It is almost hard to imagine that there was once a time when the only opportunity you had to see a film was in the theatre. Once it was gone it was gone. In our modern world, where technology is developing at a ridiculous rate, we often forget to appreciate the incredible access we have to all forms of multimedia. It helps to look back at a much simpler time; a time when the concept of watching a movie on videotape within the confines of your own home was a true novelty. This is the aim of the new documentary Rewind This!
Rewind This! is a love letter to the videotape. The film, directed by Josh Johnson, takes a look at the rise of the videotape during the 70s and 80s, as well as the lingering legacy of this now-dead format. We are given a detailed introduction to the world of VHS collectors through interviews with various hard-core enthusiasts. Want to know whether it’s best to catalogue your VHS tapes by box colour or by title? You’ll find arguments for both during this film. Even though a large number of the film references will go over the heads of many viewers, the unashamed enthusiasm and passion that the interviewees have for VHS is infectious and even the most casual viewers will be charmed by it. Hearing people animatedly discuss such varied titles as 80s workout video Bubba Until It Hurts and low-budget 90s horror film Frankenhooker is at once bizarre and entertaining.
Every aspect of the rise of VHS gets its own moment to shine, from the genesis of the videotape to a discussion of box cover-art. A history of the development of the videotape and the initial format war between JVC’s VHS and Sony’s Betamax is presented in a fascinating way. Videotape was a game changer in its time. The concept of releasing films on tape was the brainchild of Andre Blay, the videotape pioneer who convinced Fox to let him sell their movies on tape. Blay had not even considered the idea of renting the tapes to the public, but this was the next big step in the rise of the videotape. Focus is given to the two genres that most benefited from fans being able to rent the films and watch them at home; horror and porn. The arrival of video stores gave opportunity for teenagers to get hold of horror films that they were unable to see at the cinema, and the adult film industry understandably boomed when private home viewing became an option.
The focus of the film later switches to film piracy and the dominance of YouTube in the digital age, which is an effective way of comparing the days of VHS with the present day. The question of physical media vs. digital media is also discussed. Johnson manages to keep the interest levels up throughout the whole film, with only a handful of segments outstaying their welcome. This is particularly the case in the extended screentime given to low-budget monster movie director David ‘The Rock’ Nelson. Nelson is described as ‘The Ed Wood of the 21st Century’ and his initially entertaining presence ultimately becomes slightly grating.
This is not a documentary that will change your life, nor will it change the world. It ain’t Bowling For Columbine, and it doesn’t really need to be. In fact, an attempt later in the film to give extra weight and gravitas to the ideals of the VHS era falls slightly flat. Watching Rewind This! gives us a chance to look back on our own lives and remind ourselves that the time spent watching movies at home with family and friends is something to be cherished. A must-see for any film buff, Rewind This! will, at the very least, inspire you to break out your old VHS collection and re-discover those forgotten gems that it contains.
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Duration: 94 Minutes
Rewind This! will screen as part of the Possible Worlds Festival of American and Canadian Cinema in Sydney later this month. You can catch it August 17th at 8.30pm. Tickets are on sale now! All the details you need are here:http://www.possibleworlds.net.au/rewind-this/