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Rewind This! (DVD Review)

28 Jan, 2014 By: John Latchem

$24.98 DVD, $34.98 DVD/VHS combo
Not rated.

Discussions about the future role of Blu-ray and digital delivery are all well and good, but Rewind This! wants to remind us that the home video industry was built on a foundation of VHS.

As the documentary traces the evolution of the industry, one crucial fact becomes clear. Most of the home viewing habits, social media trends and viral video explosions we see today are just digital extensions of behavioral shifts brought about by the era of videotape.

A thorough blast of analog nostalgia, Rewind This! covers all the bases of the rise of home video, beginning with the infamous format war between VHS and the technically superior Betamax. While popular contention holds that VHS won out because it Sony refused to license Betamax for porn, one video historian points out that the roots of the VHS victory were a simpler matter of it being able to record an extra hour of TV shows.

So yes, the documentary covers VHS as the precursor to DVR for time-shifting TV viewing. And the boon that VHS gave the porn industry doesn’t get short shrift either. It’s this discussion that gives rise to the film’s boldest maxim, that the success of any major consumer electronics device will be determined by its relationship to the adult industry.

But the real innovation was the idea to license Hollywood movies for video, letting collectors own their favorite films to watch whenever they wanted, with the unintended side effect of spawning the rental market. A whole new generation could discover not only classic films, but whatever weird, crazy crap made its way into their hands.

Elvira herself, Cassandra Peterson, surmises that her career skyrocketed due to tapes of her horror movie show being passed around. Another talking head links VHS to the popularity of “South Park,” as early Christmas specials were traded around Hollywood in the 1990s (an obvious precursor to viral video).

The analog nature of VHS also gave rise to some strange quirks of rental, such as the static that telegraphs nudity or gore because previous viewers paused it at that spot too many times. Another story recalls a customer who would rent kidvid tapes and record over portions with hardcore pornography.

One of the more amusing segments in the film concerns the rise of the direct-to-video segment, and the lengths producers would go to for inspiration for low-budget dreck. Ripping off Hollywood hits was easy enough to begin with. Then they took it a step further and started painting the box art first, bringing in hack screenwriters to crank out quickie scripts based on whatever drawings caught their fancy.

The rise of higher-quality formats such as DVD created a kind of caste system for home entertainment, dividing titles between those good enough to be re-released on DVD, and those not worth the effort. Accordingly, Rewind This! documents many collectors who rummage through swap meets looking for hidden gems on VHS, and film festivals rife with screenings of cheesy Rambo knockoffs.

Some other bits of VHS gold explored in Rewind This! include Bubba Until It Hurts, a 1985 workout tape with Bubba Smith that was marketed to those who don’t like to move very much. Another collector shows off a 1995 Microsoft Windows video instruction guide starring Matthew Perry and Jennifer Aniston acting like their “Friends” characters (which is available on YouTube, if anyone’s curious).

A 2009 kitsch VHS release of House of the Devil by MPI sparked something of a resurgence of the format among collectors and motivated the making of Rewind This!. The filmmakers note in their DVD commentary that this happened before MPI acquired Rewind This! as well, and fittingly gave it its own VHS release.

The DVD also includes a library of deleted interviews that are worth checking out.

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