FrightFest 2013: Rewind This!

Anton Bitel

Where Dan M. Kinem and Levi Peretic's Adjust Your Tracking (2013) has already examined the strange contemporary subculture that continues to collect films in VHS format, Josh Johnson's documentary Rewind This! is much broader in its scope. For it explores the whole history of home video and its revolutionary effect on the way that we consume our media today, while still finding room for obsessive collectors and the current resurgence in VHS screenings.

Edited from an impressive and knowledgeable array of talking heads, Rewind This! documents the emergence of tape formats in the mid Seventies, the commercial victory of VHS over better quality Betamax, the development of time shifting (heralding the Tivo age) and the remote control, the early pioneers in commercial VHS feature releases, the VHS transformation of the porn industry, the rise of affordable 'sell-through' and video stores, Japan's V-cinema (much of which has now vanished), cover art and cover gimmicks, the eventual conglomeration of the media, home movies, the format's influence on today's filmmakers, tape bootlegging and trading, and finally the loss of physical media and its implications for preservation.

Most of the interviewees are dogged VHS enthusiasts, but there are also some sceptics who point, not always with affection, to the format's limitations. Thus Roy Frumkes, writer and producer of Street Trash (1986), rightly comments: "I was appalled at the improper aspect ratios and and the lack of rich contrasts and resolution," before adding drily, "I never did buy one, and predicted they wouldn't catch on." Frumkes certainly does not, as many others here do, worship the glitches - and the viewing histories roughly encoded - in overused tapes, but even he concedes the archival importance of those VHS tapes whose magnetic strip preserves the only existing copies of films otherwise forever lost. Yet given the ephemeral nature of this physical medium, which wears out at an alarming rate, film archivist Caroline Frick suggests that "nostalgia for video is going to be so incredibly poignant going forward" because of "the great great statistic of loss." Noone should expect their old collection to remain playable forever.

Nostalgia is key to Johnson's labour of love, and is even slyly enshrined in his film's title, as we are asked to cast our minds back to the formative viewing experiences of our youth, and to the kind of trashy Eighties cheese with which the format is most associated. Although it does get a bit bogged down in its overlong sections on video reseller Wayne Jones and 'outsider' VHS-moviemaker David 'The Rock' Nelson, for the most part Rewind This! is a fascinating, funny and focused journey through our recent - and rapidly changing - cultural memory, lest we forget. So save a place for it on your shelf besides your copies of Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (2008), Machete Maidens Unleashed! (2010) and Eurocrime!: The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled The 70s (2012).

'Rewind This!' screens at Film4 FrightFest...

Discovery Screen 1, Sat 24th August, 6.15pm
Discovery Screen 1, Mon 26th August, 6.35pm

Follow Anton on Twitter: @AntBit

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