Michel Gondry on Be Kind Rewind: The RT Interview

The (half) sweded interview with director Michel Gondry.

Wire Image -- Michael Bezjian From the 20th floor of the St. Regis hotel, the San Francisco streets appear broadly drawn and toylike. At the same time, the bodies on the pavement can be seen in some detail. I can make out a man's striped scarf, a woman's red shoes, a child's ballerina lunchbox. The contradiction of proportions is engaging and awkward, reminiscent of the sort of proportions present in a Playskool play set or a child's drawing. Reminiscent also of many of the fanciful recreations of director Michel Gondry, particularly as seen in his recent feature Be Kind Rewind.

I'm waiting for him in the conference room, brie melting in a platter next to the picture window. While thinking through a question about perspective, Gondry walks in unceremoniously and sits down, no introduction, door wide open. Surprised and too rushed to fuss with details, I start my iPod recording device and head in with the questions.

"Tell me about your relationship to primitive cinema," I ask. "It's clearly an inspiration to you. You recreate the scratched or silent picture frequently in your work."

Gondry begins to explain an appreciation for Chaplin and Melies and says he loves the process of silent film, the communal involvement that made those films possible. Referring to Gondry's handmade aesthetics I say, "Both process and community are important to your films -- handmade imagery figures strongly in your personal projects." I ask something about Legos and Gondry's eyes shift to my iPod. I follow his glance downward.

My iPod is off.

It's fully missed the first two of my sacred nine point five minutes with him. I have a small heart attack and scramble for the record button. The first thing the iPod captures is:

Michel Gondry: This is the problem with digital.




Melonie Diaz, Jack Black, and Mos Def work the video counter in Be Kind Rewind


Instantly I devolve into mild hysterics. Gondry, the man famous for his childlike whimsy, his ingenuity and wonderment, watches me laugh in stony silence.

You said you liked Chaplin and Melies and you like the idea of -- oh dear, please correct me.

MG: I don't remember what I said...

Could you swede it for me?

MG: But that is it. This is your whole article right here!

Well, let's hope it's not the whole article.

"Swede" is the verb Gondry invented for a rather specific process of reproduction. It's the word Jerry (Jack Black) uses to describe the films he, Mike (Mos Def) and Alma (Melonie Diaz) have recreated to restore the library of demagnetized tapes left on the shelves of Mr. Fletcher's Thrift and Video. Sweding also refers in part to phenomenon created by a video Gondry himself placed on YouTube a year or so ago.

"Michel Gondry Solves a Rubik's Cube with his Feet" (since replaced on YouTube by the response video "Michel Gondry Solves A Rubik's Cube With His Nose") went viral quickly and was followed by a series of remakes and reinterpretations either spoofing or aiming to debunk what the fan videos refer to as "the puzzle Gondry leaves for us to solve." As a principle, sweding is far-reaching. It touches the long legacy of YouTube videos (ex: "Crank Dat Soulja Boy Spongebob"), the history of fan art and the legendary inventions of groups like the Southern team of Indiana Jones fans who spent their puberty sweding Temple of Doom (the film version of this story is still in pre-production under the rumor-esque title Untitled Daniel Clowes Project).

Gondry's sweding is visible in many more places than YouTube. Technically his video for the White Stripes' "Fell in Love with a Girl," of which "absolutely zero is made in a computer, it's all made with Lego blocks," is a kind of sweding; a recreation built out of rudimentary parts. In the video, black white and red block semblances of Meg and Jack White play instruments, ascend stairs and swim with surprising accuracy of motion. The result is affecting and strikingly believable. It defies description in the same way that babies and epiphanies do, as if, by way of Lego, Meg and Jack are ineffably happening.

Gondry really likes "the basicness of [Legos]." Figuring more prominently in his crafty special effects than perhaps any other of his primary school tools (cellophane, felt, papier-mâché). Gondry says they're are a "mixture of something that can be very sophisticated but there's something that can be very universal about it."

Gondry draws a lot of power from trusting his audience. "It's important when you have an idea to put it out there. People can understand it."




The gang swedes RoboCop.


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