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Rewind This! (2013)

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Rewind This! (2013)Starring Atom Egoyan, Mamoru Oshii, Jason Eisener, Lloyd Kaufman

Directed by Josh Johnson


If the VHS documentary Rewind This! was only a flashy piece of painted cover art designed solely to appeal to your sense of nostalgia, then it would still certainly have a place on the rental shelf but it wouldn’t serve as a true document that might belong in a film library as well at some point. To be sure, there are plenty of obscure references to unintentionally hilarious made for video titles like “Bubba” Smith’s 1985 workout tape, Bubba Until It Hurts (Did irony not exist back then?), but Rewind This! uses these films and the people who manufacture, make, and collect them to tell a larger story about the VHS format and how it fits into the overall history of media and entertainment.

The film provides an insight into how we create and consume on a personal level, whether it’s loving and collecting these films like the attic-dwelling VHS collector Dormarth, or getting out there and actually making them in your backyard like David “The Rock” Nelson – a man so oddly inspiring he should be touring the country as a madman motivational speaker. But more importantly, it shows the unstoppable cultural bulldozer of technology throughout the last thirty years, hell bent on eradicating all forms of the physical to transcend into the inevitability of the all-encompassing digital world. Sounds like a horror movie in itself, right?

Most interesting, is how the documentary spotlights certain moments in the evolution of home video and how those trends inspired innovation from TiVo to viral video’s on YouTube. Betamax came up with the the concept of time shifting with the invention of the Sony C6 tape player, for example, allowing consumers to record and watch whatever they wanted whenever they wanted. Really, the only reason VHS won out was because it could record twice as long as Beta, allowing sporting events and epic film’s like The Godfather to fit on only one tape. Then, with the remote control, VHS was able to inspire an entire generation of movie geeks, allowing them to better understand the language of film and how it was organized structurally. This became an incredible tool for future filmmakers and probably one of the main reasons we now have self-made auteurs like Quentin Tarantino. Film became completely accessible and more relatable than ever as a result.

Cheap production gave way to a new era of B-movies (time has now turned trashy into art) that knocked off blockbusters like Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Concurrently, VHS ushered in the now multi-billion dollar porn industry tailor-made for plugging in and tugging off in the comfort of your own home. Horror followed pornography’s affordable pricing model, suddenly making film’s like Frank Henenlotter’s slime punk classic Basket Case and V-Cinema’s Crime Hunter (from Japan) an unequivocal success at the home box office during that time.

By the late eighties, VHS had become widely popular and hugely profitable, incentivizing the major distribution houses to dig deep into their catalogue to satiate the home marketplace instead of just releasing tentpole films to stores like Blockbuster Video. This is precisely why there are still so many films on VHS that have never been released on DVD and why there are so many collectors out there determined to see the most obscure titles they can find (with the best cover art, of course). This deep catalogue is also the main reason that VHS had such a lengthy run as the format King that will never be copied or duplicated (excuse the pun).

By focusing on the fans, filmmakers, and pioneers of the format, director Josh Johnson and company have provided a nice framework to make a highly entertaining and somewhat profound statement about how society as a whole develops. VHS itself is the perfect medium to highlight the cultural split of the majority who aren’t as concerned with the historical significance and the minority who love and protect these increasingly ancient artifacts. This is the essence of geekdom and the main reason why Rewind This! is an important film: In setting out to make a movie about friends and fans who live movies, the sometimes overly obsessive love for film births a passionate stance on how those fans feel about society and what should be important to that society to protect and cherish. These geek collectors become the keepers of cool, in that respect, and that’s an important job in and of itself. It might have started out as a hobby, but now it’s your duty as a citizen of the world.

Rewind This! should be taught in schools and widely accessible, even if it’s only in digital format eventually. But maybe hide one or two VHS copies in the library so that one lucky kid might happen to stumble upon them some morning.

4 out of 5

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