We watched Be Kind, Rewind last night.

I have to say some stuff about it.

Alright, first:

Jack black appears in blackface in the film.

This makes sense within the context of the film, and is addressed as unacceptable by the members of the community his character is living in.

It doesn't add anything to the film, and it's a pretty surprisingly low note in a film that is otherwise about community unity.

I'm not remotely qualified to discuss this aspect of the film, but I felt it would be irresponsible for me to talk about the strengths of the rest of the film without mentioning it.

The movie stars Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def), Jack Black, Danny Glover, and a bunch of other people.

It's about a video rental store in a poor neighborhood in NJ that is condemned and going to be demolished. The store sells VHS tapes and is not financially successful.

This provides the set dressing for a film in which a community gets together and makes movies, including a fictional biopic about Fats Waller.

A community producing it's own media is Very Much my shit, and the movie is good.

I love Yasiin Bey as an actor, and his character in this movie is great.

I'm avoiding spoilers as I discuss the movie because it's new enough and obscure enough that chances are good that not everyone who might want to see it will have seen it already.

It isn't actually new or obscure, but still.

This movie introduced an idea, though:
"To Swede" - The process of remaking a commercial film without a commercial budget or professional actors. The resulting film is a "sweded" film.

The etymology for this turn of phrase within the film aren't important to the rest of this discussion, but "Sweded" is useful shorthand for a specific visual style and concept that I want to discuss at length.


Sweded films 

Some examples from youtube:

- The Force Awakens: invidious.tube/watch?v=4fDlPI1

- Robocop (from Be Kind Rewind): invidious.tube/watch?v=9ZM5ZD0

Sweded films 

The idea, basically, is short films that revel in their own mediocre production values.

The music is people's voices. The special effects are cardboard, and are done in camera. The production is Bad, but it gets the point across.

Within the context of Be Kind Rewind, this meant a single VHS camcorder, minimal editing, and in camera effects.

There's something Freeing about this approach.

Get out and tell a story with your friends.

Sweded films 

I'm not suggesting that we all sit around ripping off hollywood blockbusters as short films made with our neighbors.

I'm suggesting we cut hollywood out of it entirely, and we sit around making our own blockbusters.

I watch Be Kind Rewind every few years to remind myself of what Good Enough can look like.

Be Kind Rewind - Format wars 

One thing that stood out to me as I watched this movie was how the march of technological progress always seems to be away from Read/Write in consumer tech.

The "Good" and "Successful" pieces of consumer tech are frequently read only by default, and if there is a read/write option, it's frequently late or measurably worse or extra expensive when compared to the read only version.

I think this is most evident in video, but it's not only true for video.

Be Kind Rewind - Format wars 

A commercially released software floppy disk and a floppy disk I write on my laptop are equivalent in terms of quality and longevity.

A cassette I record in my own home is likely *better* than a commercially recorded cassette.

A VHS tape I make myself, again, almost certainly as good or higher quality than a professionally released VHS tape.

Be Kind Rewind - Format wars 

But of DVDs I made myself 10 years ago, many don't work anymore. Of the commercial DVDs I purchased in 1999, the vast majority are fine (and the ones that aren't were mishandled.)

CDs I burned in 2002 are probably toast. CDs pressed in 1985 are fine.

Be Kind Rewind - Format wars 

VHS was a garbage format. It looked BAD. But it was a format that allowed creation *and* consumption at a quality equivalent to commercial releases using consumer equipment.

Be Kind Rewind - Format wars 

Part of this is because it's easier to make things that are readable than it is to make them writable, so higher quality formats tend to be read only first.

But professional formats are always read-write. DAT is as good or better than CD in terms of audio quality, and no more cumbersome than cassettes in terms of management, but DAT was never considered for a consumer format.

Similarly, Betacam and HDCam for video.

Be Kind Rewind - Format wars 

Consumer tech is biased towards read only, even when high quality Read/Write is possible, because read only is cheaper, and less likely to rile up the ire of those in power.

Be Kind Rewind - Format wars 

We got lucky with Flash Media and the increasing digitization of our lives, because everything is a camera, everything has a microphone, everything has some flash storage.

Flash isn't perfect, and distribution is still a problem, but maybe we've broken past Read Only consumer tech for a while.

Sweded films 

@ajroach42 In bigger name films, I keep thinking back to The Wizard of Oz.

Not to suggest it was cheap or cutting edge, but it looks very much like a stage production. Like a play. Yet many still consider it a classic!

That aesthetic has an appeal.

Be Kind Rewind - Format wars 

@ajroach42 I think that might just be due to reading being inherently easier then writing?

re: Be Kind Rewind - Format wars 

@Canageek @ajroach42 It's also because copyright and the recordable media tax and capitalism.

re: Be Kind Rewind - Format wars 

@irl @ajroach42 I actually don't think so: Every format I can think of, other then flash media, had to overcome HUGE technological hurdles to allow writing, when reading was basically free, even the early one like gramophones when this wasn't nearly as big a concern.

re: Be Kind Rewind - Format wars 

@Canageek @ajroach42 not sure if this was the article i read before, but it's covering most of the same stuff shallowrewards.substack.com/p/

there was big opposition to the idea of recordable media from lobby groups, enough to kill formats

re: Be Kind Rewind - Format wars 

@irl @ajroach42 Watch Technology Connections, he goes into how engineers had to fight to fit recordable technology into just about every format you've mentioned, and how freaking hard it is to do so

re: Be Kind Rewind - Format wars 

@Canageek @ajroach42 oh the brown guy! i'd forgotten about that channel. do you have a link to the specific video?

re: Be Kind Rewind - Format wars 

@irl @ajroach42 Series on CDs: youtube.com/playlist?list=PLv0

Beta vs VHS: youtube.com/playlist?list=PLv0

DVDs: youtube.com/watch?v=e1mJv9pxm7

and probably a few more.

Basically reading is usually almost free. Writing? Is a goddamn miracle we can do it at all.

re: Be Kind Rewind - Format wars 

@Canageek @ajroach42 Thanks! I'm going to watch these after work.

re: Be Kind Rewind - Format wars 

@ajroach42 this maps with 8-track tapes; for a while, everyone had an 8-track player, but almost no one had an 8-track recorder.

Be Kind Rewind - Format wars 

@ajroach42 I enjoyed this thread and I think I’ll be thinking about it for a while.

re: Be Kind Rewind - Format wars 

@ajroach42 there's an additional factor, and it's one that took me a long time to accept -- the reality is that the market for consumers who genuinely want to create as well as consume is just not that large.

While the corporate world underestimates how many people genuinely want to create, a lot of the tech community vastly overestimates it. We have a consume-heavy culture.

And that means that investments in making creative capability for "the masses" (easy, cheap, ubiquitous) usually don't pan out. When it's successful (YouTube), it's because it caters to connecting the huge consumer audience with the much smaller creators group.

Making better tools to enable more creators helps, but it's diminishing returns until/unless we can address the consumer culture.

Be Kind Rewind - Format wars 

@ajroach42 I find the same thing! (Mostly from having been gifted pirated Dr Who DVDs as a teenager)

Technology Connections does a good job explaining why this is. Chemical transformations degrade over time, the physical shape of pressed grooves don't.

Though in my case there's also the factor that those DVDs were compressed, unlike any that'll play in a DVD player...

Be Kind Rewind - Format wars 

@ajroach42 But a CD will be far WORSE quality and not last nearly as long, since they can't actually use an industrial grad processes

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