Last week saw the release of the indie documentary Rewind This! that documents the VCR and home video market of the late ’70s & early ’80s. I’m sure many readers of this site have fond memories of raiding the local, quirky video stores on the weekends, unearthing oddities and treasures in equal parts (although the oddities may slightly outweigh the treasure, to be accurate). The film throws us back to the days of video collecting, of spending days and weeks waiting and searching for a film, and the maddening curiosity of mesmerizing, psychotropic artwork, that promises so much. Rewind This accomplishes this by interviewing an eclectic mix of obsessives and professionals, including Frank Hennelotter, director of Basket Case and Frankenhooker, and Cassandra Peterson, better known as Elvira (whose career was greatly increased by VHS). My personal favorite was David ‘The Rock’ Nelson, who made legions of made-for-video horror thrillers. He’s a total nut (he does 60 push ups on camera), and ends up being totally inspiring, just the thing I needed to hear when I was feeling a little low about my life and purpose (thanks The Rock). I will definitely be seeking his movies out.
The film goes into every major angle of the VHS industry, starting with the war on Beta-Max, touching on the major industries and their reluctance towards the medium, then breezing through subjects as diverse as cover art and special gimmicks, the importance of video stores and their cultural impact, the effect on the adult movie industry, the rise and popularity in Japan, and the empowerment that VHS offered a generation of film makers and fanatic. They shoe how VHS and video stores would go on to create the viral, YouTube/streaming culture that we are currently living in, managing to champion the advantages of living in the modern age, while still lamenting and mourning something precious.
Another reviewer felt that Rewind This! tried to do too much, that it was hard to follow and “somewhat superficial”. While I do agree that the film is fast paced, and makes some pretty incredible topic shifts, I found it to gives a thrilling momentum, making you feel the excitement of the people who were making it, and the obvious love of their interviewees. The production values are top notch, chock full of vintage advertisements, trailers and a really killer soundtrack by composer Josh Freda. While it may not be the exhaustive documentary on the history of the Beta-Max Corporation you were hoping for, this IS a definitive document on VHS obsession.
While it may seem like this film would rely solely upon nostalgia (of which there is plenty), it manages to be relevant, showing what a pivotal role that home video played in modern culture, while also looking at the renewed interest in the form.
VHS IS making a comeback, even if it’s a small one, mainly among the geekily obsessive. One person they interviewed talked about how Digital Media is never really owning something, it is always renting, and mentions an interesting but freaky instance where customers had the digital copy of George Orwell’s 1984 disappear from their kindle overnight, due to a licensing SNAFU. There will always be a love and a need for artifacts and a relics-there will always be a market for collectors. I’m sure there are plenty of readers out there who prefer to hold an actual THING in their hand, rather than having a digital replica. For one thing, you don’t get the full experience of the sweet cover art, which is how I discovered a lot of the art that I have come to cherish.
My favorite part of Rewind This! was looking at the collections and the video stores that have managed to survive and thrive. The collectors show us some of the treasures from their vaults, like Corey Haim: Me, Myself & I, The Winnebago Man & Bubba ‘Hightower’ Smith’s Bubba ‘Till It Hurts exercise video (with no jumping, which makes it perfect for apartment living.) The other aspect that I found most fascinating was the impact that home video had on film in general. Having films that you could watch, and re-watch, anytime you liked, created a generation of cinephiles with a thirst for good movies. The ability to pass, rewind, and play things in slow motion let people analyze cinema in an unprecedented, letting aspiring filmmakers (or just lovers) deconstruct editing and film techniques. I suspect, in the long-run, that we will end up with generations of super directors and editors, if we can surpass our ADD.
These collections and video stores bring up one of the most poignant aspects of the loss of physical media; the joy of accidental discovery, and the act of browsing. Of course, in some ways, we’re browsing through the most infinite video store ever dreamed of now, which brings to light the other side of this medallion; too much to browse through. We MAY discover some lost, accidental masterpiece, something akin to Heavy Metal Parking Lotor The Dancing Outlaw but we’ve got A LOT to wade through now, which means that what we are doing here at AS will become increasingly essential, finding the best and sharing what we love.
Of course, the video market had a huge impact on the Horror genre, which is what i normally write about. The cheap, straight-to-video market, could become quite popular and turn a tidy profit, rubbing shoulders with the big budget behemoths. The video stores were quite democratic. This boom made way for all kinds of novelties and inventiveness, greatly expanding the scope of the genre, and producing some pretty amazing boxes along the way. And also of course, a lot of the VHS have never been digitized, meaning that there are strange hidden movies out there, right now, just waiting to be unearthed. Possibly by you. Due to my recent resurgence in crate digging and VHS culture, i have found some total anomalies, that I will definitely be coming back and writing about.
VHS has an aura to it, a warmth; it’s impressionistic, vs. the HD magnification of DVD or blu-ray. This fuzziness and warped quality is referenced a lot, from popular musicians like Boards Of Canada or Ariel Pink, to modern movies like The House Of The Devil or Beyond The Black Rainbow. I suspect we’ll see a lot more of this, as we get further into the cloud. We will come to long for the imperfections, the uncertainty, the oddity, as can also be seen in the increasing emergence of the popularity of cassette tapes, in the past decade. Take this opportunity, see this wonderful documentary, remember the thrill of finding some new gem, or the anticipation of driving to the video store. Remember that love of film, the sense of adventure and possibility. Like he says at the end of the film, “When you see that sticker, Be Kind, Rewind, that’s a way of life. Be kind. Rewind. Go back, find what you love, and preserve it.”
Below we’re posting 5 of our favorite video boxes, from back in the day. What were some of yours?
Rewind this is now available on DVD, Rewind This!
As well as a special DVD + VHS edition! Rewind This! (DVD & VHS)
It is also available on Amazon Instant Video: Rewind This!
Found The Burning more recently, while investigating Video Nasties. Great movie, tons of fun. I’m gonna come back and write about this one.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown is getting remade by Ryan Murphy, of American Horror Story. Found this when I lived a block from Video Station, in Boulder, Co. on their $1 movie day. Dig that floating head! Someone gets killed with a trombone, in this film.