Director Josh Johnson‘s Rewind This! (out on DVD January 14 from FilmBuff) is just as much a love letter as a documentary. Starting as it does with footage of a VHS fan looking for treasure in a Texas flea market, and repeatedly discovering naught but multiple copies of Titanic‘s two tape set, it immediately demonstrates the adoration the format instilled in a generation of viewers.
That aspect of adoration is what really fuels Rewind This! Much as you’d expect, the people interviewed are either involved in the movie industry as producers and directors or fanatical bloggers and film buffs. With the exception of the likes of Cassandra Peterson (aka Elvira), there isn’t much in the way of actors and actresses discussing how home video affected their careers – it would have been nice to have heard from the likes of Linnea Quigley or Chuck Norris about how VHS made their careers possible.
Granted, the directors and producers do an excellent job of demonstrating that VHS is what gave them careers. Frank Henenlotter, of Basket Case and Frankenhooker fame, makes no bones about how VHS allowed Basket Case to become the sensation it was. He allowed it to be sold for just under $20, rather than the standard $70-80, and the cheapness made it a no-question purchase for many shops.
It’s very interesting, because so many of the people with whom the filmmaker speaks are 100 percent honest about how it was about presentation of product, meaning films were sometimes sold on the basis of a title and cover art alone – frequently before the film had actually been made. There are four or five films’ production art shown, which were essentially concepts for movies which were never made.
Of course, the film wouldn’t be complete without a discussion of how pornography helped build on VHS as a format – beating out, of course, the higher-quality Betamax. VHS was cheaper, had a greater capacity, and was the format used to release adult movies, so it won out. It’s a little surprising to see people fucking in the midst of a documentary, even pixelated, so be advised that you’re going to be seeing a gentleman discussing porn while a Japanese woman wipes herself off with a towel.
Josh Freda‘s score is awesomely video-tastic, rocking a totally weird synth vibe familiar to anyone who (mis)spent their youth watching lousy horror movies. It’s simultaneously cheesy and badass, but sadly overused. The score runs under everything, to the point of being absolutely distracting when trying to listen to certain people talk. It’s one of the few flaws in the film, and it’s unfortunately a major one. If it’d been dialed in slightly quieter or used to less of an extent, the music would have been one of Rewind This!‘s highlights, but as used, it greatly detracts from the end product.
Thankfully, you can play catch-up by watching the bonus features, which are unscored, allowing you a chance to not only get some further insight into the likes of remix culture, but to hear the interviews sans background noise.
Ultimately, Rewind This! is a really fun documentary that will appeal wholeheartedly to those who like their technology with a sprinkling of nostalgia. Thankfully, the nostalgia is tempered with legitimate points about how home video changed the face of film and how we view it, as well as the usually unspoken truth regarding direct-to-video movies that exist in no other format, and what might happen as the magnetic tape degrades. While you might come to Johnson’s film for a dose of reminiscence, you’ll stay for some provoking thoughts.