Finally got around to watching this Michel Gondry piece as part of my momentous (most likely in vain) attempt to get through my ever increasing DVD collection- was it worth it?
The film starts off a little shakily, with little of the visual charm and innovation we've come to expect from M. Gondry (Beck - Deadweight, White Stripes - Hardest Button to Button, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep, and many more) but the characters grow into their roles and Jack Black becomes decidedly less annoying as the film progresses. Mos Def 'deftly' handles his part, pulling Black back from 'comic sidekick overload' (although he cannot prevent him from physically overloading magnetically). The setting and location -Passaic, New Jersey, is a refreshing one, and although it is introduced to us in the wake of regeneration, it still retains a run-down allure.
The magic really starts with the 'sweded' film production (kind of amateur 'on a shoestring' remakes of popular films) - with possibly the most amazing and inventive use of Christmas tinsel and pipe cleaners I could have ever imagined - as ' stand in' proton beams in their remake of Ghostbusters! (see below picture!) The sweded Men in Black (upside down rocket car) is ingenious, while the 2001: A Space Odyssey upside down rotating exercise scene mimics the original concept of how it was actually filmed (using a rotating set on which the camera is fixed). The Rush Hour 2 (although I haven't seen the original, I still enjoyed) - 'falling off building bit', using a children's town square play mat to skew the perspective was also particularly memorable. The subsequent addition of Alma as the female in their pieces is actually a nice touch, as she brings a welcome kooky charm to their productions.
With the intervention of Sigourney Weaver's lawyer (shutting down the sweding due to copyright infringement) it leads Mos, Jack and co. to create their own feature - 'The Story of Fats Waller' (who was earlier placed in the film as Mos' childhood hero and supposed cultural icon of Passaic) . Everyone in the community scraps together to help the production in order to raise money to save the store- (which could have been too 'feelgood', but just about straddles the tightrope of schmaltz and charm) and again we're witness to more magical film-making scenes. Great examples include the use of extras' fingers (both black and white) as moving piano keys, pizzas being depicted as blood spatters on walls, along with cardboard 1920s car cutouts being dragged along by extras.
Aside from the film making magic, the central theme of Be Kind Rewind is the concept of truth, and whether if you believe in it enough it really matters if it's not true. Mos Def's character grew up with the false idea that Fats Waller had lived in his video store, and although he finds this out, he still goes ahead with his film based on the false premise, as it doesn't really matter. He makes these 'sweded' films, which people 'pretend to believe' are special Swedish versions, but are actually are filmed in their neighbourhood - which they know, but ignore because it doesn't matter and is a nice figment of imagination to indulge. The film is about maintaining childhood innocence, with the sweded films allowing the characters to return to their childhood, pretending to fight ghosts, although they are also filming it.
The ending - culminating in the town authority's attempted demolition of the video store, could have been 'cliched' (with the authority realising their mistake and deciding to save the store), but bravely they left the video store's fate hanging in the balance - placing more emphasis on the Fats Waller 'film' (and the process of making it), rather than on the physical store. Overall, a quirky, strangely original 'small town movie' (despite it being an urban cityscape of NJ) - with occasional glimmers of greatness. Be Kind Rewind's charm (both visual and in the writing and themes) overcomes its shaky start and simple story.