Digital + DVD: Rewind This! (2013)

January 11, 2014 | By

Return to: Home Blu-ray, DVD, Film Reviews / P to R

 

Film: Excellent / DVD – Digital Download: Very Good/ DVD – Digital Download Extras: Excellent

Label: MPIIPF Productions / Region: 1 (NTSC) / Released: January 14, 2013 – November 2013

Genre: Documentary / Film History / Home Video

Synopsis: Expansive documentary on VHS collecting which provides a rich overview of home video’s meteoric rise after the consumer’s embracing of VHS and Beta.

Special Features:

– DVD and Digital Download (“Buy Everything” package) — 16 extended interviews & themed featurettes: “Animations” (6:55) + “Artwork” (12:07) + “Everything is Terrible! in Austin, Texas (Aug. 16, 2010)” (5:41) + “Hunting for VHS” (6:57) + “Laserdisc” (5:44) + “Nostalgia” (6:09) + “Ownership” (5:21) + “Physical vs. Digital Media” (8:25) + “Push-Ups with David ‘The Rock’ Nelson” (1:53) + “Remix Culture (Extended” (2:19) + “Rental Industry” (11:01) + “The Return of VHS” (6:54) + “Shot-on-Video” (9:22) + “Stickers” (3:29) + “VHS Day” (2:52) + “Video Panic” (8:27) / Music Video: “Where I Came From” by Beaujolais” (6:59) / Trailer

– DVD exclusive: audio commentary track with director Josh Johnson, producer Carolee Mitchell and cinematographer Christopher Palmer.

– Digital Download Exclusive (“By Everything” package) : soundtrack album featuring music by Josh Freda.

 

 

Review:

Although ostensibly a film about the collectors who harbor severe nostalgia for VHS tapes, Rewind This! goes much deeper with its wide spectrum of interviews and ephemeral video clips that will edify even casual home video connoisseurs about the impact of the lowly videotape.

Director Josh Johnson provides an overview of how a consumer format meant to record home movies evolved into a revolutionary stream of unexpected revenue for the studios and producers & distributors of indie films, but far more important is the subtext that arises from the doc’s central subject: the enjoying movies switching from cinemas to living rooms packed with family & friends, discovering a level of hidden gems / guilty pleasures / outright kitsch / film history at the local rental shop; and the ability to timer record films and watch program material when the viewer felt it was time.

VHS collectors do articulate their love for the lo-fi format, even arguing the unusual aesthetic of panned & scanned transfers and well-worn tapes which seem to signal to collectors that some tapes deserve special status due to their shopworn states, but they also provide differing views on why the format deserves some credit after being abandoned once the superior technical and aesthetic qualities of DVD began to sway consumers.

Tape is mortal, bulky and heavy, yet like the LP, it’s a time capsule of pop art – in film and lurid cover art – which influenced buyers and renters for almost 15 years. Unlike the LP, however, it lacks technical superiority to laserdisc, DVD, and Blu-ray, but for collectors has value for several key reasons.

The first, like the LP, is the trove of material unavailable on DVD. The level of direct-to-video titles, including shot-on-video films, is so expansive and esoteric that a large chunk of entertainment history and pure ephemeral productions will never be preserved digital. There’s simply too much to winnow through, and as a film archivist explains, the preservation of video is such a low priority that a chunk of pop culture may well disintegrate with each coming year. Collectors, formally motivated by nostalgia, are spearheading their own preservation projects by archiving that which is unique.

Nostalgia is the second motivator, and although it influenced the re-buying of music and films on new media formats, the agglomeration of opinions really build towards an unspoken quandary: will current generations lacking any interest and experience with physical media develop a sense of nostalgia like their predecessors? And if so, what will happen when they discover their favorite films are no longer available in any format? If the music & movies no longer exist because of rights issues and aren’t preserved on any online subscription catalogue, and couldn’t be copied due to streaming restrictions, what then?

