Contemporary cinema's preeminent pop surrealist Michel Gondry returns to theaters this week with Be Kind Rewind, starring Jack Black as a junkyard worker forced to reshoot well-known blockbusters from scratch after accidentally erasing the VHS tapes at his local video store. Gondry spoke with Vulture about the making of the film as well as his next wacky project — skinheads! Sodomy! Daniel Clowes! — currently in the works.
Be Kind Rewind spoofs — or "Swedes" — 2001, Ghostbusters, and Driving Miss Daisy. How did you choose the movies?
Well, the movies had to be on VHS so that set us back a little bit in the past. I didn’t think too hard about it. I just needed movies that people had seen, so they’d be able to understand the humor. If I had picked obscure movies or ones that appealed to cinema buffs, I don’t think my film would have had the same meaning. I notice how you pronounce it; phonetically “Swede” sounds like “sweet.” I think that’s the difference between spoofing and Sweding: Sweding is a sweet vision of the film. It’s not mocking. Except in the case of movies like Driving Miss Daisy.
Were there any films you were dying to use but couldn’t?
We really wanted to do Back to the Future. In fact it’s secretly one of my favorite movies ever. It’s a really good example of a broad comedy with a smart franchise. But I always got really offended when they had a little white guy explaining to a black dude how to play rock and roll. I wanted to reverse that. I wanted to have Mos Def explaining it to Jack Black! I also thought about Sweding a French New Wave movie in black-and-white, and having Mos Def and Jack Black pretend to speak French, you know— [mumbling] huhbuhdubudieu — with the subtitles painted on a piece of glass in front of them. I had many ideas, but we didn’t have time to use them all.
It’s almost limitless what you could have done
Oh yeah, yeah. Maybe they could have gone to the all-porno section! But we decided to keep it somewhat limited.
You ended up shooting in Passaic, New Jersey. What was that like?
The mechanic in the movie is actually a mechanic who’d been working with me, and the junkyard body shop is the place he works. There’s a power plant just behind it. That was perfect because at the time I was not sure how Jack Black’s character would get magnetized, and the guy who was running the place complained about how the power plant was making him lose his hair and giving him headaches. The people who lived nearby were extremely friendly, and it seemed like quite a peaceful place, though it really felt like poverty, like they were living in quite limited conditions. We tried to include the people living there as much as we could. In the end, those are the kids you see watching the movies. And to me, the reason why they have this very genuine expression of pride and happiness on their faces is that they’d seen us shooting this movie that didn’t make sense at the time, and once it was all put together, it was really fun to watch. That’s one way I applied my theory about the movie, this concept that people would enjoy films better if they shot them themselves.
So, your next film is an animated feature that you’re creating with your son. What kinds of things does he draw?
He draws comic books, he does paintings. He’s very skilled and very distorted. He grew up with a lot of freedom to decide what he wanted to watch on TV. I sort of gave up on trying to channel his influences, so he has a lot of ways to express violence and sex. He’s 16 years old, and his drawings can be pretty scary. He did the video for [the band] the Willowz based completely on this comic book he did based on the relationship between a dictator and a rebel, in a world where energy is made from hair and everyone is bald. We decided to take the next step and make it into a feature film. Dan Clowes is writing the screenplay, and we have the story line already. The goal for me is to try to integrate the dynamic between my son and myself and reflect it in the dynamic between the dictator and the rebel — my son is the dictator, and I’m being the rebel. It’s going to be a little wild.
What was the most shocking thing your son's shown you?
Oh, his drawings? I can’t say it! It’s inappropriate. Sodomy, sex. There are Nazis, Hasidic Jews, skinheads in his world, and they cut each others throats. The movie will not be so extreme. —Sara Cardace