The collected works of cinematic genius Brandon Hardesty don’t add up to more than 20 minutes running time, but give the man a break: Of his eight wide-release films to date, the earliest is only three weeks old. The debut, Re-enactment: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, introduces
Hardesty—a doughy, schlub-faced 19-year-old college student and checkout clerk—in the triple role of Wonka, Grandpa Joe, and cameraman (the entire cast and crew). The set appears to be Hardesty’s bedroom, and the makeup consists of a ball of dryer lint Scotch-taped to his face for Grandpa Joe’s mustache. And as with all of Hardesty’s films—one-man re-enactments of choice scenes from The Shining, Princess Bride, and other mainstream classics—the viewer’s emotional arc moves from the soft prejudice of low expectations through growing astonishment at Hardesty’s uncanny, note-for-note re-creation, arriving in the end at an almost tragic sense of the gap between fandom and professionalism. Now showing on YouTube (of course), Hardesty’s work is Web culture at its finest: Funny, loving, democratic, hybrid, weird.
Oh, and infringing. Unless he cleared derivative rights, Hardesty’s uploads would appear to be colorable violations of major studio copyrights—defendable as fair use, probably, but only for a fee beyond the reach of any checkout clerk. If the studios wanted to, they could no doubt wipe Hardesty’s oeuvre off the Web with a letter from in-house counsel, and it would be foolish to put it past them. Just as foolish as NBC’s decision to strong-arm YouTube into deleting uploads of the SNL “Sunday Morning” nerd-rap video, despite the massive free publicity. “Sunday Morning” was in some ways a lot like Hardesty’s—another white-guys-with-camcorders homage to everyday pop-cultural obsessions. But there’s the rub: When corporations own the culture, nobody’s obsessions are their own.