cultural capital

We Have Cheered Up Michel Gondry, or Else Maybe We Hurt His Feelings


Gondry, looking sad in October.Photo: Patrick McMullan

Three weeks ago, we noted a somewhat well-duh piece in the Times “Metro” section about how Passaic, New Jersey, reacted to Michel Gondry’s shooting a movie there. We noted a quote from Gondry in the piece — “But I’m not going to fix their life. And that’s something that makes me a little sad” — and we commented that “it makes us sad, too.” Yesterday afternoon, inexplicably, this response (retort? explanation? existential musing?) arrived from Gondry, via his publicist:

Dear Mr. Intelligencer —

I am really sorry I’ve made you sad. To cheer you up, I decided to share with you some of the exciting things I did for my movie BE KIND, REWIND in the lovely city of Passaic, N.J., and how, in the process, I encountered a lot of unique and interesting people. I can imagine you wagging your tail in anticipation to read all the significant details of my story.

This story portrays two clerks (Jack Black and Mos Def) who erase, by mistake, all the videos in the store, while their boss (Danny Glover) is away. To cover up the catastrophe, and continue the business, they re-shoot all the movies themselves, playing all the parts.

The store clerks have to construct period flat cars with historical re-creation, transform a washing machine into a space ship for the space odyssey, capture a wild cat with garland beam guns in a fridge for Ghostbusters, etc. They are assisted in these recreations by the locales of the neighborhood.

To find realistic people from the neighborhood, we had the idea to turn to the real Passaic inhabitants. Nice people, going with their life that has not much to do with the film industry which makes them special in my eyes. That seems an obvious and easy idea. Well, it’s not. Let me explain why: the film industry is extremely protected by numerous circles and organizations whose only goal is make sure you won’t employ anyone out of those circles. In short, this makes it next to impossible to put a fresh face/voice in front of the camera and without a pre-conceived idea how to act. This pre-conceived idea ruins what I am trying to capture on film.

To be authorized those non professional actors; we created a small dance club in the town. We needed a series of dance numbers for the historical re-creation mentioned above. We asked in the street anyone who would be interested by this activity and for one month we gathered twice a week in a Passaic ballroom (used as well as a location). We were 50 people and small groups formed naturally led by anyone will to take the leader role. Rapid progress were made and a lot of great personalities merged from the process, that we could include as characters in the movie.

After two months, this frantic activity had to come to an end. I was struck by sudden nostalgia, but you shared my sadness and now I feel better. Thanks for your support, Mr. Intelligencer and I hope you feel better too.

Hmm. We’re left feeling a bit unclear about Gondry’s intentions and unsure of how serious he’s being. But we find the thing cute nevertheless. It’s sort of like seeing one of his movies.

Earlier: ’Times’: N.J. Yokels Gape at Whirring Picture-Making Contraption

We Have Cheered Up Michel Gondry, or Else Maybe We Hurt His Feelings