They've got it taped: The appeal of the home-made tribute
Friday 25 January 2008
The big concept behind Michel Gondry's new film Be Kind Rewind is the remaking of classic movies on a shoestring budget. Starring Jack Black and Mos Def, the movie had its world premiere at the Sundance festival this week. Now its French director wants everyone to take their camcorders and remake classic films using household items as props, with friends and non-actors as cast and crew, and post the results on the internet.
It's a zany idea that is typical of the film-maker. Gondry built his reputation for making commercials and music videos by eschewing computer-generated special effects. The director of Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind has constantly celebrated the power of the imagination over computer-generated effects.
In Be Kind Rewind, Jerry (Black) unintentionally erases all of the videos in a video store in Harlem that is being managed by his friend Mike (Def) in the absence of the store owner (Danny Glover). When Ms Kimberly (Mia Farrow) complains that a tape she has rented contains no picture, the boys realise the predicament that they're in and decide that the only way that they can keep their customers happy is by remaking the films themselves. These new "home-made" films are called "Sweded" versions, as Jerry claims that the home-made tapes at the video store are special bootleg versions made in Sweden. Films remade include Robocop, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Ghostbusters, Driving Miss Daisy and Rush Hour 2.
The Sweded films provide the best moments of Be Kind Rewind and Gondry obviously can't get enough of the idea. In downtown New York's Deitch Projects, he has transformed the SoHo art gallery into a "Sweding" movie studio. The video store featured in the film has been recreated in the gallery and visitors are being given camera equipment and encouraged to shoot a Sweded movie of their own to be put into the "video store" and then be made available for other visitors to see.
It's the shoestring budget and the lack of cast and crew that make a "Sweded" movie different from a spoof. Spoofing movies has been a staple diet of television, with Flight of the Conchords recently recreating Lord of the Rings, French and Saunders sending up Harry Potter for Comic Relief and Only Fools and Horses riffing on killer gags from The Omen.
But ever since consumer cameras have been available on the high street, people have need no encouragement to recreate classic films at home. Director Garth Jennings' (one half of Hammer and Tongs) new film Son of Rambow was inspired by his own childhood attempts to recreate scenes from Rambo: First Blood in his own back garden. "I was only 11 or 12, and it was easier to do than Star Wars because all you needed to have was a headscarf on and run around in the woods. Watching First Blood inspired me to do my own Rambo films, to the extent that all these years later I'm making a film about my childhood infatuation.
"It's weird as it is now seven years since we sat down and came up with a rough idea for Son of Rambow and presented it. One of the things that we loved about the concept was not just that it was a story that we wanted to tell, but you couldn't help feeling that if we didn't make this film then someone else would do. There was a collective experience of a whole generation growing up at the time that were all inspired by these films and had a chance to recreate them at home. Obviously the detail was different and people were inspired to recreate different films.
"When we started making our film we heard about the Raiders of the Lost Ark remake, where, when these kids started the film, they were nine and it took them 10 years to make. So at the beginning of the film, Indiana Jones is nine and by the end of the film he is 19, even though events in the film happen over a few weeks."
One thing that Be Kind Rewind has almost certainly ensured is that these low-tech films will be termed "Sweded" films from now on.
The recent technological advances and reduction in cost of camcorders and editing programs have made professional-grade film-making possible on home computers. Backyard Productions is an eight-strong team of film-makers who specialise in recreating Hollywood blockbusters. Jurassic Park has been remade into Geriatric Park, while two Star Wars films, made in the Lincolnshire garage of the Backyard co-founder Darren Scales, are called Star Wars: The Emperor's New Clones and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Backyard.
With the imminent release of Be Kind Rewind, the number of Sweded movies has surged in the last couple of weeks. They range from the sublime to the ridiculous. The sublime includes a version of Repo Man that, in five minutes, captures the essence of the 1984 Alex Cox vehicle about a man who repossesses cars. Departed in the Company of the Airstream is a remake of Gone With the Wind using marionettes in the style of Todd Haynes' The Karen Carpenter Story: puppet versions of Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler speak to each other only using lines from the film. The Sweded Goldfinger ingeniously uses a drawing of an eye on an A4 piece of paper, with a hole cut out where the pupil should be, to recreate the iconic James Bond credit sequence. The Die Hard remake features a glorious final shot of a building exploding that the film-makers have crafted together using a mosaic explosion placed in front of a building. It was while watching a version of Total Recall from a gang calling themselves Six Foot Studios For the Alamo Draft House that I realised that many of these home-made attempts were superior to the films that were being paid homage to.
I have since discovered a 3-D version of Casablanca in which Rick is transformed into a singing penguin. And, of course, Be Kind Rewind has itself already been Sweded.
'Be Kind Rewind' opens on 22 February. 'Son of Rambow' opens on 28 March
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