Jack Black and Mos Def substituted for the fancy ones in movies are little toy cars. It’s like making a copy of a copy of a copy. Where does the charade end? What are the boundaries between art and reality? How distorted is the image we have of ourselves?

I’m not expecting all these questions to be raised or explored in the movie (though some of them definitely will), and it’s kind of beside the point anyway, because it’s interesting food for thought. Incidentally, these are actually themes explored in two great novels: The Moviegoer by Walker Percy and In the Beauty of the Lilies by John Updike. This is definitely a movie I’ll be seeing sooner rather than later.

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8 comments so far

  1. timothycairns on

    I loved eternal sunshine and being John Malkovich but I hate Jack Black. I don`t find him funny and any movie I have ever seen him in has just been awful (do not try and tell me Rock School is good – its not!) so should I see this one or not hmmmmm

  2. jeffreimer on

    That’s a risk I suppose you’ll have to take, Tim. But you liked High Fidelity didn’t you?

  3. Levi on

    I’m feeling a bit dense today, so could you explain how this movie appears to be questioning the boundaries between art and reality? It’s a phrase I have often heard, but never really understood.

    Thanks teach’

  4. derekryanbrown on

    Forget these other people, Jeff. Be Kind Rewind looks great and I’ve been wanting to see it since I first saw the trailer. Shockingly, it even comes out in the UK as the same time as in the US. Perhaps this will be my first trip to the movie theatre in Edinburgh!

  5. timothycairns on

    I really like the book – but the movie ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh I think we talked about this one time – The book was moved to New York or which ever American city! I hate that! It was the same with Fever Pitch – which doesn’t work given that “pitch” is the name of where you play a football/soccer match, for baseball its “field” I hate it when books are moved to the USA for the movie (can Americans not cope with it being set in a foreign country!!!)

    I had forgotten Jack Black was in the movie!

  6. jeffreimer on

    Levi,

    I guess that goes to show how viral a cliché can be! I thought what I was saying was perfectly clear, but now that you ask me to clarify, I find I have to really think about what I meant.

    Mostly I was interested in the copy of a copy of a copy thing. A movie is made; a story is told. These guys in the movie make a movie based on that movie. In other words, they retell a story. But at the same time the movie is telling the story of these guys telling the stories of stories. The trailer tells the story of the movie telling the story of these two guys telling stories of stories. The crappy, remake trailer tells the story of…. Well, you get the point. To me, it seems, the trailer and the remake trailer have been subsumed within the piece of art itself. At what point do my experiences of it get sucked in as well? Do my interpretive processes play any role in telling the story? Or the story of the story? And if so, does everything eventually become an absurd, distorted copy of a copy of a copy, or does the story I’m involved in, if not become art, then at least take on a whole new artistic resonance? Or is there some kind of mystical alchemy in the process of taking something bad or just mediocre and turning it into something beautiful (as it seems they do in the movie)? This is probably no clearer in describing the blurry “line between art and reality” but there you go.

    I should also end with the disclaimer that I’m not necessarily talking about the message of the film but am embarking on more of a speculative thought-process evoked by the partially disorienting (and exhilarating) experience of watching the trailers (which is really just a veiled way of saying that the film actually might just happen to be a lighthearted comedy about making funny things with a video camera, and if so, this is only tangentially related).

  7. Levi on

    Actually, that is a lot clearer! When I first read your entry and came across the cliche (how do you add the symbol?), I assumed I knew what it meant as well. However, I’ve been trying to be honest with what I know comfortably (am able to explain), and what I only am familiar with (like said cliche) without being clear on the mechanics of that particular thing. Unfortunately, I am discovering that I do not ‘know’ very much.

    Anyway, Shell and I caught this trailer a while back and agree that it looks like a good time. However, it’s not doing so good according to the Rotten tomatoes website. Of course, Alvin and the Chipmunks got a bad rap too and that film was epic!

  8. jeffreimer on

    Thanks, Levi. I confess I simply typed cliché into MS Word and copy/pasted it into the comment box (except this time I copy/pasted it from above).

    I always think I hold some hoity toity sophisticated intellectual opinion until Jess asks me to explain it (innocently enough), and I find that I can’t compellingly explain it at all! So that’s a good practice you’re holding yourself to.

    My “Rotten Tomatoes” is the head movie reviewer at the New York Times, A.O. Scott. I’ve read enough of him – and he’s a very good writer – to know when and how I will disagree with him (which is seldom) about a film. And he gave the movie a positive review:

    http://movies.nytimes.com/2008/02/22/movies/22rewi.html?th&emc=th

    A lot of the themes I was looking at in my blog are there in his review, but much more implicitly.


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