“REWIND THIS!” (SXSW Movie Review)
Partway through director Josh Johnson’s VHS doc, Alamo Drafthouse programmer Lars Nilsen explains, in his summation, culture hasn’t yet reflected on the impact of the dead (or not so) format. That impact, when looked at historically is where REWIND THIS! shines. Filmmakers like Frank Henenlotter, Charles Band, JR Bookwalter and Roy Frumkes (who very humorously hates the format), whose movies lived and found audiences on VHS, offer fantastic context and insight on being at the forefront. Anecdotes about shining to tapes before studios and the early days of sell-through prices make for great stories, while arguments about just what VHS did for low budgets, both on the distribution and filmmaking ends, are just a few buzz words away from sounding incredibly similar to the current pro-talk for digital revolution.
In that sense, REWIND THIS! offers compelling looks at how pioneering it all was. Giving cinematic power to the powerless and creating a whole new way to watch and rewatch films (and boobs and head explosions) for fans. One section of the film is dedicated to homegrown monster movie maker Rocky Nelson, who’s a spitfire of DIY attitude. It’s inspiring, warming and intensely funny when he points straight at the audience and spouts, “don’t listen to your mom when she tells you not to make monster movies!” Later, it’s as much warming to hear VISITOR Q actress Shôko Nakahara credit her career and own cinephilia to the wide reach of VHS.
With so much enthusiasm, it’s also great to see Johnson including those views that are less celebratory. Some find the collecting side awash in nostalgia as the quality, although charming, is terribly inferior. Even filmmakers like the aforementioned Frumkes and Henenlotter, realize the significance, but hold no particular affection.
To that end, much of the affection and big laughs come from the collectors and those keeping the faith. Programmers, archivists, video store owners and fans all gush over the refusal to put VHS to rest. The best reason—especially for horror fans and video artists—being all that never made its way to DVD and some of these forgotten films that hold true treasure or time capsule quality. They also a cite a love of personality a single tape can hold; the ability to see what friends have taped over and over, the moments so continuously watched that the tape is wearing.
There’s more, as the film examines the rise of tape trading, the Adult Entertainment industry’s adoption of video and its impact, and a rural town’s store that still rents cassettes (and will have VHS hungry viewers with their jaw on the floor). It’s a lot to pack in, and REWIND THIS! seems to have organically found its topics, rather than any kind of hard structure. This leads to a bit of a languid pace and may see too much on the fandom/collecting side of things. However, those bits are certainly some of the most entertaining, as well as real displays of dedication.
This entire doc is, in fact, a display of dedication and one that’s entirely earned. VHS brought movies to your house, dominated the market for far longer than DVD or Blu-ray ever will and was an early portrait of many currently relevant points (both good and bad) that still hang over home entertainment. It’s these explorations that reveal the format entirely worthy of historical document, and REWIND THIS! feels like a good start.