Rewind This! (2013)

WHEN ARE WE GETTING A DOCUMENTARY FOR THE MIMEOGRAPHPURISTS? ALSO, WHAT THE HELL IS A MIMEOGRAPH?

A documentary revolving around the VHS culture of the 80s and early 90s that still looms large for many collectors today, Rewind This! traces the history of this magnetic tape medium, the impact that it had on the film and television industry, and discusses why so many people still hold it in such high regard.

Full disclosure – I am around the same age as many of the subjects featured in this film, so I have my own set of fond memories for the VHS format. As a child/teenager, we approached renting VHS tapes in one of two ways. Either we’d hear through the grapevine about some obscure horror movie that we just had to see and would visit every ‘Mom and Pop’ video store in town until we found one that had a copy (meaning that every ‘crew’ had to have a legal aged driver in their pack) or we’d go to the store blind and grab whatever cover appealed to us the most, despite knowing nothing about the movie. One of the great things about the period of VHS rentals was that complete schlock had just as much chance of being rented as the latest blockbuster. Now, just about any movie that we want to see is readily available at our fingertips, which is great, but it’s nice to take a trip down memory lane every once in awhile.

I generally don’t bring up my own personal experiences too often (trust me, my life is even more boring to me than it is to you), but in a case like this, it’s entirely appropriate. When hearing the many interviews within the film, you cannot help but relate those to yourself. Obviously, the subject of this documentary is not particularly hard-hitting, but director Josh Johnson still imbibes it with an equal passion for the topic at hand. This one is all about nostalgia.

Starting with an amusing hunt for VHS tapes through a flea market, Rewind This! balances history of the format with recollections of format purists; filmmakers reflections upon their experiences making films during this era with fans’ remembrances of watching said films. Interviews with filmmakers such as Frank Henenlotter, Charles Band, and Lloyd Kaufman are interspersed with reflections from film programmers, historians, and movie fans. There is also a healthy supply of clips from many of the films (Deadly Prey, Frankenhooker, various adult titles, among others) and odd finds (exercise tapes, celebrity self-aggrandizing, children’s videos, etc) that help break up the talking heads and serve as a reminder of the things we love.  

Some of the better interview subjects include Zack Carlson of Alamo Drafthouse discussing why VHS is still so vital, Henenlotter demonstrating the special packaging gimmick that no longer works on one of his films, and David ‘The Rock’ Nelson who makes his own zero-budget movies and yells at wannabe filmmakers about getting off their butts and making their own movie. Also, watch out for Elvira herself, Cassandra Peterson, actress Shoko Nakahara, horror guru Dormarth, “Everything is Terrible’s” Dimitri Simakis, and filmmakers Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter), Jason Eisner (Hobo With a Shotgun), J.R. Bookwalter (The Dead Next Door) and Kevin Tenney (Night of the Demons).

Also of note: a collector who is perhaps the world’s only proponent of ‘pan and scan’; Roy Frumkes (director of Street Trash), who presumably was brought on to discuss the merits of VHS, but is barely able to mask his distaste for the format; an amusing description (by many) of the reason that so many VHS tapes had a bit of a skip and static line at particular spots in the films; and a scene that reveals a group of VHS tattoos done in ‘brotherhood’ in honor of the death of VHS.

On the downside, the documentary does not have a particular visual style to set it apart from the pack. Consisting mostly of talking heads and film clips, it certainly gets the job done, but could have perhaps used a bit of a kick to push it over the top. Also, the approach taken does not allow much for a casual viewer to latch onto – this one will appeal mainly to those with shared experiences. In addition, there were several interview subjects listed in the credits that I did not see represented in the film, but wish they had been. Perhaps we’ll get more upon home video release (surely there’ll be a limited VHS run, right?).

FINAL THOUGHTS:

A wonderful trip down memory lane Rewind This! had me smiling (and often laughing) the entire time. I personally would never claim that VHS provides better quality over dvd or blu-ray (unlike, say, vinyl vs. cd or digital music), but it represents a time in many people’s lives that is held in such high regard. Plus, there are thousands and thousands of films that have never made a format jump beyond that of VHS, so it can still be looked at as vital today (although, what can't you find on the internet if you look hard enough?). Nostalgia is the order of the day here and perhaps the best thing about Rewind This! – many of my notes taken during the film were reminders to revisit some of the many classics on display that I hadn't seen in years.

Jason Howard