director Josh Johnson
Technology, the constant, incessant march of technology. That is an ever-growing reality of modern life. If you think of how profoundly technology evolved in the 20th century alone, the jump to the automobile, the airplane, the atom, DNA, there are almost too many major discoveries and inventions that completely and utterly changed the world in such vast turns that no single other century in recorded history could compare. Of course, what I’m saying has been said, so I won’t belabor the point.
But we are also a generation of obsolescent technology. The things that come and the things that go. Honestly, in some ways, I think nothing ever truly goes away.
The subject of Rewind This! is VHS, the explosion of that technology, the impact it had on culture and movies, and its strange place in the hearts of some seriously hardcore collectors and archivists today. And certainly there is a story here for certain.
VHS changed media distribution in huge ways. It wasn’t necessarily the invention of home media for film, but it democratized it and delivered it to virtually every home in most modern countries. It changed the way people watched film, not only in the privacy of their own homes but the accessibility of content changed the landscape forever. And the markets it created gave birth to a strange array of opportunism in the movie industry (as well as other video only industries).
What is actually the most relevant and interesting to me is how this speaks to the contemporary present, now several major evolutionary steps beyond VHS. In many ways, the VHS revolution presaged the era of content on demand, of distribution channels, the idea of “owning” content, and the eventual scrum by corporations to vie in this arena ever onward. It was a time that didn’t foresee our present, though our present is very informed by this past.
The thing is, the film is focused on people who FREAKING LOVE VHS. Like its analog charm, compared to vinyl LPs was some great masterstep of technology. Many of the interviewees and talking heads are collector nerds of the highest order, who have a profound passion for the form.
But I have to agree with the one guy in the film who basically says that VHS was very important but it was basically a really crappy format. It won out over the competing BETA format which was considered superior, simply because you could record on it for much longer, a quantity over quality thing, which goes against most media arguments, I would think.
Some argue further that some content “only exists on VHS” and so it needs to be preserved. I don’t know how true this argument is. It seems weird and sort of unlikely. Even a film that was distributed “straight to video” was typically shot on film. And even the ones that were shot on video, you’d still go to the originals if you could find them, not the dupe tapes…right? Though I know that film preservation finds many of its jewels on cheaper 16mm or worse copies of films. So who knows?
It’s an interesting world and an interesting time and for those reasons too, an interesting film. I think anyone interested in film, particularly over the past 40 years would find something here to glom onto.
It made me think that it would be a good pairing with the comedy Be Kind Rewind (2008), which I have never seen, but know inspired the whole “Swede” film thing, which is pretty amusing. That is a true video double feature.