Before embarking on a career in surreal and abstract feature film making, Michel Gondry graduated by making a name for himself in the field of music videos, making promos for artists such as Bjorg and The Chemical Brothers, all of which have become genuinely inventive examples of the genre. The cut and paste philosophy of Gondry who uses post modern techniques like bricolage as a means of being endlessly playful with the language of film has meant that identifying a recognisable cinematic style is quite difficult when trying to appreciate his body of work.
Beginning with ‘Eternal Sunshine in a Spotless Mind’, each of Gondry’s films are uniquely imaginative and his latest feature, Be Kind Rewind, is a nostalgic trip back to kitsch cinema of the 80s, paying tribute to films like Ghostbusters and Robocop without being too complementary. Mos Def plays Mike, a dimwitted Video store clerk who works at a faded old video store that is owned by the aging but respected figure of Mr Fletcher (played exceptionally well by Danny Glover). When the store is threatened with closure as the building in which the store is located is due for demolition so it can make way for a new set of swanky apartments, a resilient old Mr Fletcher is determined to reinvent the lacklustre commercial revenues of his store by making a speedy transition into DVD. The situation is made much worse when Jerry (Jack Black) accidentally magnetises the entire video store, erasing all the films, and forcing Mike and Jerry to become experts in guerrilla film making by shooting their own ‘sweded’ versions of Hollywood classics like Driving Miss Daisy, 2001, and Rush Hour 2?
The plot of a community store threatened with destruction is nothing new and finds a sympathetic parallel with the mushy narratives of Frank Capra, and at times, the film does feel like a throwback to the films of Capra especially in the sentimental representation of the community. What prevents this film from becoming just another ordinary, conventional comedy directed by a more than competent director is the final sequence. Having come together as a collective group of local artists, Mike and Jerry organise and help a disillusioned Mr Fletcher make a documentary film about the life of Fats Waller, a famous Jazz musician.
The power of community action is illustrated comically through the haphazard but sincere intentions of everyone involved, and the collective spirit of creative invention is something that Gondry seems to uphold as a significant part of cinema today. When the final film is screened before the community in the video store, without them knowing so, the film is reflected onto the window outside, bringing people into the streets so they can watch this silent spectacle.
What Gondry seems to capture so magically in this sequence is the power of cinema, past and present, underlining how film can still provoke a collective, public emotional response today within even the most apathetic of audiences, and that though it can offer escapism as an opium for the masses, film can also be sentimentally truthful in revealing the disillusionment and despair that has slowly eaten away at communities by the forces of corporate annexation.
It is a perfectly judged moment in the film, and seems to suggest that art cannot live without people just as people cannot live without art.