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REWIND THIS! (review)

Review by Bill Cunningham

If you’re like me, you remember the 1980’s and the days of visiting the video store and browsing the shelves for a movie to watch for the weekend.

It was such a life-changing moment to actually hold a movie in your hands and decide when and where to watch it. It was as if the whole world of movies that you’d only read about in FANGORIA, THE GORE SCORE or G-FAN, was suddenly at your fingertips.

It was an exciting world filled with possibility and discovery.

For you of the Netflix generation, I imagine it felt similar to seeing a wonderful movie recommended for you and adding it to your queue.

What you can’t reckon is the fact that seemingly overnight, a corner video store popped up in your neighborhood and all these movies were “real” and you could hold them in your hand.

Hell, if you were rich enough, you could own the movie! The closest analogy is the same attitude that music lovers have for vinyl – that wonderful, nostalgic, lo-fi aesthetic that has its core audience.

The filmmakers of MPI / FilmBuff’s latest documentary REWIND THIS! remember this time as well, and have captured much of the excitement and weirdness of that early 80’s period as well as chronicling how a format went from fringe to mainstream to fringe again.

What makes this documentary slightly different than others that have been attempted is that director Josh Johnson has concentrated on the more fringe participants in this VHS revolution: the collectors, the indie filmmakers who made their mark in Direct-2-Video or were heavily educated and influenced by it, the entrepreneurs who saw an opportunity to deliver the weird directly to their audience, and those who were ultimately influenced by this radical change in viewing and have gone on to celebrate VHS in different ways. Clearly, every level of the VHS generation has unbridled enthusiasm for the movies that became synonymous with the format.

For the fans of this format, and the movies within, you will not be disappointed by the appearance of the many personalities and films – people like Frank Henenlotter of BASKET CASE and FRANKENHOOKER, Don May of Synapse Films, David Gregory of Severin Films, the film programmers at LA’s Cinefamily, Dimitri Simakis of Alchemy, J.R. Bookwalter of Tempe Home Video, David “The Rock” Nelson, Charles Band of Full Moon, and all of the folks who still claim that VHS is not dead.

If the panorama of personalities presented (say that 3x fast!) is any indication, then VHS as both an idea and a format is not dead.

There are so many levels of this (r)evolution that are covered by this movie that it begs for a sequel to fill in the gaps more fully.

It is here and in the technical department that REWIND THIS! falls short of the mark. One cannot fault the filmmakers for trying to capture ALL the interesting aspects of this VHS generation – it’s all very intriguing – and they do try to present it all and fairly. BUT – to be absolutely fair to the subject and the personalities – one could easily craft three or four 90-minute movies on the various aspects of the subject. Here REWIND THIS! chooses to touch lightly on a variety of topics offering a cornucopia of discussion. I would have preferred it if Johnson and co. had chosen one deep niche in this vast discussion and focused on that. That said, there is a TON of bonus materials that go further into many of the various aspects of the VHS culture – the key art illustration, the shot-on-video movie, the return of VHS, the cultural influence, etc…

In the technical department, REWIND THIS! could have used some spicing up in their cinematography, editing, and production design.

While this is a documentary and there is no production design per se, there are too many interviews where the subject is seated in a chair or on a couch, and they begin to blur together. This viewer would have liked to see fewer talking heads and more intercutting. This is a nit to pick, but the subject matter and the personalities involved demands camerawork and editing with a personality of its own. For clarity’s sake, it would have been nice to see more image insertions of some of the box art they were referencing. That said, the sound is excellent and everyone can be heard clearly and precisely which is a major plus to any documentary.

In general, if you remember what it was like to browse the video store shelves then this is going to be a delightful walk down memory lane seeing some old favorites, and answering those nagging “whatever happened to…?” type of questions.

For those of you who have grown up in the world of DVD and Netflix streaming this is going to a trip into nostalgia that will hopefully tease you into getting some of the movies referenced throughout the documentary. REWIND THIS! is a celebration of a fascinating subject that never really manages to stir up a ruckus in the same way that films like NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD have done.

It’s quite telling that the cover to the DVD generates more excitement than the movie actually does. If you see it, but don’t beat yourself up if you happen to miss it.

Rewind This! is available now on DVD and is also be available as a DVD/VHS bundle exclusively through Amazon

Bill Cunningham, whose job title is ‘Mad Pulp Bastard,’ has co-written and produced the very successful independent horror movies SCARECROW and its sequel SCARECROW SLAYER, and has created marketing campaigns for over 80 films that have been distributed worldwide. Cunningham holds degrees in Film and History, has served in the United States Air Force, and has written for Europe’s TALES OF THE SHADOWMEN anthology series. When not in demand as a marketing design consultant to the indie motion picture industry, Cunningham is owner- publisher of Pulp 2.0, a studio dedicated to restoring and publishing out-of-print pulp paperbacks and comics in new editions for digital and print. He can be reached at www.pulp2ohpress.com

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