Here’s something lovely and true about popular culture, from A. O. Scott’s New York Times review of a new movie, Be Kind Rewind. In this film, a video store loses its stock, and – so they’ll have something for their customers to rent – the staff of the store remakes classic movies, in their own homemade way. Which leads Scott to write:
Commercial pop culture is, too often, understood as a top-down enterprise, its expensive, disposable products passively consumed by the public.
And yet at the same time that stuff is capable of inspiring a deep and durable sense of ownership. The movies we love belong in some profound way to us, and part of us lives inside them. Sweding [the term the video store staff make up, to describe what they do] is Mr. Gondry’s way of making that rather abstract sense of connection literal, of suggesting that even if we are not strictly speaking the owners and authors of the movies we like, well, then, perhaps we should be.
It goes without saying that this is a naïve, utopian point of view. The travestied films in “Be Kind Rewind” are the intellectual property of large corporations (as is Mr. Gondry’s movie), and you can be sure that teams of lawyers were consulted and paid before the Sweding went very far. But “Be Kind” hardly pretends otherwise. Instead it treats movies as found objects, as material to be messed around with, explored and reimagined. It connects the do-it-yourself aesthetic of YouTube and other digital diversions with the older, predigital impulse to put on a show in the backyard or play your favorite band’s hits with your buddies in the garage.
And the deep charm of Mr. Gondry’s film is that it allows the audience to experience it with the same kind of casual fondness. It is propelled by neither the psychology of its characters nor the machinery of its plot, but rather by a leisurely desire to pass the time, to see what happens next, to find out what would happen if you tried to re-enact “Ghostbusters” in your neighbor’s kitchen. It’s inviting, undemanding and altogether wonderful. You’ll want to see it again, or at least Swede it yourself.
And the moral, for this blog, of these lovely Scottish thoughts? They were printed in the New York Times. They’re not revolutionary. This is what people read about popular culture, out in the real world. This is how they think about popular culture. How can we – we in classical music – go out to them, and tell them that they’re wrong?
(I’m sorry if some people are bothered when I talk, in this context, about the “real world.” Classical music lives in a bubble, and we’d better come to terms with that.)