Studio: MPI Home Video
Director: Josh Johnson
Producer: Carolee Mitchell
Stars: Atom Egoyan, Frank Henenlotter, Roy Frumkes, Charles Band, Cassandra Peterson, Lloyd Kaufman, Jason Eisener, Kevin Tenney, Hadrian Belove
Filmmakers, historians, and movie buffs discuss the meteoric rise of the VHS home video boom.
The home video boom of the 1980’s had an inauspicious origin. VHS first arrived on scene with little fanfare, butted heads with the Betamax tape format, and then thudded into various other obstacles before finally developing into a sweeping international sensation. This timeline makes it unintentionally ironic or artistically poetic that the documentary “Rewind This” has a similarly clunky beginning that seems poised for disaster. That is until the film finds its footing and settles into being an enjoyable love letter to a fondly remembered era.
Home video enthusiasts comprise a healthy chunk of the subjects interviewed throughout “Rewind This.” The movie opens with a three minute long sequence of one such videotape collector rummaging through flea market folding tables for hidden treasure. Individual recollections about the appeal of VHS then comprise the remainder of the introduction while various videophiles showcase their collections of B-movie oddities. Even with a few snickers courtesy of several quick “best of the worst” clips, “Rewind This” looks like it is going to be pointless sentimentality layered over footage of garage sale hunts and cluttered living rooms.
Once things move closer to a history lesson direction starting with cursory coverage of the Betamax versus VHS battle, “Rewind This” becomes much more interesting. Author Frederick Wasser is one of the film’s more scholarly types to offer insightful ways of looking at how home video’s popularity evolved culture as a whole. Today’s generation will find it impossible to conceive of the age when an entertainment schedule was set by someone other than an individual. As a precursor to DVR, Wasser points to the VHS recorder’s impact beyond being a new delivery device for entertainment. Home video introduced the concept of “time shifting” by allowing personal recording and thus completely changing the way that people structured their lives.
Those born in a world after the death of VHS tape will never know a time when entire TV series were not immediately available on televisions, computers, or cellular phones. “Rewind This” provides a reminder about how filmed entertainment is now often taken for granted. Little more than thirty years ago, an audience either saw a movie at a first run theater or missed out on it possibly forever.
“Hobo with a Shotgun” director Jason Eisener and other notables also touch upon how VHS influenced a new era of filmmakers by giving them the ability to pause, rewind, and rewatch scenes and to discover firsthand how movies were structured. With the 1980’s being a pioneering time for home video distribution, and with the demand for new content being so high, many movies were delivered based primarily upon how well the title and the box art would play on a rental store shelf. Coverage of these mindsets behind both how movies were produced and how they were viewed takes the documentary into thoughtful revelations about the total impact of home video on media as well as on society.
The imbalance of “Rewind This” is in the disproportionate attention devoted to its various coverage. Outsider artist David “The Rock” Nelson, who has a small cult following for his underground movies of homemade schlock, is given a ridiculous amount of screentime in comparison with straight-to-video kings like Charles Band. Charles Band’s “Puppet Master” and other Full Moon franchises were a hallmark of B-movie home video in the 80’s and 90’s. Yet he appears only a scant few times while personalities like Nelson are featured doing pushups, showing clips of laughably low budget productions, and ranting to the camera like a crazy person.
The overlong segments on contemporary tape traders shuffling through boxes and on underground filmmakers who intentionally make unwatchable movies detract from the documentary’s strengths. Viewers unappreciative of the home video era and its influence on the world may pass off the movie as merely a nostalgic trip down Memory Lane. But in between those superfluous moments, “Rewind This” offers intelligent perspectives not just on how VHS changed entertainment, but about how it permanently altered human behavior in truly meaningful ways.
Review Score: 80