'Be Kind Rewind' blurs lines in your mind

By Lara Avery

This semester in Film Analysis and Visual Culture, I have learned that I am not interested in movies. Rather, it is the stories and characters created within them that I care for. For instance, I am in love with George Bailey in “It’s A Wonderful Life.” The problem with our relationship is the fault of neither of us – it’s just that he doesn’t exist.I rode the bus to Rosedale to check out New Line’s Be Kind Rewind and arrived into the life of Mike Fletcher. Right? You know, the adopted son of the wrinkled Mr. Fletcher? Both struggle to keep alive the business of a video store called Be Kind Rewind in the town of Passaic, N.J.

No?

No. The real Passaic is not that pretty, and Mike and Mr. Fletcher are actually actors Mos Def and Danny Glover.

I inserted that awful self-dialogue to reveal a little about the feature I am about to review, but also to serve as a reminder that it is the function of such representation to confuse people like me about the difference between life and movies. Let me tell you, they’ll do it every time.

My exposure to life and movies is still growing, but quickly enough to blur the distinction between them. There are titles that have entered my psyche and will stew there until I die. Until I do, I will be pining for serendipity and time travel, for people in my life like Annie Hall and Charles Kane that I can follow around, and for cuts away from tension and talking to peaceful, silent places. These delusions come from spots in my brain that react to good lighting and sharp editing. I am learning those spots are where the chemicals come from that produce familiarity, and am told they are what the “impulsive” movements of a camera attempt to imitate.

I have brought us to a crossroads in the forest path of my cinema experience. I am torn. On one side there is a will to understand the ingenuity behind the technical process of constructing a film, and on the other, a habit to wander far from it, deep into a plot with my friends, the characters. I find a happy medium in the obvious brilliance of Michel Gondry’s film tricks, and most recently in “Be Kind Rewind.”

Don’t worry, the movie seems to whisper. There is a way between the two. Follow me.

The story is on the right, with sunlight and trees. Now that we are between the paths, the plot elements are not lined up, and they don’t flow into one another. They’re like free-floating picture frames.

Here’s a frame that has a bright green and gold mural of Fats Waller being graffiti-ed under a bridge by Mike Fletcher and his best friend Jerry. According to Mr. Fletcher, Fats Waller was Passaic-born in the very building where they live. (I will veer to the left a bit to tell you that Jerry is Jack Black, who plays his character as if the actor just wandered on to the set and put on some weird glasses, but that’s okay.)

In another frame, ordinary people from the town of Passaic are running from the cops dressed up like they have been having fun at a speakeasy. Jerry, Mike and their friend Alma are hunched in a stairwell holding a VHS camcorder with a fan attached to it in order to make the footage blip a bit, like it would when presented with an old fashioned projector reel.

The largest frames Jerry, Mike, and Alma presenting with red marker their idea to raise money in order to keep Be Kind Rewind on the rickety corner of their block, which is being destroyed to put up condominiums. The idea: people will pay them to ‘swede’ their favorite films. To ‘swede’ is to shorten, remake with props from Jerry’s junkyard across the street, and involve the customer in any role they would like in the process.

Behind this frame are stacked a million smaller versions of the movies. They are Passaic’s remakes, and they are sampled classics that replace Hollywood with such resources as aluminum foil, close-ups on a sugary marshmallow monster stomping a cardboard city, three children from the neighborhood sitting in an abandoned car with squirt guns and middle-aged women in clothes from the ’40s with heavily made-up faces, being sprayed from above by hose water for the sad rain.

Here’s where the structure comes in. The frames are connected plot-wise by direct, blatantly unoriginal strings of dialogue. No motive is hidden among the psychology of the characters or the complexity of the narrative.

Rather than letting it emerge gradually, Mr. Fletcher addresses his son’s curiosity about why he has no mother by answering, “The common story. You wait too long to ask the girl you want, she marries someone else and you get old.” To express doubt about swede-ing, Mr. Fletcher says almost externally to the surreality the film’s premise, “Listen kids, I appreciate your creativity, but let’s be realistic for a second.” If I comment on the characters’ actual involvement in the plot there isn’t much to reveal, because even if the swede-ing plan is unsuccessful, it happens anyway and there are happy people and clapping at the end.

The strings connect the frames and lead directly to the puppeteer above them all. When I simplify the story into frames connected by its clichés, there is room to remember that it is “Be Kind Rewind” that I follow, not the fictional characters or plot. It is a movie, seen through a lens, and lenses are concerned not with the crazy ideas inside skulls, just the actions that happen as a result of them. Unless, of course, the crazy ideas look good.

Here I give thanks to Michel Gondry, innovator of the mind magic present in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “The Science of Sleep.”

Jerry, Mike and Alma begin to swede films because Jerry becomes magnetized and erases all of the tapes in Be Kind Rewind. The effects on screen of his magnetization, along with every other film effect in Gondry’s works, are not aided in any way by computers. They are deliberate and lovely tricks of the camera and they comically include Jack Black suspended and electrocuted by nuclear lightning, random metal objects from the street flying to his body and the ability to make static any screen he passes. Here is another moment where I must reduce what I retain. I step back from the creative chaos and wonder: How does he do that?

If I want to know the facts behind it, I would have to leave this nice place in the middle of the forest where I make sense of things with pictures frames and string. I don’t think I will, and the population of Passaic, N.J., can crowd in here with me. They wonder, too, if Rocky will win the fight but also the logistics of showing both the giver and receiver of a punch, or what it feels like to be held in the hands of a giant gorilla, but how miniature the filmed skyscraper really was. The employees of Be Kind Rewind let their customers take over and learn about it all for themselves. I couldn’t be more jealous.

Their best work is the one I mentioned – filmed with fan blades as the camcorder rolled, shot old style black and white. It is a completely fictional documentary about the life of jazz great Fats Waller. My favorite part was the local minister speaking on his made-up history with Fats, and how he used to play J S Bach on the church organ. Fats (Mos Def with a pillow underneath his shirt) plays on the instrument, which looks like it is standing up but really lies flat on the floor. The sounds erupt and as they do, there is a sudden cut to the bodies of the people of Passaic, lying in the shape of enormous flugelhorns and trumpets, flowing from the floor organ.

I started tearing up when the jazz coming from Fats’ piano became the neighborhood kids dancing along a white row of paper with a staff on it. They held on to black cardboard notes attached to their heads.

I cried when it ended, too, with the happiness and the clapping. Maybe it was the technicality of familiarity, or the Valium. But maybe not.