Volume 77 / Number 40 - March 5 - 11, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


Directed by Michel Gondry

Photo by Rania Richardson

Michel Gondry

Starting from scratch

Director Michel Gondry connects his art to his films

By Rania Richardson

“I’ve been flirting with modern art for awhile, and my music videos have played in a bunch of museums,” says Michel Gondry, the multitalented French director who gained prominence in 2004 with “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” He credits art dealer Jeffrey Deitch with encouraging the connection of his art to his films. “[Deitch] thought I would be less exposed in a fragile way than if I went out on my own and said, ‘I am an artist.’”

To that end, Gondry’s new film, “Be Kind Rewind,” is accompanied by an eponymous installation at Deitch Projects in Soho. The zany film follows a magnetically charged Jerry (Jack Black), who inadvertently erases all of the VHS tapes in a video store run by Mike (Mos Def). The two set out to remake the lost films—albeit crudely—with neighborhood folks (including rising star Melonie Diaz as Alma), a camcorder, and whatever happens to be on hand. Audiences inspired by the film’s DIY effort can replicate the process in the Deitch space, where a mini-studio is set up to make short films. Gondry’s first collaboration with Deitch was in 2006, for an interactive companion exhibition to his film “The Science of Sleep.”

Gondry’s blue eyes light up as he discusses the new endeavor. “I had this utopian concept of how people could create their own entertainment. We recreated the video store in ‘Be Kind Rewind’ and then we created two workshops and 15 little locations such as a car, an office, and a café. Visitors choose a genre and title and then conceive a storyline by following our protocol, to keep things organized. A camera is given to them and they shoot for one hour. If they make mistakes they have to live with them. In two hours they do everything—write, shoot, watch and go. It’s an autonomous cycle.”

In “Be Kind Rewind,” well-known movies like “Ghostbusters,” “The Lion King,” and “Robocop” are recreated to keep the rental business alive, but at Deitch, visitors will create an original film.

“I don’t want the films to end up on YouTube,” he continues, “They start from scratch. It’s complete freedom, out of reach of any system of control. I am not pretending this is filmmaking. It’s an activity that can lead to a way of expression. I want people to create their own stories and watch among themselves in celebration. Watch a movie, have a party and start again.”

A secondary narrative in the film has video store proprietor Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover) claiming that his building was the birthplace of Fats Waller, motivating Jerry and Mike to galvanize the town for a homemade movie in honor of the jazz legend. The clever filmmakers shoot through turning fan blades to simulate a Kinetograph. Waller’s music, along with blues and ragtime numbers, pepper the film’s soundtrack. According to Gondry, the music represents more of the do-it-yourself spirit. “African Americans created music under horrible oppression. I think there was a sense of resistance. They had no choice but to make music such as jazz, rock, and rap to entertain themselves.”

The 44-year-old director is pleased that he is an inspiration to a younger generation and reports that he has been the subject of a number of college dissertations. “It’s working in the right direction when I hear that young kids are interested in my work. It’s a positive thing to help encourage creativity that you share,” he asserts. Nevertheless, he doesn’t consider himself to be in vogue. “I don’t have a sense of what’s in favor or not in favor. I don’t have the captors…” he says, pausing to gesture antennas coming out of his head, “to catch what’s in the air. I stick to my guns and my style. I’ve always done the handmade stuff. The way I dress is always the same. And I don’t like fashion.”

Gondry grew up in Versailles, France and attended art school in Paris. His music videos for artists such as Björk and The White Stripes, along with television commercials, paved the way for his directing career. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, earned him an Academy Award for original screenplay with co-writers Charlie Kaufman and Pierre Bismuth. “The Science of Sleep,” starring Gael García Bernal and Charlotte Gainsbourg, was less commercially and critically successful, but solidified his reputation as a master of whimsy.

Be Kind Rewind. Directed by Michel Gondry. Clearview Chelsea Cinemas (260 W. 23rd St.) and City Cinemas Village East (181 2nd Ave.) An exhibition created in conjunction with the film is on display through March 22 at Deitch Projects, 18 Wooster St. (212)-343-7300, deitch.com.

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