Rewind This! (2013)

Directed By: Josh Johnson
Written By: N/A
Starring: Atom Egoyan
  Mamoru Oshii
  Frank Henenlotter
  Charles Band
Rewind This!

VHS tapes. Remember them? Before Blu-Ray and DVD, with their crystal clear hi-def image and surround sound, VHS was the savour of the film fanatic. Even with its poor video quality that made things look slightly out of focus and its tendency to have its innards ripped out and munched on by the very players designed for use with it, many people have a massive fondness for the format, just like audiophiles have for vinyl. Rewind This! is the documentary about these people.

Going right back to the early days of video, when it was a big deal to be able to watch a film again and again at your convenience, Rewind This! charts the introduction of tape to the household, the format wars between VHS and Betamax (for you young ones, that’s like Blu-Ray versus HD-DVD), the rise and fall of the format’s popularity, the mom and pop stores that sold it, and the underground culture that still yearns for their thrills on magnetic tape.

Watching Rewind This!, the first thing that becomes evident is that it is not a documentary that takes itself too seriously. Unlike a lot of documentaries on specialist topics that have a tendency to romanticise the subject and get muddled under their own grandiose, no one here is denying just how awful tape was, and there is no argument that if given the choice, cassettes will be tossed aside in favour of a better format.

Instead, the film looks at the impact the format had on the collectors, who explain they are more interested in the oddities that only exist on VHS, that have not (and may never) make their way to more advanced formats, such as the cast of Friends, in character, instructing people how to use Microsoft Windows 95, or some of the most bizarre cover art to ever grace shop shelves (stemming from low budget companies’ attempts to draw in customers with glaring visuals). We also meet several reformed bootleggers who now work legitimately selling films for a living, and everyone fondly remembers watching rented tapes, knowing a good moment was about to come when the tape started to deteriorate, as previous renters had rewound and reviewed the sections of the film many times.

There are also interviews a plenty with filmmakers (maybe something to do with John Carpenter exec producing?) such as Full Moon Entertainment’s Charles Band, Lloyd Kaufman, Basket Case director Frank Henenlotter and Jason ‘Hobo With A Shotgun’ Eisener, reminiscing about the home video revolution and how low budget filmmakers were able to take advantage of a new market and find success. Filmmaker Roy Frumkes gives an amusing counter-point that he thinks direct-to-video was an affront to proper films.

The entire documentary has a nostalgic and touching feel, with human and amusing moments throughout, such as one man’s search in a middle-America flea market for some obscure, eye-catching video titles and instead continuously coming across copies of Titanic, or the insanity that is David ‘The Rock’ Nelson, considered a modern day Ed Wood, spouting encouraging words for would-be filmmakers with ADD frenzy. The hi-jinks take a decidedly dark turn that will put some viewers off when it looks at one of the biggest aspects of home video; the porno. Though pixelated, you are treated to some hardcore action that comes from leftfield in an otherwise light-hearted and engaging documentary. Coupled with a segment with an older gentleman who makes a living over-charging people for VHS, this is as close to the seedy underbelly of the bygone format as we get, and it will leave a nasty aftertaste after you have watched the documentary.

Even with a running time of 94 minutes, Rewind This! feels a bit bloated in places and though full of laughs throughout, lags considerably from the porn section onwards. There is a wealth of information, but it does fall in to the same pattern, leaving a viewer with a sense of déjà vu. Even with this, it can be argued that this is the definitive documentary on the VHS format.

Not reading like a love-letter, but more like a former lover remembering both the good and bad times and moving on, Rewind This! should tickle the fancy of anyone wanting as peep behind the curtain of obscure and bizarre home releases, to a different age when anything could be possible.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

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