Playing with history: Be Kind Rewind and the dubious pleasure of historical revisionism


Jonathan Rozenkrantz

ISIS 2015: Play / Perform / Participate. Utrecht, 16-18 April 2015


Be Kind Rewind (2008), Michel Gondry's post-cinematic celebration of VHS aesthetics and culture, has been hailed as a "glowing valentine to creativity in opposition to commerce" (Gonsalves 2009) with a "fairytale quality to it, a heart-warming sense of make-believe" (Kerr 2009). Taking analog video's sensitive storage quality as its starting point, the film revolves around the accidental de-magnetization of a whole video rental store, and the subsequent attempts to recreate this lost archive of film history by way of no-budget shot-on-video remakes.

The purpose of this paper is to examine the ambiguous implications of the attitude towards (film) history that the film proposes, in which the celebration of creativity coincides with an apology for complete historical revisionism. Particular focus will be given to the original film-within-the film, a silent black and white pseudo-documentary around which the portrayed community is gathered, both as participants and as spectators, in a dialectics of playful self-delusion that constitutes the ideological core of the film.

While structuralist theorists like Jean-Louis Comolli (1980) have criticized the deluding function of the cinematic "apparatus", a much more affirmative approach can be found in thinkers like Jacques Rancière and Gilles Deleuze. Rancière (2009) argues that documentary film, as a form of memory-making, is best defined as "myth", while Deleuze (1989) questions not only "myth" as a creative category, but "truth" itself, arguing that political documentary film must engage not in "the myth of a past people, but the story-telling of a people to come." While Be Kind Rewind seems to manifest Deleuze's destructive-creative approach to historiography (here manifested in the intermedial interplay between VHS and film), the paper will argue that it also highlights how an uncritical affirmation of "the powers of the false" (Deleuze 1989) remain haunted by the ghost of an "anything goes", a nihilist shadow latent in the affirmation of historical revisionism and the community that it potentially produces.

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  • Typ:
    Konferensbidrag (refereegranskat)
  • Konferens:
    Utrecht, 16 18 April 2015
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Om författaren

Jonathan Rozenkrantz

Jonathan Rozenkrantz är filosofie doktor i filmvetenskap. Han är författare till Videographic Cinema: An Archaeology of Electronic Images and Imaginaries (Bloomsbury, kommande 2020). Jonathan disputerade 2019 med avhandlingen ”Electronic Labyrint... Läs vidare


Rozenkrantz, J. (2015). Playing with history: Be Kind Rewind and the dubious pleasure of historical revisionism. In: ISIS 2015: Play / Perform / Participate. Utrecht, 16-18 April 2015.