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Monday, June 9, 2014

Rewind This! (2013) review


David Gregory, Mike Vraney, Don May Jr., Frank Henenlotter, Showko Nakahara, Tom Mes, Peter Rowe, Roy Frumkes, Mamoru Oshii, David Schmoeller, Charles Band, Kevin Tenney, Kazuo Kato, J.R. Bookwalter, Lloyd Kaufman, Cassandra Peterson

Directed by Josh Johnson

The Short Version: Prepare to nerd out with 90 minutes of videocassette nirvana that explores virtually every aspect of the videotape world -- from its beginnings and ensuing short-lived war that left Beta dead and VHS victorious; to video stores multiplying more rapidly than a Tribble on STAR TREK; to tape trading, and bootlegging; and even those shot-on-video crapfests get a whole lotta love; those pesky crimps that made such a loud racket inside your VCR get a moment to shine, too. The fascination with watching the end of pre-owned tapes to see what a previous owner had recorded is a revelation in making you, the viewer, realize you've done the exact same thing before; and believe it or not, there's actually one fans appreciation of pan-and-scan! You'll see it all here; even folks with VHS tattoos -- "Never Forget".

"I'm very proud to say that I have 82 movies that start with 'dead', 'death', and 'deadly', 82... so, I've really made it, I'm really a great success in life" -- a sarcasm infused Zack Carlson, author of Destroy All Movies!!! talking about his VHS collection.

The beginnings, and advent of the VHS boom is told through the words of collectors, actors, and future media company owners in this expansive chronicle. Journey back in time as they reminisce about experiencing, and surviving the Format Wars of the 1980s while renting, recording, and collecting films on the Video Home System, or VHS for short.

Fans of videocassettes will likely fall in love with the format all over again while watching this 90 minute love letter to those plastic shelled cases housing two to six hours of heavenly recording -- the VHS tapes. Consummate in its coverage of this bygone, yet still very cultish era, REWIND THIS! covers an incredible amount of ground from the bowels of 42nd Street nostalgia, to the sex and sin side of Japanese V-Cinema, and back to the southern treasure trove that awaits collectors at The Picture Show in Winston Salem, NC. Virtually no stack of tapes is left unturned.

VCR's get a brief amount of screen time, represented most memorably in some early commercials advertising what was once cutting edge electronics. The early machines were like gigantic tape recorders. I remember having great fun pressing those huge buttons to record things. One of the first tapes I made (a portion of it, at least) was a Commander USA airing of SAMSON VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMEN (1962), CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1984) on HBO, and DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) recorded from its first VHS release -- FBI Warning be damned.

I've long lost my affection for videocassettes; having sold around 1,800 tapes at a yard sale in the late 90s, and reinvesting in the then burgeoning DVD market. Unfortunately, of those I sold, a lot of them I wish I hadn't -- naively believing everything would hit those shiny discs some day. Much like the collectors, sellers, and distributors reminiscing those days on this documentary, there was something very special about perusing the bounty of titles lining video store shelves in the 80s; and all that is meticulously detailed in director Johnson's sterling, highly recommended documentary. 

I vividly remember grabbing at tape boxes, lured by lurid artwork, quickly turning the boxes over to read a (not always accurate) synopsis, and ponder if the pictures shown were enough reason to rent it. Most often, the artwork was a huge selling point. More times than not, the artwork proved to be superior to the film on the tape. Those over-sized tape boxes were often the most prized rentals; for my tastes, and some of those on this doc, those offered the greater appeal. Gimmick tape boxes are covered, most especially the sort presented on that classic case for the Shapiro-Glickenhaus home video of FRANKENHOOKER (1990). Remember that one? There was this little button you'd press, and the cover ghoul would spout out "Wanna date?" Others like THE DEAD PIT (1989) had pop-out covers with eyes that lit up.

Judging by this historically significant time capsule, there are still a great many fans of VHS lurking out there. Listening to their remarks, there's a playful, TREKKIES style obsession with the dead tape format that some refuse to let go of.  The beauty of this documentary is the amount of stories that will hit home with many viewers in recalling you've done the exact same thing yourself. This will likely open a floodgate of memories, and this is just one area that director Johnson touches on extremely well. One such story involves watching the end of pre-owned tapes to see what had been recorded on them in earlier years. I often did this, myself. 

Reminisces by those who witnessed, experienced, and participated in the VHS explosion first hand are in abundance; and Frank (BASKET CASE) Henenlotter's enlightening responses are among the best, bringing a good deal of levity with him. Among a ragtag band of worn out VHS covers are clips from assorted cult favorites and forgotten gems like...


There are a few minor things not mentioned on this chronicle of the video rental boom; one of those things are the little tabs you could break on the side of the tape to keep from recording over it. You could get around this by covering the square hole with a piece of tape and record again if you'd broke it off previously. Movies you'd buy in the store already had the tab broken on them, of course. I remember renting the MCA tape of SHOGUN ASSASSIN and near the beginning when Daigoro was unveiling the backstory, the tape suddenly cut to a ballgame for about 30 seconds before the screen turned to snow, and the film continued from there; definitely a hindrance, but a memorable aspect of this time period.

I'm going to digress a bit and mention those annoying VHS rewinding machines, too. Remember those? I had a black Trans Am one, and after a few uses, it would break the tape from rewinding so fast. Needless to say, I didn't keep it long.

The porn VHS market, and those often horrific, occasionally creative SOV (Shot On Video) movies get sections of their own. You couldn't have a doc on this fantastic time period without them, really.

The VHS boom of the 1980s might be gone, but judging by many of those featured in Josh Johnson's staggeringly comprehensive documentary, it's not forgotten. If you still own a tape or two, it might make you pop one into an old VCR to do some reminiscing of your own. Be kind and rent, or own REWIND THIS! And don't forget to adjust your tracking.

This review is representative of a time coded version. The film can be purchased HERE. You can also purchase the film on iTunes, and rent it via other online sources. The films website is HERE.


Tommy Ross said...

Wow, this looks awesome, gonna have to check it out. My movie collection has both DVD and VHS and I probably have several hundred titles on VHS, I have a high quality Sony vcr connected to my plasma with gold plugs and special settings on the plasma for just that machine, lower brightness and higher sharpness, looks incredible. Still a great format and way more durable than DVD.

venoms5 said...

A buddy of mine who has some connection to the production (I forget at the moment) gave me a copy of it, I just took my time getting around to it, and I wish I'd watched it sooner. It was very interesting to say the least.

I still have a small handful of old VHS tapes I bought with my allowance when I was a kid in the 80s.

There's another doc on this subject coming called ADJUST YOUR TRACKING.

Thanks for stopping by, Tommy!

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