Composer: Jean-Michel Bernard
Label: Lakeshore Records
Suggested Retail Price: $ 14.97
Grade: B+

There’s a fun, funky throwback appeal to Be Kind Rewind, beginning with its central conceit of a video store that still caries VHS tapes – a format that now seems right at home with such other antiques as eight-track cassettes, disco shoes, bell bottom pants and HD-DVD players. Yet there’s still something that’s cool about a worn VHS movie, a raggedy retro vibe that’s right in line with Jean-Michel Bernard’s nutty score for this purposefully unslick flick. Be Kind Rewind marks Bernard’s second score for director Michael Gondry after The Science Of Sleep. And while his soundtrack was easily the best thing about that artsy-fartsy mess, Gondry is doing an infinitely better job here. And his unpretentious grip on Rewind’s wonderfully ridiculous imagery at last lets score and storytelling fit snugly.

This is a lark of a score – most of which could easily be playing over an episode of “Good Times.” And that 70’s retro jazz-funk approach works just fine for a film that’s set in the decaying, ethnically mixed urban environs of Passaic, New Jersey. Here the biggest arguments are about which erased tape gets a “Sweded” remake next, and Bernard plays the unity of movie love with a bouncy, small funk ensemble. It’s a clever and inventive approach for two goofs who attempt 2001 in a junkyard, with a raw sound that comes across as being professional and homemade at once – just like Be Kind Rewind itself.

But funk is certainly not the only thing that Jean-Michel Bernard has going on here. And when he plays the “drama” of having an entire store’s worth of movies getting wiped out, he uses frantic strings and harp glissandi for the Three Stooges-like antics, with a full orchestra then jumping in to pump up the insanity with jazz, organ and an ersatz Theremin. This stuff seems better suited for Psycho or Night Of The Living Dead. And while it still sounds kinda neat for an album listen, Bernard’s approach in these scenes just about overpowers Rewind. For while a composer like Jon Brion can get away with this kind of stuff in a similarly skewed movie like I Heart Huckabees, Bernard’s playing-against-screwball is way too excited, or pokey for its own good.

Thankfully, this particular orchestral stuff is about the only thing about Rewind’s music that doesn’t really come off. Far funnier are his goofs on the soundtracks of the movies the characters are “Sweding,” especially a spot-on tribute to Lalo Schifrin’s Kung-Fu stylings when the lads attempt Rush Hour 2. When they tape a hopeless live-action Lion King, Bernard breaks out Reggae vocalese. And more often than not, his movie score goofs have nothing to do with the music that was on the likes of Robocop or Driving Miss Daisy, which get hilariously spun through his thematic 70’s funk machine here. But Bernard is also smart enough to play some real emotion as well, especially in his restrained solo piano for “Solitude,” its melodic beauty at its simple best.

Though Rewind’s obsession with old-time jazz never quite gels with the satirical movie stuff, it does add another level of pleasant eccentricity to the score. Especially nice are Bernard’s salutes to “Lulu’s Back in Town” (played by the Passaic High School Marching Band), or having Mos Def spin out “I Ain’t Got Nobody” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’” to the accompaniment of an electric organ. Even Fats himself appears for “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and “Your Feets Too Big.” But if there’s a tuneful highlight here, it’s Bernard’s own “Mr. Fletcher’s Song,” a beautifully moving number that sums up the characters’ fond goodbye to their moment in the VHS sun. As Bernard puts his heart into this number, he conjures Tom Waits at his melancholy best.

Like The Science Of Sleep, Jean-Michel Bernard has a real talent for creating music that takes place in its own, crazily beautiful world. And at its best, his work on Be Kind Rewind turns the joy of moviemaking into a funkadelic trip to Oz, which just happens to reside in Passaic – a place that’s never sounded so wide-open with eccentrically melodic possibilities.

Be kind, and pick up Rewind’s soundtrack HERE.