I am totally excited to see Be Kind Rewind. Not only does it start Jack Black and the Mighty Mos, not only is it a Michel Gondry production, but it is about media, copyright, and, to quote billy madison, the human response. From what I understand Mos Def’s character works at a video store that hasn’t upgraded to DVD. Black’s character somehow gets magnetized, visit’s Mos at work, and accidentally erases all the VHS tapes in the store. To save the business, they refilm all their favorite movies and, I assume, are a big success. Eventually, the FBI comes to shut them down for copyright infringement and hilarity insues, I guess.
I haven’t seen it yet, but I have seen the website, however, which is totally amusing, so I’ll talk about that. It is here where the digital connection is made explicit. Entering the site, you ‘magnetize’ the internet and erase the whole thing. Don’t worry, there is button you can press to restore it. But, then again, as a button it gives you the option. What if I don’t press it? Where then is the internet? And, if the internets are erased, what is the nature of this website?
Following out the comparison, a ‘swede’ is then made of the internet. ‘Sweding’ is defined as ‘putting you in the things you love.’ So, now, with the internets erased, we have paper cutout letters spelling ‘Goolge,’ an arrow on what I assume is supposed to be a coathanger, and Jack Black mimicking computer talk [there you go jentery, Turing test!]. The digital is, thus, replaced by the analog, but, more than this, media is replaced by reality. You see the pencil, the coathanger, the hands flashing about.
But, of course, the abilty to ‘put you in the things you love’ is supposedly the great benefit of the internet, distributed networks, etc., isn’t? Imagine that the internets were actually erased. How would they be restored? A lot of it would be corporate, of course: Google would be very busy. But a lot of it would also be by everyday users, coding their home pages, wordpressing their blogs, etc. The point I am laboring to make is that the larger part of the internet is essentially ‘swede.’ There are lots of corporate, government, and entertainment interests, but along side that there are a lot of people mixing up their own culture.
If one accepts that, then Be Kind Rewind is as much about the digital as about the analog. A.O. Scott writes in his review this week that Be Kind Rewind is about the movies we love and how we invest ourselves in them, make them a part of us, etc.
But on top of that is a distopian vision of the internet as essentially heading down the path as television, which was itself conceived as a democratized medium only to become one-way network broadcasting. The complexity of this issue is figured in the movie’s own media ecology, the very website which invites its visitors to “swede yourself,” to put yourself in the thing you love, by submitting photos of yourself to tightly constructed flash site or mailing movie clips to your friends. A kind of appropriated Steal this Book. Scott alludes to a conflict between the content provider and the content consumer, deciding that the film is utopian:
It goes without saying that this is a naïve, utopian point of view. The travestied films in “Be Kind Rewind” are the intellectual property of large corporations (as is Mr. Gondry’s movie), and you can be sure that teams of lawyers were consulted and paid before the Sweding went very far. But “Be Kind” hardly pretends otherwise. Instead it treats movies as found objects, as material to be messed around with, explored and reimagined. It connects the do-it-yourself aesthetic of YouTube and other digital diversions with the older, predigital impulse to put on a show in the backyard or play your favorite band’s hits with your buddies in the garage.
Or, extending the analogy, your parent’s basement. Scott here distinguishes the ‘predigital’ and the digital in a way that pits the predigital against the ‘intellectual property of large corporations,’ thereby seeming to align the digital not with the YouTube, distributed network aesthetic but with copyright and capital.
I’ll save a conclusion for this one until after I see the movie, but it does, I think, speak to the condition of both pre and post-digital aesthetics, as well as the position of the arts today. What does it mean for Gondry to make this movie? To make money on this movie? To have it be copywritten? [what would it mean to swede yourself into this movie? Would that be the ultimate simulacra?] To have big name actors like Danny Glover in it? [Makes me think of Cloverfield. Another movie I didn’t see but which I understand is basically about media (its title, i understand, was originally the code word used to refer to the movie project, which then stuck as the movie title), but using unrecognizeable actors]
Anyway, I’ll have more to say after I see it, probably, although I don’t expect any meditations on these subjects in the film itself. I expect the real interest for me will be in this articulation of digital/pre-digital in a media ecology that seems aware of its own tenuous position, a position that figures the entire ecology, film+internet, digital+predigital, as top-down rather than distributed.