Director Josh Johnson pulls off an ingenious move with “Rewind This!” Truly, it’s about the age of VHS and recalls many of the fond memories of buying VHS and learning how to enjoy the spoils of the hunt for the perfect Friday night entertainment from your local mom and pop video store. But by the end of the documentary, director Johnson is wise to warn about how personal media and art is slowly becoming impersonal and is gradually breaking from our grasps.
VHS once was an experimental format to sell movies to audiences, and now studios are dead set on re-claiming the art they’ve sold to their consumers for many years. With the advent of digital technology what was once ours to own and use, is now only loaned. There’s the infamous incident where Kindle Owners lost their copies of “1984” due to a rights issue. The interview subjects make an excellent point that this never would have happened in a time where people still bought books. And the same is happening with film. “Rewind This!” explores the unabashed fun and enthusiasm that was collecting and renting VHS tapes from the local video store, and how it helped bring people together.
I was born right in the beginning of the VHS craze, so I very much remember rewinders, large VCR’s, blank VHS tapes, and the like, and “Rewind This!” is meant for the folks that still treasure the format. Surely, it has its flaws, but there’s something so much more rewarding with VHS than DVD or Blu-Ray has ever offered. “Rewind This!” doesn’t deny the more inherent flaws of the VHS format and the big boom in the eighties, though. Director Josh Johnson is careful not to get lost in rose colored nostalgia, and discusses the irritating Beta and VHS wars in the eighties, the horrible pan and scan trend many studios adopted, and the colossal boxes many editions of movies came tucked in.
But even with the eye rolls that came with the technology, there’s still a fondness and love for it all, and how VHS was just so much more personal and fitted to the consumer’s personality. “Rewind This!” is a fun remembrance of the golden age of the VHS, while also discussing how the technology changed the way audiences appreciated movies. For the better and the worse. There are also some really funny moments, including a VHS collector traveling flea markets for rare VHS and coming across over a dozen “Titanic” Double VHS sets, and director Frank Hennenlotter digging in to Criterion calling their artwork “shit,” while also fondly recollecting the “Wanna date?” button on the box of his “Frankenhooker” movie release.
“Rewind This!” eventually becomes a requiem for the love of film and how impersonal and bland the entire following inevitably became once studios stopped hiring artists and started bringing aboard computer jockeys with photoshop. There’s also the horrifying discussion on how hundreds of titles released on VHS have never been on DVD or Blu-Ray and may inevitably be lost. That said “Rewind This!” is a hilarious and utterly excellent look back at a time where movie collecting was more of a sport and treasure hunt than a matter of simple point and click. “Rewind This!” definitely should be seen by movie buffs and VHS aficionados alike.