Sunday, 19 October 2008

It's how you remember it that counts

FILM: Be Kind Rewind (Michel Gondry, 2008)
Watched: 18th October 2008
Where: On TV

I had to wait at least a week to write this review and unlike some of the other reviews, this time it really pays off. For this review it will be what I remembered that counts, not what actually happened. Really I should be making my own 20 minute video remake of the film, sadly as I only know how to write, this will have to do! Be Kind Rewind is a simple tale, Mr. Fletcher owns a dilapidated video shop that is about to be pulled down. He needs to find a lot more money then he has to save it. Mr. Fletcher's video shop lives on the legend that a famous Jazz artist, Fats Waller once lived in the same building. Seeing the end of the road, Mr. Fletcher gives things one last go and decides to do some research into what makes a successful video shop (DVD and put everything into two genres, action and comedy, if you must know). In his absence he leaves his co-worker, Mike in control of the shop with the instruction to keep his friend Jerry out. Jerry has other ideas and after a night of sabotaging the local power plant (as it messes with his mind) he barges into the store in a magnetised state and causes all the videos to be erased. When one of Mr. Flectcher's long term customers, Miss Falewicz asks to rent Ghostbusters, Jerry and Mike, unable to locate another VHS copy are left with no alternative and decide to re-make the movie themselves using their memories of the film and the details from the cover. The film is seen by Miss Falewicz's relative and his friends and they love it so much they come back and ask for more films like this. As more films get made their popularity increases and Mike and Jerry add a local girl from the laundrette Alma to their cast (they need a female lead). To save time and make more money they then invite their customers to appear in their remade (or sweded) films. Unfortunately the films become too popular and the "evil" copyright lawyers take all their profits and destroy all the sweeded films and the video shop is doomed. As a last heroic action they decide to make their own documentary about the legend of Fats Waller as a celebration of the town. The documentary is to be shown on the night of the video shop's destruction, making a fitting end to the film. At the end of the film all but the memory of the store is gone, even the graffiti advert is graffitied over.

The joy of watching films, well, of experiencing most things, is not in the experience itself, but in sharing it with others. Sticking just with films, the discussion afterwards is what brings the film to the fore and what you end up with is a collection of scenes, images, quotes and sounds in your head which is your memory of the film. Whether or not any of those memories correspond to how the film actually was is a different matter altogether. Eventually your memory of the film becomes the film itself and if you share it with friends it can become your shared memory, it doesn't matter if that's how it really happened or not. Be Kind Rewind tells this story in two ways, the manufactured memory of the story of Fats Waller, in the end some of it was real, some made up and some nobody knows anymore but eventually, it gets passed as the truth - hence the documentary of his life in the film contains all these shared memories plus a couple of good bits that would have made his whole life more interesting. The same with the sweded movies, they are just a collection of our memories of the movies, the big scenes, the trailers, the retold stories of your friends, family and colleagues of their favourite films. The important thing about the sweded movies, Alma tells us, is that they last no more than 20 minutes since we can't remember more than that anyway. I suppose the 20 minutes most of us will remember from be kind rewind is the sweded movies, the rest we just kind of forget.

The other appeal is to those who are already out there making their fansites, fan movies, fan interpretations etc. These days sweded movies are everywhere online, some of which are real fan works, some which are virals (I suppose it all dates back to the good old days of the Blair Witch Project for the Internet side of things) and some which are a bit of both. In the end do we really care where these pieces come from? We also have the joy of the corporate lawyer having all the VHS tapes of the sweded movies crushed for copyright infringement and passing them a fine of billions of dollars and the threat of thousands of years of jail time. Nice to see the copyright debate thrown up in a major US movie and the heavy handed tactics put in place. I wonder who would be suing who on all those sweded movies on youtube. (Well I suppose those are the official ones!) The Be Kind Rewind lawyers, the kids making the video or the MPAA, it would make an exciting endlessly revolving lawsuit.

Maybe Gondry's film works too well in its imitation of the sweded/home movie style it takes on. When is a home movie like this not a little disjointed, a little silly and ending up with a little of everything? Yes, Be Kind Rewind has its 20 minutes of fame but that fame can't exist without the rest of the film, which for me, only adds to the charm. The simplistic plot and almost one dimensional characters, yes they are needed, how can you have proper character development in a sweded film? Really you just need a selection of set pieces (think when Homer Simpson tries to make his own film, it has all those ingredients but in reality it's a horrible mess) a great soundtrack and something to remember. After all, it's how you remember it and what it means to you that matters in the end. Be Kind Rewind is the joys of watching pan and scan VHS on low grade 20" CRT set, the joys of childhood and of repeat viewings. No BlueRay, no 5.1 surround sound and a whole lot of memories, just how the director never intended!

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