Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Chaotic and fragmented, VHYes initially snares the viewer with simple curiosity value and then, as distinct themes and characters begin to emerge, becomes harder and harder to look away from."

There's a moment in David Cronenberg's classic Videodrome when a chat show host and his guests discuss the possible effects on the brain of watching too much video. That was 1983 and the question was purely speculatory - there wasn't enough data to draw conclusions about whether or not we risked hallucinating or undergoing strange physical mutations. Now, of course, we're at a stage where we're looking at the problem from the inside. We've consumed so much visual information and misinformation that the normality we believe in may simply be a result of our warped perceptions. Was the woman in that scene a blonde or a brunette? Was she wearing a red dress or a yellow one? Was it 1983 or 1987?

We see 1987 stamped on the bottom of the image when Ralph (Mason McNulty) starts filming with the camera he's just opened for Christmas. He's using an old tape that he found, actually his parents' wedding video, with snippets of the apparently happy couple popping up in between the other images he chooses to capture. In keeping with his age and the times, these include snapshots of family life, escapades with best friend Josh (Rahm Braslaw), scenes from late night TV recorded directly to camera and, well, something else that will only make sense when you've watched all the rest. The more video you've watched, the more sense it will make. it helps if we all undergo the same mutations.

For most of our history our scattered units have only convened to think. With the dawn of cinema, of television and especially of video we began to share electric dreams, to collectively process ideas in a different way, a sort of origin of shared consciousness in the breakdown of the distributed mind. Jack Henry Robbins' joyously inventive video collage tells a story that belongs very much to the era in which it is set, yet in a form that is both traditional and innovative, and all the more pertinent today. It's part faux nostalgia trip, part character study and part surreal, science-fiction tinged adventure.

Sharp-eyed viewers will spot segments of Robbins' previous shorts intercut with the new material here: Painting With Joan sees mundane educational television lurch into something quite different, while Hot Winter: A Film By Dick Pierre adds an extra layer to the pretence as all we see here are scenes from the fictional porn film about global warming which it supposedly explored as a documentary. Channel hopping at the speed of a 12-year-old's ability to lose patience, we see reminders of the awful state the world was in at the time and predictions about our present whose accuracy adds to the comedy of the piece.

Despite its metatextual quality this is a very funny film and almost never dry - sometimes shocking, sometimes bitingly satirical, it bounces along with the exuberance of its young hero and will remind you of the experience of trying to make sense of the world as a child. Occult themes (and a subplot about Eighties society's perception of the supposedly occult) invite us to relate, even as adults, to that sense of not fully understanding the forces in motion around us.

Chaotic and fragmented, VHYes initially snares the viewer with simple curiosity value and then, as distinct themes and characters begin to emerge, becomes harder and harder to look away from. it's the sort of film that will seep into your consciousness and find its way into your dreams. Perhaps it will alter your perception of reality. Perhaps reality is less than this.

Reviewed on: 22 Sep 2019
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VHYes packshot
12-year-old Ralph, over one formative week in late 1987, mistakenly records home videos and his favourite late night shows over his parents’ wedding tape, with unexpected consequences.

Director: Jack Henry Robbins

Writer: Nate Gold, Nunzio Randazzo, Jack Henry Robbins

Starring: Kerri Kenney, Thomas Lennon, Mark Proksch, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins

Year: 2019

Runtime: 72 minutes


Fantastic 2019

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