| Rewind This!


Josh Johnson

USA, 2013


Review by Victoria Large

Posted on 13 May 2013

Source digital projection

Categories The 2013 Independent Film Festival Boston

Let’s get this out of the way right off: I am the target audience for Josh Johnson’s Rewind This!. Venturing out to my local video store (Yes, I still have one.) to rent obscure horror movies on VHS (Yes, they still have them.), is genuinely my idea of a good time. I own a rewind machine. And I found myself nodding in agreement during many of this documentary’s interviews with VHS aficionados. So my review inevitably has a bias. Still, while Rewind This! is of particular interest to people like me, who grew up on bulky black cartridges and puffy clamshell cases, it’s comprehensive, funny, and informative enough to be of interest to movie people who don’t have any special fondness for the format.

Complete with a faux tape-wobble during the opening credits sequence, Johnson’s film is deeply affectionate, cheerfully indulging in VHS nostalgia. We follow an avid collector around a flea market, where he cites the “two tape” edition of Titanic as the most common VHS that he finds for sale, though he gets considerably more excited for something with Peter Weller in it called Shakedown. There are fond remembrances of life-size Toxic Avenger cutouts lording over video store aisles (I’m positive my childhood video store held onto theirs until they closed in the mid-nineties) and the “talking box ” that was devised to promote Frank Henenlotter’s Frankenhooker. Collectors also run through their most prized cassette oddities, from weird workout tapes to a Windows 95 instructional video featuring cast members from Friends, and there is acknowledgement of VHS’ idiosyncrasies and shortcomings, including the prevalence of pan-and-scan transfers and glitchy rental tapes. It’s all very amusing stuff, a reminder of how this format seemed to lend itself to delightful weirdness.

But the film isn’t strictly a set of fan reminiscences. There’s an insightful interview with Henenlotter — whose 1982 film Basket Case broke ground as a “priced to own” video hit — and we hear from other key players, including Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman and Full Moon’s Charles Band. An excellent section highlighting all of that brilliant VHS cover artwork features interviews with artists Steven Chorney and Keith Batcheller. The film seriously considers the legacy of VHS, including its role in giving consumers unprecedented access to cult and classic films, and of course it gives us the rundown on how the technically inferior VHS managed to edge out Betamax and dominate the home video market for more than a decade. Rewind This! is a great primer on a major player in movie history, while at the same time looking ahead toward a future that might not include any physical media at all.

There’s a sense of whimsy here that occasionally makes for strange digressions — such as the really rather lengthy section about eccentric monster moviemaker David “The Rock” Nelson — but they don’t detract from the documentary’s overall effect. And while an interview with David Cronenberg — director of Videodrome as well as A History of Violence, the final film issued on VHS by a major studio — would have been perfect (The filmmakers contacted him but were unable to schedule an interview.), Rewind This! is nevertheless a welcome and pretty indispensable take on the medium that shaped a generation of filmmakers and fans. I left the theater wanting to visit my video store, which seems just about right.

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