(BY ALI NADERZAD) More than a year ago I was invited on the set of Michel Gondry‘s new film Be Kind Rewind which comes out today. I took the regional train to Passaic, New Jersey where the film was being shot on location. Gondry was in the middle of shooting an interior scene with Jack Black and Mos Def and a group of kids sitting around a table, apparently devising the plot to one of their movie updates. The scene I watched was shot again and again and in between each take Gondry would sometimes turn to his producer-friend, muttering something in French or jump out of his chair to get a closer look at the monitor. Mia Farrow and her relatives were huddling close by. The story sounded hilarious: two Clerks-types remake blockbuster movies. Get out from the couch, get a camera (preferably a pre-digital model) and shoot. In this week’s Onion, Gondry said that he was interested in the idea of people, communities, creating something new, their own form of entertainment. Hasn’t youtube already blurred the line enough? Surely, we’re well past this point by now, but Gondry’s take on the concept of user-generated content is a throwback to the VHS-driven 80s and 90s–so it’s nostalgic. Sadly, one of the things that many critics picked up on, however, is the fact that the film is taking place present-day (Passaic?) and how many rental stores do you know that carry VHS cassettes, surely Gondry could have set the story fifteen years earlier. It does not feel like such an important detail, does it? Michel Gondry’s exceptional craftiness in directing music videos (he has most famously shot videos for Bjork) hasn’t always translated well on the big screen but every one of his films feels like they were conjured by a wonderfully shrewd child on the early confines of adolescence. So there’s a sweetly funny element to Gondry’s characters and situations and adults are often barely grown up, too. A Gondry film carries the unmistakeable mark of its maker and in this day when artistic identity seems to become diluted, that’s something to revere.
It seemed most of the town of Passaic was in on the production; passerby would watch from across the street, some joined in on the set to get a closer look at things. A lot of waiting between scenes and furtive runs to the catering table for yet another cup of coffee. The atmosphere on scene was one of anxious amusement and fun. And above the crowd Gondry’s seriously French-accented English rose to give the next scene’s instructions.