The Two Pop-Culture Fads Passing Westchester By

Itry to stay current on all aspects of popular culture, even if they’re on the fringes. Usually, even the most insular of subcultures, no matter how far outside of the mainstream they are, have some representatives planted in Westchester. We’ve got Live Action Role-Players, Wizard Rock bands, and our own Roller Derby league, and so on.

Yet recently, I’ve noticed two hands-on, do-it-yourself fads that completely passed us by. I think the message here is clear: Ask Westchester to be imaginative and creative, and we’re there. Ask us to build things, and we’re home watching American Idol.

The first fad—a very recent one—comes courtesy of Be Kind Rewind, the newest film from the fanciful Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind director Michel Gondry. The film is about a down-on-its-luck video store in Passiac, NJ. When all of the tapes in the store get accidentally erased, the two leads (played by Mos Def and Jack Black) try to re-create all the movies themselves, using ultra-low-budget techniques and homemade sets. Football pads and hairdryers become Robocop costumes, the pair reenacts Ghostbusters with tin-foil suits and plastic garbage bags. The customers don’t buy it, but they like the films anyway, and soon the whole town gets into the act of cheaply replenishing the VHS rentals.

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Even before Be Kind Rewind hit theaters, the idea of making 10-minute, no-budget remakes of Hollywood blockbusters became popular on the Internet. For some reason, which is only half-explained even in the film, these became known as “sweded” movies.

If you go to the Be Kind Rewind website, you can watch the movies sweded in the film (and you should definitely check out Rush Hour 2). Everywhere else on the Internet, you can find all sorts of movies sweded by regular people. Fan-sweded films are so popular, it’s getting hard to keep track of them, but this site is putting up a valiant effort. So far, they’ve catalogued more than 120 remakes. And, in a move that can only be described as meta, Michel Gondry has sweded himself, re-doing his own Be Kind Rewind trailer by playing all the parts. (See the official trailer here, and Gondry’s sweded version here.)

Everyone, it seems, is getting into the act. Everybody but us, that is. While there are sweded versions of everything from Hook to My Fair Lady floating around cyberspace, none of them seemed to have originated in Westchester. (Obviously, I haven’t had the chance to check out every sweded video. If you made one, I’d love to hear from you. Let me know at comments@westchestermagazine.com.) We all live in striking distance of Richard Gere, yet none of us is brave enough to build a limousine out of cardboard and swede his role in Pretty Woman.

The second fad currently passing us by is less recent. In fact, its roots go back to the Victorian era. It’s called steampunk. Steampunk grew out of a subset of fiction that focused on Victorian-era technology—think Jules Verne and H.G. Wells—but morphed into a group of tinkerers who try and make modern gadgets using materials and technology available to the Victorians: copper, brass, and, obviously, steam power. Wired magazine recently featured a fantastic photo gallery of steampunk creations, including a guitar, a car, and laptop computer that looks like a wood-and-brass jewelry box (and can even be locked with a silver key).

I am dying to pitch a steampunk article to my editor at Westchester Magazine. But try as a might—and even though Westchester residents certainly have enough garage space for these undertakings—I can seem to find a single inventor in the county. The Steampunk Workshop is somewhere in Western Massachusetts; Steampunk Magazine is headquartered in Portland, Oregon. Those areas aren’t that different from us, yet we haven’t really discovered the joys of retro-futurism. (Again, if I’m wrong and you have the world’s first steam-powered GPS system sitting in your backyard, please, please, please shoot me an e-mail.)

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Why is our county so dismissive of steampunk and sweded videos? Is it because, in Westchester, we’re all too busy managing hedge funds and soccer schedules to get out in the backyard with a camera? Or are we all just geniuses who go to four-year colleges and therefore don’t take woodshop? (In my middle school woodshop class, I once turned in a wooden car with square wheels because I was so deathly afraid of the jigsaw and belt-sander that I couldn’t round them out. Sorry, Mr. Ponterio. I know you tried.)

This weekend, I tried to reverse the trend myself and get out and make a sweded video. Unfortunately, I had to leave the county to do it. The Deitch gallery in New York City is running an exhibition in conjunction with Be Kind Rewind where they’ll hand you a camera—for free—and let you run around a makeshift backlot to shoot a video. I played a waitress and stood behind an old-timey cash register in a set that looked like a café. I even got to meet Michel Gondry, who showed up at the gallery to take photos of the people making DIY movies. You know what? This hands-on stuff can be kind of fun.

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