What do Michel Gondry and 'Weird Al' Yankovic have in common?

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Mos Def and Jack Black preparing to remake Driving Miss Daisy in Be Kind Rewind
  • Mos Def and Jack Black preparing to remake Driving Miss Daisy in Be Kind Rewind.
Like most people, I'm a fan of "Weird Al" Yankovic's recent music video for "Handy," his spoof of Iggy Azalea's pop hit "Fancy." The video contains as many good sight gags and one-liners as any feature-length comedy I've seen all year, which is especially impressive given that it's not even three minutes long. Eddie Pepitone, the bald, dyspeptic stand-up comic profiled in the recent doc The Bitter Buddha, deserves much credit for its success. His outsize reaction to an exploding dishwasher is priceless, as is the sincerely proud expression he wears when playing back-up dancer to Yankovic. (The parodist has long generated big laughs from aging and/or unattractive men getting emotional. Who can forget Dick Van Patten's cameo in the "Smells Like Nirvana" video or that fat, wide-eyed cameraman from UHF?)

Yankovic's parody transforms Azalea's extended boast about her jet-setting lifestyle into an extended boast about a fix-it man's prowess around the house. It's endearingly good-natured, as it puts down neither Azalea nor handymen but in fact celebrates both. As usual, Yankovic mimics his target's vocal delivery so closely that the parody conveys a certain level of professional respect. (Note how he copies even Azalea's incidental "Yow!" at the end of the song's bridge, using it to illustrate the narrator hammering his thumb.) The critique is not of Azalea, but rather what she's singing about. The image of success presented by "Fancy," alluring as it may be, has very little to do with work. Hearing a handyman talk about his lifestyle with the same swagger that Azalea uses to talk about her stardom calls attention to the fundamental disconnect between the content of pop songs like "Fancy" and the experience of most people who consume them. Why shouldn't blue-collar workers trumpet their success too?

Five years ago at Cine-File, Wisconsin Film Festival programmer (and onetime director of the late, great Bank of America Cinema) Mike King compared Yankovic's music videos to Michel Gondry's underrated Be Kind Rewind. Both "critique not the mindlessness of popular entertainment, but the passivity with which it is consumed," he wrote, referring to their utopian premise of blue-collar types remaking mainstream culture in their own image. I hadn't been much of a Gondry fan before reading King's defense, but since then my appreciation for the French writer-director has steadily increased. No longer do I regard Gondry's handmade special effects as mere schtick, but as the expression of an optimistic worldview that regards work and art as inextricable from each other.

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