Saturday, February 15

Some quick thoughts on Rewind This! (2013)

From the back: "In the 1980s, videotape changed the world and laid the foundation for modern media culture. Rewind This! traces the rise and fall of VHS from its heyday as the mainstream home video format to its current status as a nostalgic relic and prize to collectors who still cherish it. Featuring interviews with both filmmakers and enthusiasts from the VHS era, including Troma legend Lloyd Kaufman, indie auteur Atom Egoyan, and Hobo with a Shotgun filmmaker Jason Eisener, Rewind This! is the definitive story of the format that came to be synonymous with the home video revolution. So gather up your friends and start the pizza party - just make sure to have your tapes back on time."

I've been quite conflicted over this review. Being passionate about VHS has me wanting to find some profound criticism over a documentary covering a wide variety of aspects of the format's history and current subculture. However; Josh Johnson's scattershot Rewind This! is sadly a letdown. None of the topics are explored to any in-depth extent, lending to a presentation that seems targeted to those who're just amazed there's any interest in the video relic today.

Being comprised solely of interviews, one gets the impression it was a struggle to snitch responses together as they often don't quite follow the topic at hand. At one turn, we're hearing ninja flicks on Hong Kong tapes from Japanese producer Yoshinori Chiba and then director Frank Henenlotter bitching about aspect ratios in a loose portion about distributor oddities during the video boom. While never uninteresting, this approach makes everything seem unfocused with information that could help round out each portion never presented. A host might have smoothed this persistent issue, maybe something in a cheap shot-on-video vein like Cameron Mitchell's goofy appearance in Terror on Tape (1983).

Hardly any time is devoted to the VHS vs. Betamax war and it's boiled down to recording time. While that was a factor, the time it's given in Rewind This! makes one believe the battle was over in literally no time. In the grand scheme, it was, but for a defeated format Beta garnered an enormous catalog of titles and players compared to the modern day failure of Toshiba's HD DVD. Such contrast could have helped a layman place the great format war of the '80s into better perspective. Afterward, Frank Henelotter talks about Andre Blay's Magnetic Video Corporation, a first distributor to convince major studios to licence their films for home video. Why delve into Magnetic after discussing the format war when MVC arguably marked the very first rumblings of content on home video?

Roy Frumkes, director of Street Trash (1987), comments throughout with a disdain for VHS being a LaserDisc aficionado. The LD format isn't explored which leaves his attitude unexplained to the uninitiated. There's a five minute segment devoted to the format in the deleted material on the DVD, but annoyingly a collector makes the ridiculous claim that the format is "very flawed" due to laser rot. While this is an issue, just like tape mold or DVD delamination, mention of this issue has no purpose in a small clip about a format that could support an entire documentary unto itself.

Several Japanese interviewees appear, like Toei producer Kazuo Kato and actress Shoko Nakahara, but there's no context as to why they're more important to include than say, an Australian or German perspective. This could have helped just by pointing out how video crazy the country got, with a dizzying amount of world cinema released onto VHS that easily rivaled the output of North America. Of course, being a Japanese tape collector I found their inclusion valuable despite their insights being interchangeable with anyone else. Several porn directors are also interviewed without any mention of the long-standing Nihon Ethics Video Association censorship board and how that shaped the video landscape in Japan. Very disappointing when even obvious region questions aren't asked. And on the censorship note, the only mention of the British Video Recordings Act of 1984 is a segment in the deleted material, why didn't such a influential event in home video make the cut?

That's continually the deal with Rewind This!, a sloppy documentary that provides a long line of questions that usually aren't answered, especially if you've already an enthusiast. The majority of information and insight is easily available elsewhere and I don't find myself wanting to see this again. If you're unfamiliar with the recent nostalgic spike of interest in VHS, Rewind This! may be worth seeing, although active collectors may not pull much from the experience.


Nicholous said...

Think you'll review the other VHS doc that just came out- Adjust Your Tracking? It's by the VHShitfest guys.

Jayson Kennedy said...

Yep, still need to order it but I'll be talking about it. you dare tread upon the staircase?

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