Rewind This

Rewind This


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

If you're a regular reader of Eye For Film you may have noticed that some of the older films we cover here are very hard to find. In fact, some are still only available on VHS, a medium which has a limited lifespan. As old tapes begin to decay, thousands of films are set to be lost forever. Many, made in a rush when the rental market first took off, will not be missed, but among them there are hidden gems. Unsurprisingly, VHS still has devotees, people who treasure these discoveries and love the format above all others. This documentary is a tribute to a dying medium.

It's a tribute worthy of its subject. Brightly coloured, esoteric, sometimes cheesy, with an electronic score and a lot more going on upstairs than you might expect, it suits video perfectly. Every aspect of the VHS boom is celebrated here, from slasher films to workout tapes, cheap pornography, monster movies and, yes, arthouse film. There's a look at the lost art of the painted video cover and a celebration of VHS as palimpsest - those much-used tapes whose layers of content reveal the personalities of those who owned them. There are the scratchy, worn out frames that indicate impending nudity, and then there's video swapping, reselling, and piracy. "I don't like it," says Mamoru Oshii, director of the Ghost In The Shell films, "but I see it as a natural force."

Copy picture

Oshii is one of a number of fascinating contributors to this richly layered film, with others including Hobo With A Shotgun director Jason Eisener and Adoration's Atom Egoyan. Small time filmmakers get their shot too, talking about the overlap between professionally made videos and the home movie, the democratisation of filmmaking that began with the arrival of affordable video cameras. The film is elevated above the average 'these are a few of my favourite things' documentary by its willingness to take on larger narratives around the social, economic and literary significance of the genre, all in a fully accessible way.

In that regard, video was the biggest thing since the printing press in terms of allowing ordinary people to contribute to the public exchange of ideas. It revolutionised an industry that had been built around exclusivity - most people got one chance to see a film in the cinema and then it was gone, perhaps reappearing on television for a single night five years later - if it was deemed sufficiently respectable, of course. VHS meant new models of commerce, successes and failures, much more public accountability and a lasting shift in the balance of power.

There is also a heavy dose of nostalgia here, but perhaps that's not a bad thing. The film is honest about it and suitably good humoured. Then there is the inescapable fact that a huge amount of what was recorded on VHS was trash. Clips of contributors' favourite bad videos are among the film's most charming moments.

All this is well situated in context, looking at the shift to DVD and blu-ray and the gradual disappearance of physical formats, with all that this means for the passion of collectors and the very concept of ownership. There's some sharp political observation in a film that is ostensibly about fun, but nothing feels out of place. This is a superbly crafted piece of work that does its subject proud. Catch it while you can, before it too disappears into unfair obscurity.

Reviewed on: 09 Sep 2013
Share this with others on...
Rewind This packshot
A celebration of VHS and the genres it enabled to flourish.

Director: Josh Johnson

Starring: Atom Egoyan, Jason Eisener, Frank Henenlotter, Charles Band, Cassandra Petersen

Year: 2013

Runtime: 94 minutes

Country: US


Frightfest 2013

Search database: