Film: Vinyl (2000)

February 11, 2015 | By


Vinyl2000_posterFilm: Very Good

Transfer:  n/a

Extras: n/a

Label: n/a

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Released:  n/a

Genre:  Documentary / Music / Vinyl

Synopsis: Alan Zweig explores the psychology that compels (mostly) men like himself to amass enormous LP collections.

Special Features:  n/a






Long before When Jews Were Funny (2013), Alan Zweig directed this examination of extreme record collecting, focusing on several figures (mostly men) whose lives are surrounded by thousands of the round music platters.

Zweig is also a collector – he’s also the film’s host, narrator, and investigator – and he shares the same psychological issues as his subjects, albeit in a significantly different flavour. Zweig uses his own state – a lonely, single older man living in a small apartment packed with items that feed make-work projects (mix tapes, catalogue, re-organizing) of little significance – to break down the barriers of fellow collectors and ask pointed questions that mandate his subjects do a little self-analysis of their own.

Sometimes the collectors are evasive, others pause with surprise, and some are almost clinically analytic in describing the peculiarities of collecting en mass objects that go far beyond their content. Record collecting should be about enjoying the music and having something modest that reflects one’s tastes and persona, but there’s a point where rational thought becomes subjugated, if not quashed, by a bug to have / to catalogue / to display; and when there’s no more room to display, the objects pile up and turn a home into a giant closet in which contents kind of exploded onto the floor, the bathroom, the kitchen, the garage, and into a rented storage locker.

Having 30,000 records is truly extreme. There’s a moment when Zweig asks an uber-collector if he has his own must-have title, and of course the owner walks over to a cabinet, pulls it out, and Zweig holds it – a simple task that kind of kills Zweig’s quest then and there.

At nearly 2 hours, Vinyl is long, but in its own weird way, it works – this is in spite of Zweig’s episodic on-camera confessions where he’s often brutally chastising himself, questioning his need to have the patently useless, holding onto the clearly worthless, and transferring to tape in organized fashion what will be generally never be heard again.

As an examination of the psychosis that pushes music fans to extreme points, Vinyl is dead on, and its eponymous subject could easily be steelbook video releases, collector cards, books, vintage electronics, or the voguish limited vinyl releases aimed at collectors in today’s vinyl resurgence who want the artistry of packaging and production design over musical content.

What one has, how many editions, copies, complete sets, how it’s all organized, and the pride of ownership are just the teasing details of the doc; what Zweig ultimately does manage to achieve is stripping down the veneer of confident collectors, and once their guards are down, in a moment of trust and safety, gets them to reveal some of the deep personal issues that separate extreme collectors from the avid music fan.

There’s no doubt reality shows like Hoarders will come to mind within the first few minutes of seeing Vinyl, but this isn’t an exploitive trashy production designed to make viewers feel better than the dented souls drowning in crap; Zweig wants to improve his life, and he asks frank questions perhaps to find some solutions to manage his own escape, if not find coping mechanisms, and maybe ignite a little change in the lives of his interview subjects.

The classic LP vs. CD debate does pop up early in the film, and it’s amusing to hear two collectors echo the words of Rush’s Geddy Lee (the warmness in LP recordings that people find soothing stems from a positive reaction to vinyl’s inherent distortion) and Neil Young (digital is a sterile representation of the music, whereas the sound coming from vinyl is pure). The debate rages on 15 years later; Young applied his philosophy to the PonoPlayer, which plays ‘high resolution’ audio files that are closer to the ‘warmness’ of vinyl by offering a frequency range & bit rate greater than CDs.

Shot on DV, the doc’s lo-fi crudeness works in its favour – there’s an inherent grunge factor that arguably makes extreme collectors look more sad that they may be – and fits in to Zweig’s style of making himself the film’s propellant. 

The variety of collectors range from the odd women to mostly men, and a few celebrities of sorts, including Don McKellar (colleague of the doc’s associate producer, Bruce McDonald), filmmakers Bruce La Bruce and Guy Maddin, author / broadcaster Daniel Richler, American Splendor author Harvey Pekar, and writer Geoff Pevere, whose tale of junking 2,000 LPs is a fascinating psychological snap of ‘If I can’t have these, no one can.’

Also glimpsed in the doc is Peter Dunn of the late, great Peter Dunn’s Vinyl Museum chain in Toronto. (LP connoisseurs will no doubt spot the clear album sleeves used by one collector.)

Vinyl sort of disappeared after its low-key formal release (if not enjoying at best, a token VHS release), but it is available on YouTube.



© 2015 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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