The Movie Waffler Documentary Review - Rewind This! | The Movie Waffler

Documentary Review - Rewind This!

A nostalgic look at the golden age of VHS and the format's status among collectors today.

Directed by: Josh Johnson

Like most movie lovers of my generation, I have a conflicted relationship with VHS. Once I purchased my first DVD player, I was immediately done with the tape based format. No longer would I have to endure pan and scan, possibly the greatest crime ever inflicted on both artists and their audience. My childhood, however, is indebted to this crude format. Back in the early eighties, our next door neighbors were the first in the locale to own a VHS recorder, thanks to the man of the house being a professional burglar. At that time, the only movies I got to see were old black and white classics screened on TV in the afternoon, plus the occasional trip to the cinema. Suddenly the possibility of watching movies on a regular basis became a reality. The day my Dad arrived home with a huge metallic JVC top-loader was far more exciting than any Christmas morning and, for better or worse, ultimately made me the movie geek I am today. There was barely a day of my childhood and teen years in which I didn't watch something on VHS. For this reason, in spite of its poor quality and butchering of film-makers' visions, I'll always have a nostalgic fondness for the format.
'Rewind This', a new documentary hitting iTunes on September 27th, examines the cultural impact this crude format had for over two decades. Eschewing voice-over narration in favor of a mix of talking heads, retro commercials and movie clips means the film will appeal mainly to viewers who already possess a vested interest in the format. If you're under the age of 20 or had the misfortune of spending the entirety of the eighties and nineties in a Turkish prison, the laid back, in-the-know style of 'Rewind This' probably won't hold much appeal for you. Movie geeks old enough to remember the unique thrill of a visit to a musty video store, however, will get a lot of nostalgic enjoyment from Johnson's doc.
The greatest aspect of VHS was the democratizing effect it had on home entertainment. Unlike the soulless years of the dying DVD rental business, which saw Hollywood movies dominate the shelves, back in the VHS era a Spielberg blockbuster shared equal space with its cheap straight-to-tape knockoffs (Imagine 'Atlantic Rim' taking up the same amount of shelving as 'Pacific Rim' in your local Blockbuster, if one even still exists in your area). This is examined in 'Rewind This', along with other aspects that have been lost, such as the great hand-painted cover art many titles sported in the pre-Photoshop days.
There's a goldmine of footage from cult classics like David A Prior's incredible 'Deadly Prey', as well as hilarious clips from obscure workout videos. I was particularly happy to see a Japanese distributor relate his confusion upon first discovering the unique mash-up film-making style of Hong Kong director Godfrey Ho. In my college years I worked in one of Dublin's sleazier video stores (run, for all intents and purposes, by the local Yiddish mafia), which had a great collection of Ho's movies that I "obtained" following the store's abrupt closure for flouting obscenity laws. Moments like this, and a discussion of the notorious and ubiquitous static that regularly appeared on tapes whenever an actress was about to get naked, will bring a nostalgic tear to the eye of many older movie lovers. Other moments, such as one collector claiming the pan and scan version of Peckinpah's 'Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid' is the best way to experience the movie, will leave you bewildered.
While 'Rewind This' is unlikely to appeal to casual viewers, anyone with an interest in a moment of pop culture history that's not only almost forgotten, but largely denied, will get a warm glow from its nostalgic delights.

Eric Hillis