I have imagined and created a mini-feud between two documentaries that were released in the last year or so both having to do with VHS tapes. Rewind This and Adjust Your Tracking have both been on my radar. I cannot pretend to an expert on VHS or collecting VHS, but I’m an amateur collector, and I love the format. When it comes to quality I understand that it is rarely the superior format (though I’d hesitate to say NEVER); it’s all nostalgia and clearly there have been better formats released since the Mylar hit the shelves, but I still like to pause a tape and see the odd glitches as well as watch for wear marks. At this point I collect for artwork and I collect to preserve memories and to build a mock video store in my basement of horror titles in the style of my favorite video stores of old. To get two separate documentaries in one year’s time means that either we’ve hit the peak of the collecting boom or we’re about to see a bunch o’ fresh faces in the bins, digging and scrounging for tapes. Did the format warrant two separate documentaries?
Synopsis from FilmBluff:
Until the late 1970s, the only way to see movies uncut and uncensored was in a theater or on the new and not-widely-available pay cable. But the arrival of VHS, and its competing videotape format Beta, created a revolution that would ultimately change how movies were seen, distributed and even produced. It was an exploding industry without rules, where new terms like "fast-forward" and "direct-to-video" entered the vocabulary, and where the previously unheard of notion of owning movies became a reality. The simultaneous invention of the camcorder allowed everyone to become a filmmaker, leading to, among other things, the "found footage" genre of movies epitomized by The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, not to mention the rise of the adult industry.
REWIND THIS! traces the story of VHS tape from its heyday as the mainstream homevideo format to its current status as a nostalgic relic and prize to collectors who still cherish it. Featuring interviews with both filmmakers and enthusiasts from the VHS era, including Troma Entertainment legend Lloyd Kaufman, art-house auteur Atom Egoyan and Hobo With a Shotgun filmmaker Jason Eisener, REWIND THIS! is the definitive story of the format that came to be synonymous with the home entertainment revolution.
The quick answer is, yes; two documentaries were required to full enrich and delve into the finer points of the legacy of tape media. Yes, the history of the VHS tape and other related formats including Beta warrants two separate documentaries. Each of these releases carries their own special view of the collecting world with some interview crossovers, but mostly exclusive content in each. I’m here to review Rewind This, but also had the chance to judge Adjust Your Tracking for the Killer Film Festival this past year, so my viewing of both is fairly fresh. We’ll focus on Rewind This, but you may see me offer criticism and comparison of both features throughout. Rest assured that I enjoyed both films individually, and I think I have a favorite.
Rewind This goes through the history of both VHS and Beta formats (the battle of which is somewhat underplayed in the movie). It’s perfect for the beginner and beyond though I imagine the hardcore collectors will already know most of this. It serves as a refresher for most of us (including myself) and even steps back into an age I do not remember pre-1980. Rewind This excels in it’s catalog of events that transpired. If you want to under the cycles of tape history, Rewind This is probably the better choice.
One way in which Rewind This differs from Adjust Your Tracking is who gets camera time. You’ll see a cast of famous faces and collectors in Rewind This, as opposed to Adjust Your Tracking which focuses primarily on the collectors. I suppose that seems to hint at the overall feel distinction between the two films. One is an overall glimpse at everything VHS (Rewind This). It tries to take on every angle from collecting, to the home video boom and rental as well as the current legacy of the product. They even give a nice segment on the SOV industry. Adjust Your Tracking is a film more geared toward collectors and collections. That means they go hand in hand well and should both be purchased.
The primary film runs about 90 minutes, but the extras are off the chain. We’re talking about every piece of footage from interviews to segue unused in the film due to timing and pacing issues. So if you want supplementary material, you’ve got it. Think the documentary didn’t focus enough on artwork? There’s a ten minutes on just artwork in the extras. It includes a full length commentary track with director Josh Johnson, producer Carolee Mitchell and cinematographer/editor, Christopher Palmer. There’s a filthy reel of original animation meant to educate you on the history of the adult VHS industry. While the documentary does tackle the adult film industry as respects the new VHS format, this little gem was left out and should get a rise out of you. There’s a music video and bonus features on laserdisc, remix culture and video panic. This is a comprehensive extra list. The extra screen itself had me in awe. The cover art also kicks much ass.
Favorite moment in the movie? Watching a short bit about the Bubba Smith workout tape and hearing Bubba Smith telling ME that he loves me. You can’t get more encouragement than that.
My preference is for Rewind This, but that is mostly due to the extra features and scope of the movie (not primarily focused on collecting). Not having reviewed a release of Adjust Your Tracking with extras included could push the two closer together, but I will say that I voted for Adjust Your Tracking as one of the top films of Killer Film Festival alongside a shot-on-video, faux 1980’s release, WNUF Halloween Special (you should also pick up that DVD of WNUF, but avoid the VHS tape because it’s just a bad copy with generic black cardboard cover… my least favorite purchase of the year).
Enjoy some time with a comprehensive piece of documentary filmmaking with stars like Lloyd Kaufman, Jason Eisener (fuck yeah!), Cassandra Peterson, Atom Egoyan, Frank (motherfuckin’) Henenlotter (who is a pleasure) and David “The Rock” Nelson (Ed Wood Jr. Jr.?).