Saturday, 5 October 2013

Rewind This!

Title: Rewind This!
Director: Josh Johnson
Released: 2013
Starring: Atom Egoyan, Jason Eisener, Frank Henenlotter, Charles Brand, Cassandra Petersen, Mamoru Oshii, Shôko Nakahara

Plot: Charting the cultural and historical impact of VHS, as it changed the way films were not only made but distributed, while at the same time also meeting the fanboys who ensure that the legacy of the format continues to live on. 


Review: Previously as part of my review for “Xtro 2: TheSecond Encounter” I talked about my love of old school video shops, which sadly are non-existent here in the UK outside of Blockbuster who continue to fight on, despite pressure from the online rental brands like Lovefilm and Netflix who constantly threaten to take them over. These old school shops, as especially true in the case of my own local “The Video Bug” would rarely get rid of any tapes and instead just build more bookcases or stack them up to the ceiling, in turn providing a wonderland of colourful cases and frequently graphic covers and film stills, which I would spend hours just looking through these covers and imaging the delights which they contained within. Needless to say VHS like Vinyl has always had the kind of presence and strange allure that DVD or Blu-ray has never quite been able to replicate and it’s a love for this now defunct format that this debut documentary from Director Johnson sets out to explore.  

Needless to say this is not going to be a documentary which is for everyone especially as it’s essentially a VHS fans wet dream, providing not only tantising clips of forgotten cult classics like Leslie Nielsen’s “Bad Golf Made Easier”, “Street Trash”, “Black Devil Doll From Hell”, “Crime Hunter” and Bubba Smith’s workout video “Bubba Until It Hurts” to name but a few of the wealth of titles featured here. Like  “Not Quite Hollywood” and “American Grindhouse” this is also a documentary fuelled by the wealth of footage it offers and the untapped enthusiasm from the diverse range of interview subjects from directors like Frank Henenlotter (Basket Case), Mamoru Oshii (Ghost In The Shell) and owner of Full Moon Features and cult cinema legend Charles Brand through to personalities like Cassandra Petersen (Better known as Late Night Horror hostess Elvira) and actress Shôko Nakahara (Visitor Q) who openly sites VHS copies of Jennifer Connelly movies as being the inspiration for her becoming an actress. Elsewhere the film is also rounded out by colourful interviews with collectors and bloggers who are often eager to share their favourite tapes from their collections as part of a subtle game of collector one upmanship.

These interview subjects are of course just really a taste, as to list everyone featured would no doubt add an extra page onto this review. The range of subjects though only continued to surprise me as the documentary went on, while certainly hitting a high with the inclusion of the always deliriously enthusiastic Frank Henenlotter who as always is on fine form here, as he proves himself not only a devoted fan but also a great source of insights while also providing many of my favourite moments as he disregards criterion covers as “Boring”, while citing the cover of “The House of Whipcord” as an example of a good cover. Still lets not forget though that he also gave the world the wonderful talking case for “Frankenhooker” which screamed “Want A Date” when you pressed the button on the case, something fondly remembered by several of the interviewees despite none of them including Henenlotter having a copy with a working button, no doubt due to them being burnt out by over enthusiastic film fans years earlier.

Despite Johnson clearly trying to ensure as diverse range of subjects are featured as possible, I couldn’t help but notice the absence of Quentin Tarantino who I felt would have been an obvious choice, especially with his video store background let alone his well-documented love for the films of the VHS era. At the same time critics such as Brad Jones (The Cinema Snob) and Noah Antwiler (The Spoony Experiment), let alone UK critics like Mark Kermode or my own film critic hero Kim Newman though he does include another of my heroes Tom Mes. While it is understandable that to stop the documentary spiralling off into a five hour film by trying to include everyone’s view point there has to be a limit, but despite this Tarantino’s absence is still left a puzzling one.   

Ignoring the traditional and preferred use of voice over to provide a framework, Johnson instead makes the bold choice of allowing his interviewees tell the story of VHS, with their individual stories coming together and frequently complementing each other to provide a rich history for the format, especially with Johnson looking at it from seemingly every conceivable angle, with even a brief look at how VHS took porn out of the XXX theatres by providing the discreet alternative for its clientele while in turn blowing the business into the multi-million dollar industry it has become today.

While this might be a nostalgic look back, Johnson still ends the film looking positivly towards the future as enthusiasts continue hold movie nights celebrating the forgotten films still only available on VHS. It is during this portion of the documentary that we also meet the force of nature which is David “The Rock” Nelson the rabidly independent film maker still shooting on video making ultra-low budget monster movies, earning him the reputation of being the modern day Ed Wood as he cranks out such colourfully titled shorts like “The Devil Ant” and “Dracula vs. Sodom Insane”. A truly unique personality to say the least, his appearance might be a little too much for some viewers and thankfully Johnson doesn’t allow his appearance to overshadow the rest of the documentary or run to the point of irritation, much like so many of the bigger personalities featured here who only come off the stronger thanks to Johnson maintain a strong focus on what’s important to the story he is telling and what is just fan boy over enthusiasm.

Despite being an obvious love letter to VHS, the documentary still remains accessible to the uninitiated who might be curious about what the fuss is all about, while at the same time providing enough insight into the phenomena that there is still plenty of interest to those like myself who still fondly hold onto their VHS, when most folks have already sent theirs to the great landfill in the sky, meaning that numerous titles which never got transferred to DVD could potentially have disappeared for ever, making the role of collectors only all the more vital as the documentary further serves to highlight as archivist Caroline Frick soberly points out while worrying highlighting the potential risk of lost titles should these tapes be left to deteriorate.

True the appeal of this documentary might be limited, but for cult cinema fans and converted VHS enthusiasts I can’t recommend this film enough, as its worthy of a place in your collection, while no doubt giving you a new host of titles to hunt down, which for myself is always the sign of a good movie documentary and while it might not be the most high profile release of the year it is none the less essential and well worth hunting down.

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