The thought of putting a film together is a dream many of us have had at some point. Imagine what it would be like to make a great piece of cinema and see it play on silver screens around the world. But what stops many people before they’ve even picked up a camera is logistics. We look at something and think, how did they do that? How did they go about securing that location, casting that actor, setting up that shot, lighting it, creating practical/special effects that made us believe in something that didn’t exist?
But what’s often forgotten is how ingeniously simple and incredibly fun it can be to approach filmmaking with an indie sensibility and a wild imagination that leaves even the most seemingly difficult of things in the realms of low budget possibility.
That’s where Michel Gondry steps in and becomes one of the greatest Cultoid Heroes. Gondry is one of the most irreverent filmmakers working today. The major reason for this is his approach to creating his unique visuals.
Possibly the best example of this is Be Kind Rewind, which plays as a great example of what Gondry does best, and also comes over as a sort of instruction manual on how to be like him. As Jack Black and Mos Def go about ‘Sweding’ all the films in the video store’s back catalogue, they create handmade sets and props out of literally anything they find lying around, to reimagine some of cinema’s most iconic moments. Whilst this may not create a photorealistic reel of footage, it carries a quaint beauty that evokes a smile and a nostalgic love from the audience. It is this very trait that makes it as real as any CGI landscape that is brandished all over today’s myriad big budget blockbusters.
It is during one of the film’s extended montages that Gondry shows the film’s characters putting the props together and at times directly talking to us as an audience to explain what they are and why they are being used. This makes BKR a love letter to film on so many levels. It treats its ‘Sweded’ properties with a genuine respect and affection, it reminds us why we love those films (and all films) so much, it speaks to the importance of cinema in bringing communities together, and it advocates filmmaking as something that is easily accessible to anyone who has the drive to give it a shot.
It sounds like I’m focussing all my Gondry love on just one film. Of course that’s not the case, it’s just that Be Kind Rewind perhaps best defines the director and all his eccentric facets. I would venture to say that Gondry is best known for his collaboration with the great Charlie Kaufman on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. This was the kind of screenplay that could only have come from the mind of Kaufman, but was perfectly paired with the vision of Gondry. Again we have quirky visuals that are rooted in a homemade ethic, but here they are coupled with a romance for the modern age; a sometimes cynical commentary on love, that attacks the tendency we have to want to completely erase the things we no longer want, but ultimately addresses the inescapable inevitability of true love enduring, no matter how destructive it may be. And with Gondry’s masterful direction we were gifted a performance from Jim Carrey that stands next to The Truman Show as being a pinnacle of the actor’s career.
In fact that is another of Gondry’s gifts; the performances he gets. For both Be Kind Rewind and Eternal Sunshine he took actors who had largely been known for over the top, attention grabbing comedy roles and made them real. He gave them vulnerabilities, nuance and a clear sense of something to strive for as characters, which meant they were able to inhabit their roles in a way they rarely had before (or after). This is a serious talent to have, especially when you think of the sheer intensity of Carrey and Black in all other iterations.
As Gondry’s career has progressed he has continued to create projects that he loves. That is perhaps the ultimate mark of respect for the man. Whilst he has made more features (The Green Hornet, Moon Indigo) in recent years, he has also continued to produce music videos, short films, documentaries and art installations that play to his passion for ingenuity and a delightful sense of whimsy.
I realise as I reach the end of this tribute that I haven’t even mentioned The Science of Sleep, Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?, Flight of the Conchords and the plethora of iconic TV adverts and Music Videos that made Gondry so notable in the first place. To be fair if I wrote about each one we’d be here all week! But it is the core of the man that makes him a hero. It is what he has given to the world. And whilst his films are as great a gift as anyone could hope for, his true legacy is in the inspiration he continues to create. His exciting, original and do-it-yourself approach to cinema makes movie making a reality for anyone who gets intimidated by the medium. It is a love of all things practical and hands on. It is nostalgia and innovation. It is visual flare at its most primal and enjoyable.
All hail Michel Gondry!