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The Reeler Blog

The Kind-ness of Gondry

By Ben Gold

To anyone who has seen his sci-fi relationship drama Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or his dreamy romantic comedy The Science of Sleep, of course it's nothing new to say filmmaker Michel Gondry is a man of ideas -- unhinged and inspired ideas. His endearingly absurd yet home-grown universe has gained a cult of fans, many of whom were in attendance at the Apple Store SoHo Friday night to catch a few scenes from Gondry's latest film, Be Kind Rewind, and to catch a glimpse of the director as he discussed Rewind and its inspirations with indieWIRE editor-in-chief Eugene Hernandez.

Jersey Boy: Filmmaker Michel Gondry on the makeshift Ghostbusters set-within-a-set featured in Be Kind Rewind (Photo: New Line Cinema)

A typical Gondrian farce, Rewind features Jack Black as a man who somehow becomes magnetized and accidentally erases all the VHS tapes of his local Passaic, N.J., video store, clerked by his pal Mos Def. Under pressure from customers and the booming DVD market, the friends decide the best solution to their problem is to remake all the erased tapes -- films like Ghostbusters, Rush Hour 2 and The Lion King, all of which become more popular than the originals.

The idea for these remakes, or "swedes" as Gondry calls them, is rooted in modern-day remakes and sequels. "All the sequels and remakes are always more expensive than the original movie now," Gondry said. "20 years ago the sequels were getting cheaper and cheaper. So I thought it would be interesting to reverse the concept -- do a remake of a very expensive movie on a very little budget." Surely, the idea of Jack Black and Mos Def acting in a homemade production of Driving Miss Daisy is enough to sell tickets. For Gondry though, it is not the heart of the story.

Instead, the real backbone and emotional core of Rewind lie in the idea of community. After moving from Versailles to Paris he noticed quite a few abandoned movie theaters, which, according to Gondry, was disconcerting but rich with potential. "I had this utopian philosophy, sort of, that I could take over one theater -- rent it or steal it -- and take a bunch of people who live next to it and give them a camera," he said. "Basically, the principle would be that they make their own film and watch it all together one week later. They would pay the price they would to watch a regular movie, which would pay for the shooting of the next one and so on. So every week there would be a new film. They would probably be very poor, technically, but they would be compensated by the fact they would be looking at themselves and their friends, like watching home movies."

Yet Gondry admitted it is often difficult for him to get his ideas across, no matter how simple (to him) they may seem. In one instance on the set of Eternal Sunshine, Gondry ran into a conceptual road block with Jim Carrey. "I wanted him to carry a plastic bag when he sees Clementine for the first time, but he refused because he thought it looked stupid," Gondry told the standing-room-only crowd. "Maybe at the time I was not smart enough to give him the right reason. I thought if he were carrying a plastic bag he would look more vulnerable and it would make more sense. Anyway, now I've learned to be more convincing."

Evidently so. How many other filmmakers could successfully sell a movie about a human magnet in Passaic?

Posted at January 12, 2008 7:27 AM

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