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Rewind This

2013 | 94 min | Not rated | 1.85:1

Rewind This


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Theatrical release date

 06 September, 2013

Country of origin

 United States



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Rewind This Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, September 9, 2013

There’s now a film-loving generation that’s learned everything they know about cinema from VHS, the popular home video format of the 1980s and ‘90s. Moviegoing isn’t something they’re practiced in, only consumption, brought on by an industry revolution that brought practically everything out on the format, from heralded classics to material that redefines bad taste. The documentary “Rewind This” focuses on the intensity of these collectors and creators who embrace the possibilities of VHS, keeping the spirit of discovery alive as they hunt and create obscure titles, embracing the eccentricity and spirit that once packed the shelves at the local mom and pop video store.

Directed by Josh Johnson, “Rewind This” is largely about the collectors. These curious men in odd glasses are often found scouring flea markets and garage sales for VHS gold, rummaging through boxes to pick up rare titles to add to their considerable library of films, a few topping out at 1,000 cassettes. In this day and age of streaming and downloading, it’s a quest few undertake, out to acquire a piece of forgotten history in an era that doesn’t reward experimentation and has little patience for unforgivable schlock. They are obsessive types, awkward in front of a camera, but they have a distinct appetite, making tape hunting thrilling as they seek out the cheesiest, corniest productions they can find, treating their purchases as baseball cards.

Collecting plays a major role in “Rewind This,” hearing the tape hunters share stories of their hauls and display their libraries, with a few taking their interests to the internet to build popular websites devoted to the ludicrous (including Corey Haim’s self-aggrandizing 1989 love letter, “Me, Myself and I”) and the creepy (Bubba Smith’s 1985 workout video, “Until it Hurts,” where the hulking star insists on sharing romantic sentiments with the viewer). It’s a passion to some, a business to others, but the universal theme here is one of curiosity, plumbing the depths of the VHS industry to locate just how bizarre these moneymaking ventures were. Johnson isn’t particularly enamored with the inspection of mechanical particulars (there no segment devoted to how a VCR works), but there’s some sense of history, recalling the battle between VHS and Betamax for a sparse number of home viewers back in the 1970s -- the masses eventually choosing the cheaper format over the one that offered better picture quality.

Digging into the heyday of VHS, Johnson explores the Wild West atmosphere of movie licensing, where major studios were wary of such a long-term commitment, allowing independent outfits to swoop in and dominate the market, providing product to expanding video stores looking to fill their shelves, often settling on exploitation efforts made on minuscule budgets. Talk about the erasure of aspect ratios is included, with one particular interviewee sharing his love for the pan and scan look common to most widescreen features (cineastes might want to keep a stress ball around for screwball confessions like this). The documentary also covers the rise of the sell-through title (allowing ownership on a grand scale), the details of Japanese “V-Cinema,” the simple pleasures of graphic box art (a highlight of the picture), and the popularity of pornography, which many credit as the reason why VHS became so popular, allowing consumers to take adult films into the privacy of their own homes.

Johnson plays up the nostalgia factor of VHS, quite beautifully at times, poring over the nooks and crannies of the industry, spotlighting the ease of video production and its DIY film school attitude, personified here by David “The Rock” Nelson, a nutter who’s churned out a few backyard productions. There’s also a visit to North Carolina to meet Wayne, a man in possession of 100,000 videotapes, opening a store that caters to the VHS fanatic, with a loyal clientele willing to pay exorbitant prices for total schlock and the occasional bootleg. “Rewind This” is skilled at exposing such tape appreciation as a religion, with its followers desperate to cling to a time that allowed such diversity of product and pride of ownership, mirroring the current fetishization of vinyl records. Visual quality isn’t important here, but availability and daredevil selection, creating a sense of gamesmanship today’s digital domain doesn’t allow.

Interviews are passionate and illuminating, with hobbyists, bloggers, and admirers sharing their memories and concern for a VHS-less future. Better is time with the professionals, the filmmakers who actively participated in the revolution, with “Basket Case” director Frank Henenlotter (also responsible for the “Wanna Date?” sound button on the cover of “Frankenhooker”) charismatic and knowledgeable enough to carry the entire discussion by himself, though it’s nice to have names such as Atom Egoyan, Lloyd Kaufman, Bill Margold, the ageless Cassandra Petersen (whose Elvira character broke through due to heated rental activity), and Roy Frumkes (of “Street Trash” fame) around to provide testimony.

While “Rewind This” misses a few beats of technology and era-specific celebration, the documentary isolates the thrill of the VHS years and how they helped to shape a generation of film fanatics used to gorging on their hobby. It’s affectionate and educational, with enough visual evidence to act as a time machine, bringing viewers back to an era of movie-watching exploration and physical media worship.

Director: Josh Johnson

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