Photo by Rania Richardson
Starting from scratch
Director Michel Gondry connects his art to his films
By Rania Richardson
Ive 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, Gondrys 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 filmsalbeit crudelywith neighborhood folks (including rising star Melonie Diaz as Alma), a camcorder, and whatever happens to be on hand. Audiences inspired by the films DIY effort can replicate the process in the Deitch space, where a mini-studio is set up to make short films. Gondrys first collaboration with Deitch was in 2006, for an interactive companion exhibition to his film The Science of Sleep.
Gondrys 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 everythingwrite, shoot, watch and go. Its 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 dont want the films to end up on YouTube, he continues, They start from scratch. Its complete freedom, out of reach of any system of control. I am not pretending this is filmmaking. Its 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. Wallers music, along with blues and ragtime numbers, pepper the films 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. Its working in the right direction when I hear that young kids are interested in my work. Its a positive thing to help encourage creativity that you share, he asserts. Nevertheless, he doesnt consider himself to be in vogue. I dont have a sense of whats in favor or not in favor. I dont have the captors
he says, pausing to gesture antennas coming out of his head, to catch whats in the air. I stick to my guns and my style. Ive always done the handmade stuff. The way I dress is always the same. And I dont 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.