Among the interviewed filmmakers, actors, producers, vendors, and the handful representing the surviving indie video stores, it’s Frank Henenlotter who both steals the show and cuts through the passionate, heartfelt nostalgia by regarding tape, disc, and digital deliveries as merely steps in how we consume product, but the unknown remains unanswered after the end credits have rolled up: In 20 years, what will be relevant, and how can we still see it?

Like the VHS tape and the nostalgia of his subjects, Johnson’s doc is an instant time capsule of contemporaries chiming in as the clock continues to tick away, and a glut of abandoned media is further rendered irrelevant as curators age, and things physical seem to lose their value to all but a small coterie of connoisseurs. The hope is the well of material – good, bad, and outright crap – will survive, but tape is much more fragile than film stock, so the danger is real whereby archives of 30 year old recordings will go bad from flaking or brittleness. If the collectors are smart, they’re already migrating their collections to digital formats, because the thought that walls of packed bookshelves becoming storage units for unplayable bricks isn’t pretty.

 

The Extras: 1080p Digital Edition vs. DVD

Although Rewind This! is also available now on DVD via MPI – themselves pioneers in the home video market – Johnson’s film is also available as a digital download, with options to purchase a special edition version (“Buy Everything”) featuring Josh Freda’s retro synth score and a bevy of expanded interviews and bonus featurettes, plus the trailer also retained for the DVD.

Johnson seemed to make sure his doc would come with relevant extras, and the special edition version’s components make up a pretty comprehensive package that’s available as 1080p downloads. (Lower resolutions are also available.)

The bulk of the extras are extended interviews and comments grouped into specific subjects which are, for the most part, touched upon in the doc, but would’ve either extended its length and focus. The themed extras include the lurid artwork, often derived from commissioned paintings, designed to make a release stand out among its rivals; a montage of a live Everything is Terrible screenings where the audience makes offerings of Jerry Maguire tapes to the series’ characters; indie filmmaker David ‘The Rock’ Nelson doing push-ups on stage at the Alamo Drafthouse; unused animation bumpers intended as transitional material between VHS’ history in adult entertainment; collectors searching for rare tapes in flea markets; an analysis of laserdisc’s aesthetics and success only as a niche product for collectors wanting widescreen versions of their favourite films and rare classics; and nostalgia for the look and limitations of VHS, which includes the preposterous appeal of panned & scanned movies for its ‘aesthetic.’

Ownership of titles still out of print is also addressed; the current and likely ongoing battle between physical and digital media; the history of tape rental and the decline of the rental shop; the wave of shot-on-video films from both Japan and the U.S.; the attraction to category stickers on rental tapes; the first VHS Day; and Video Panic, in which film documentarian  David Gregory recounts the history of Britain’s infamous Video Nasties, with info and images previously seen (and chronicled in greater detail) in his superb documentary Ban the Sadist Videos! (2005).

Lastly, there’s a trailer for Rewind This!, a music video (you the viewer are ‘shuttling’ to key scenes from a non-existent slasher film with a music montage) which was in fact shot on VHS; and a short piece on the ‘return of VHS’ via limited tape releases, like Ti West’s House of the Devil.

Unique to the special edition digital release is Josh Freda’s evocative soundtrack music which comes in MP3 format, whereas the MPI / filmbuff DVD (which is also available on Amazon.com as a DVD + VHS bundle) has a newly recorded commentary track with director Johnson, producer Carolee Mitchell and cinematographer Christopher Palmer.

The commentary is just as fact-filled as the doc, as each member contributes details and anecdotes regarding the film’s genesis, their own collecting bug, how the segments were organized, deleted material in the extras gallery, and technical info on the various cameras used during the shoot that included parts of the U.S. and Japan.

Related to this review: a related short-short film describing videotape packaging – “The Magic Beta Box” – produced by Big Head Amusements for KQEK.com, and filmed entirely on VHS.

 

 

© 2014 Mark R. Hasan

 

External References:

IMDB Official Website — Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmography

 

Vendor Search Links:

Amazon.ca Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk New movie releases on iTunes

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