A film directed by the French filmmaker Michel Gondry that tells the story of two guys trying to save there video rental store by ‘sweding’ the movies when all the tapes accidentally get erased.
Unlike the complaint I had with The Hobbit I love the title of this film. It’s a great call back to the old reminders to rewind video cassettes before returning them to the rental store, and I think it’s also a call back to the older style of effects that Gondry uses in his films. Some of the effects we even get to see in this film, like camera techniques to show different movements within the film frame a la 2001 a Space Odyssey.
The plot is pretty standard with our two protagonists, Mike and Jerry, as the underdogs trying to keep the self-owed video store from going under, and getting that chance when all the tapes get erased and they have to make up their own versions of the films so the customers can rent things. Watching the guys making the sweded films is great. I love the montage of them making them while the titles scroll across the screen. I love the sense of community that builds up as more and more people get involved in making the films. That everyone is coming together to make and enjoy these works. That sense of community is also why I love going to films in the theatre, because I love to hear an audience’s reaction to a film as it plays and discuss films afterwards. As the film continues I think there is also some nice commentary here that as time moves forward, with new technology and large video store chains, that filmmaking is less about doing things for that creative spark and more about doing it in a mass marketing money making corporation; of making movies off of brand names and then making sequels off of them, especially with the whole destroying the tapes section.
Honestly I don’t know how much of the litigation against what Mike Jerry and Mr. Fletcher are doing holds water. Looking at my old video cassettes the warning on the tapes it says “any public performance, copying, or other use is strictly prohibited.” The whole other uses part is the sticking point since obviously Mike and Jerry aren’t copying the original films and distributing them, they aren’t showing the films in a public setting, and they aren’t passing their films off as the original films. They’ve put up sweded signs and pictures that let the consumer know that the product in the store is not the original film, but their version of it so I don’t know if they’re even infringing on the brand rights the companies have. Also the companies have the rights to destroy the video tapes, because apparently the company owns the actual physical cassette as opposed to just the contents, but they have put the sweded movies on DVD too so I don’t know why people can’t just rent the DVDs instead. Those do contain all original material, and they’re not made by erasing the original movie content so I don’t think the companies have any right to complain about copyright infringement for that. However, mad props to the creative team for getting Sigourney Weaver to play one of the lawyers. Again another nod to independent filmmakers, who often try to get well-known actors in their movies to give their work greater exposure by the value of star power; this kind of thing is discussed in Robert Rodriguez’s book Rebel Without a Crew.
So the tapes are destroyed and they make their own movie about the story of the life of Fats Waller. That I must thank this movie for introducing me to this artist for the first time, and he does a nice rendition of ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’ that was used in this film. The rest of the jazz music is also fitting for the area they’ve set the film in. So with the documentary, made up out of whole cloth, the community comes together to celebrate their achievement and try one last shot to save the store, and do they succeed? Maybe.
Now I really like the ending because it’s ambiguous. We don’t know if the store was saved after all that hard work. The guy who wanted to tear down the store comes up to Mr. Fletcher and shakes his hand enthusiastically when the movie is done and people are gathered around the street clapping, but we don’t know if it’s because the Fats Waller film inspired the community, which was the reason the man wanted to tear down the video store and improve the neighbourhood, or if he’s happy people are finally getting out of the building so they can demolish it. Maybe everyone’s hard worked paid off or maybe it was just a really good night for the community as a whole, we are allowed to judge that for ourselves. I also love that they have a band playing with the film, probably a nod to the silent film era where live music was used before the advent of sound and thus soundtracks.
Even with all this good stuff the film certainly isn’t perfect. The pace of the film is a bit slow and things like the acting of Jack Black are areas where there is room for a debate on quality. Personally I find the whole intro part where he is the tin-foil hat conspiracy nut annoying, and it’s only really there to get him magnetized from the power station so he’ll wipe the tapes clean in the video store, and I’m glad that that diminished over the course of the film. Although I do really love the camouflage gear they used to get over the fence. Another problem I think is the advertising for this movie. Things like the DVD case and the trailers imply that this is more of a comedy than I think it really is and that probably puts off some of the audience too.
So even there are some issues and the advertising is unfortunately a bit misleading I really like this movie. I think it’s a quirky little film that really seems to celebrate the community created by the medium of filmmaking. Of the community that is created when an audience watches a film, and the great collaborative effort that comes with making movies. I think the music is fitting, the acting is pretty good, the premise is interesting, and I think everyone should see the movie at least once and judge it for themselves.