Media @ McGill

Dwayne Avery - The Future is Behind You: The Reclamation of Place in Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind

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The latest edition of the media studies journal Movement explored the question of what is the future direction of the cinema.  In my addition, I discuss how the cinema can help in assessing the relationship between urban spaces and the cultural process of globalization.  Specifically, I provide a geo-political critique of Michel Gondry’s recent film, Be Kind Rewind in order to challenge some prominent understandings of the global cultural industries, especially the role independent cinema plays in enabling local cultures to resist the aseptic, monocultures of Global Hollywood.  Just as some other film theorists argue that the future direction of cinema involves a shift to how globalization is experienced locally, I show how Gondry’s decision to set his film in the industrially bankrupt city of Passaic, New Jersey raises important political questions about the uneven reach of global capitalism, and the fact that not all urban spaces fulfill the mythical image of a placeless, fully-digitized global city. Furthermore, by demonstrating how a small community of amateur filmmakers fight off gentrification by actively reconstructing their urban heritage, Gondry insists that place and local community still exist as efficacious political concepts.

Furthermore, by using a mainstream film to elucidate a politics of local resistance, Gondry challenges traditional depictions of Global Hollywood as a unanimous force pitted against local cultural diversity. This point is significant, since it forces us to replace our generalized map of globalization, and attend to the many sites of cinematic resistance both within and outside the mainstream. Connected to this view is Gondry’s rejection of the ‘new technologies are best’ thesis. For by having his community of auteurs use “outdated” analog technologies to document the story of a local jazz hero, Gondry adamantly opposes any discourse which envisions new digital technologies as inherently radical or liberatory. Rather, in Gondry’s cinematic future, advanced technologies never form a master plan, which simply ensures creativity, liberation or radical change; instead the socio-political efficacy of technologies – both old and new – always depend on the context and place of their utilization.

This work has been published in the Movement Journal Futures of Cinema issue online.