Seen: At the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, part of IFF Boston.
As has happened in the past, I found out about this movie through its awesome poster. And lucky me, it played IFF Boston! Rewind This! traces the history and reception of VHS tapes, interviewing collectors, retailers, and filmmakers for their personal insights and expertise. VHS launched an entertainment revolution by allowing consumers to watch films at home and record live tv, as well as offering new opportunities for studios and indie filmmakers who launched the direct-to-video market. It changed the movie industry, the porn industry, and the film retail industry, and united communities of movie buffs with video swap and bootleg programs. Though definitely a dying media, today many fans- especially children of the 80’s- hold on to their VHS tapes out of nostalgia and loyalty, recognizing its importance to their personal lives and to film history in general.
While I’m not a collector or anything, I admit I’ve clung to VHS more than my tech-savvy friends. I grew up with VHS tapes, they were the first way I really experienced movies. Plus there are some movies that I love but aren’t available on dvd or blu-ray, so every so often I have to dust off my VCR to revisit an old favorite. It’s a shitty medium, definitely, but some movies kind of make sense that way! Many video artists from the 80’s (who were not discussed in the film, sadly) played with the effects specific to tapes, creating artworks that are still inextricably linked to the medium. While Rewind This! does include loving commentary on the physicality of VHS and its quirks, most of the film is focused on the history, which is indeed fascinating.
The range of interviewees is pretty awesome, from b-movie stalwarts Llyod Kaufman, Charles Band, Cassandra Peterson, and Frank Henenlotter to nerds from hip movie theaters and various websites. Plus a lot of doofy horror geeks. Like, a lot. I was most surprised and pleased with the Japanese interviews, since that’s where the technology was created and there is still a strong VHS culture there- they got anime filmmaker Mamoru Oshii! And some splatterpunk and J-horror people! Cool! The segments with video retailers and obsesssives were interesting as well, with some impressive home displays. I also loved the abundance of film clips, mostly hilarious and weird 80s schlock that had me running a mental list of movies to check out in the future. Generally the film is funny and lighthearted, and honestly super informative to someone like me, who grew up with VHS tapes but was not old enough to have seen the sweeping changes they made on how we experience visual culture.
I enjoyed this movie a lot, but I have to lament one major thing: There are so few women in this movie. And so few people of color. Aside from the 4 or 5 Japanese interviewees, it’s mostly just white dudes. There are a few female collectors/enthusiasts, a retailer, an awesome teacher/editor (whose name I forget, damn! But she talked about home movies and film history and kids these days not knowing about VHS), and actresses Cassandra Peterson (aka Elvira) and a Shôko Nakahara. I am NOT saying the Rewind This! filmmakers were being exclusive or sexist, so stop right there with your outrage. What bums me out is that seeing so many of the same kind of person onscreen (pasty dudes in their 30’s, mostly), I was reminded yet again that here is a subculture that wasn’t- and still isn’t- particularly open to women. I loved the commentary from all these movie fans, I wanted to join in the conversation, and yet I never saw myself represented onscreen, or even that much variety in general represented. I KNOW THIS HAPPENS ALL THE TIME but it’s still frustrating, especially since this is a subject close to my heart, and the film community in general is so important to me and yet I’m constantly reminded that I’m slightly on the outside of it simply because I’m a woman. It was also surprising that with all the discussion of new opportunities for indie filmmakers that came along with VHS technology, there were no women (or non-white?) filmmakers included. I guess because they were focusing primarily on action/horror directors? I don’t know. Maybe when there’s a documentary about the digital revolution there’ll be some talking heads who aren’t white dudes.
Pair This Movie With: I felt like digging out some VHS tapes myself! I have a small collection, mostly of films that aren’t on dvd, as well as some classics I inherited from my grandmother. So I say get out your old VHS tapes (come on, if you’re over 20 you probably have a couple!) and have a nostalgia party!
PS I know it says “John Carpenter” on the posters for this movie but FYI that’s not THE John Carpenter, it’s a producer who happens to have his name! They totally fooled me, though haha, I thought he’d be one of the interviewees. Panos Cosmatos is really a producer on it, which is neat, but he’s not interviewed.