It should be no surprise that when I discovered that Josh Johnson's VHS documentary Rewind This was playing Fantasia, I made sure to see it by any means necessary.
An exploration of VHS and the subculture that surrounds it.
Rewind This was a well put-together delight that shoved a lot into its ninety-minute running time. The sheer amount of interviewees in this doc was astonishing. In addition to writers and video store owners, filmmakers like Frank Henenlotter, Charles Band, Lloyd Kaufman made appearances. Since these guys were around in the very early days of home video, they really lent some legitimacy to the proceedings.
The doc covered many topics in depth, including the eighties format war, coverbox art and the direct-to-video boom. There was also a global feel to Rewind This, as we heard from people in the Japanese & Canadian markets, as well. I was certainly glad to see Ontario represented as Todd Brown from Twitch.com and James Bialkowski of Vagrancy Films popped up more than a few times.
Even with all these voices, Rewind This averted the talking head syndrome by constantly sampling the delicious oddities that the VHS era gave us. The section on bootlegging brought back some memories, providing insight into such things as South Park's The Spirit of Christmas and Chris Strompolos' legendary scene-by-scene remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
This doc would obviously not be a success without the collectors, and Rewind This had a warehouse's worth. I was rather humbled by some of their immense spoils. I’m always envious of these people because, even as much as I love VHS, I’ve never really had much of a “nose” for seeking out the real treasures. I got a good chuckle out of seeing collector Dormarth's obsessively labelled sections like “Pre-Sellout Craven” & “Who You Clownin' Foo” and listening to the Alamo Drafthouse's Tommy Svenson talk about the inevitable glitches on old rental tapes. Essentially, whenever the quality suddenly degraded during playback, it usually meant you were about to see boobs, as that section had previously been rewound and rewatched countless times. I have to admit I'd never made that connection before, but it’s so true.
The subject of video preservation was also brought up. As VHS remained the standard for such an unusual amount of time, there are still hundreds of titles that never made the jump to newer formats. Simply put, some movies out there only exist on VHS, and when they’re gone, they’re gone!
This is the second VHS documentary I’ve seen this year – Dan Kinem’s Adjust Your Tracking being the other – and I'd say this one is the superior offering. Tracking’s subjects are just as passionate, but the execution here seemed a bit more professional. Additionally, by covering more subjects, it gave it a wider appeal, as well. While it's true that Rewind This is still targeted to the seventies & eighties babies of the world, it'd be hard not to crack a smile during some of the more colourful bits; no matter where and when you hail from.