Rewind This!

sxswfilm2013SXSW 2013 Film Review

Rewind This!

Director: Josh Johnson

Home video changed the world. The impact of the VHS tape was enormous. Rewind This! aims to trace the ripples of that impact.
(film synopsis from sxsw.com)

WHO’S IT FOR?: Do you collect VHS tapes? Did you grow up re-watching your tapes until they wore out? Rewind This! is made by movie geeks for movie geeks, especially if you grew up in the ’80s and ’90s.

OVERALL

It’d be easy to make a mini-series on the lasting impact of the VHS tape format in terms of not just collectable memorabilia but also the crucial preservation implications of certain titles only found on VHS. Lucky for us, director Josh Johnson has put together a nice little documentary that explores both aspects of the format in addition to bringing up equally fascinating insight to the looming move toward all digital technology. Through a series of entertaining and informative interviews spanning from avid collectors to B-movie directors to home video tech pioneers, Rewind This! covers a whole lot of ground in a short amount of time. The pace is quick and the information mostly useful but each section feels slightly incomplete, perhaps missing an overall assessment of this particular era.

If you are a movie nerd and/or VHS collector, you likely won’t be able to find a more passionate love letter to your interests than Rewind This! Johnson spends a good amount of time showing the growing trend of flea market VHS budget buying for titles that are ridiculous, quirky or incredibly rare. We go deep into the homes of various collectors who have stacks upon stacks of tapes ranging from straight to tape directed films from David “The Rock” Nelson all the way to Windows ’95 introduction videos featuring Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry. Many of these films will never be produced again in other formats and while some are better left in the intended format, in a way it’s sort of sad.

The doc mentions that only 40 to 50 percent of known VHS titles have been converted to the newer disc formats. Since VHS is no longer being produced, naturally this means that there is a portion of the VHS population of titles that will only be available on the now dead format. It’s the fans that are keeping the content in the spotlight showing that something needs to be done. This is where Rewind This! begins to become truly interesting by delving into the history of VHS and how it impacted the way movies were not only distributed but how they were made. We even get to see how the business sort of worked back then showing the growing support from the porn industry and the intricate case cover art selling methods that were used to market otherwise terrible films. People took more chances back then and often bypassed the traditional methods of acquiring films through word of mouth and tape trading. It isn’t long before Johnson likens these methods to explore modern torrenting trends and an increase in digital distribution and consumption.

As stated previously, that’s a ton of information. Johnson does tend to jump from topic to topic a bit more than he should but it never detracts from the easy to understand delivery of said information. A separate movie could be made, each dealing with the major topics of this film but I feel like to exclude any particular portion would be a huge disservice to the overall goal of the documentary: awareness. Of course there are some extraneous sections, such as the small bit about scratchy artifacts from continuous rewinding, that could be cut in favor of a more complete conclusion. However it’s these small sections that provide humor and some additional technical details we might have otherwise missed without their inclusion.

Rewind This! is a well-made, entertaining, and informative look at the history and nostalgia surrounding the VHS format. While it’s a documentary that will appeal more to movie geeks and those who look at the format with a certain amount of fondness, the film is just crowd pleasing enough to find a more general audience. Despite my issues I found Rewind This! to be a fist pumping, call to arms for all those, collector or otherwise, who don’t wish to see the format simply disappear.

FINAL SCORE: 7/10

Tyler Mager currently reviews movies for CollegeMovieReview.com and comics for Gutters and Panels. He’s also an aspiring screenwriter and filmmaker based out of Austin, TX. Follow him on twitter @tylermager.

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