By G. Michael Dobbs
Today in the movie review column, we climb into the Way Back Machine as we watch the new documentary on the VHS revolution.
I realize that film fans born after the advent of home video might not understand the significance of VHS. For them, the ways that VHS changed so much in the film industry and ultimately in American life were just givens.
The strength of this new documentary is to show just how much VHS affected us and that it is still appreciated even in this digital download instant entertainment world in which we live.
Watching it was part nostalgia and part media study and all very entertaining.
As I tried to explain to a pair of my own staffers if you were even moderately into movies prior to home video you had exactly two ways to see them: in theaters and on television. What you could see on TV was determined by the movie packages purchased by local stations. Whether or not you lived in a large TV market made a big difference.
If you had a number of theaters from which to choose you might be able to see a wide selection of films, but that was also more common in the largest of American cities.
I spent my high school and college years in Granby and I was a movie-struck teen who read “Variety” as often as I could buy a copy. I used to wonder if I ever could see a fourth of the films that were covered in the “bible of show business.”
I religiously would go to theaters and would often go back to a favorite film repeatedly because I knew once the film was gone from that screen it was gone – period.
So imagine my delight in 1984 when I given a VHS machine on my 30th birthday. The word of watching movies changed.
The movie shows how the VHS industry started off as a mom and pop opportunity, with video stories springing up like corner conveniences stores. Remember how they all initially had membership fees?
I basically joined nearly every one of them in Springfield as I quickly learned the stores often differed in stock based on the interest of the owners.
As pointed out by the various interview subjects in “Rewind This,” a VHS player in a home meant more than just the ability to watch a film. It also gave a family the opportunity to record television for later playback and skip through commercials as well – both radical concepts that altered broadcasting.
VHS also brought birth to the concept of trading tapes and establishing a new form of personal distribution. I certainly traded tapes of films with people myself. VHS started a democratization of film watching. No longer was a film fan punished because he or she didn’t live in a major media market.
VHS also meant that people could build a library of movies just like they had built a collection of books.
With the expansion of the technology, people ditched their Super 8 home movie cameras for home video, a medium that allowed for near instant playback and ease of copying what one photographed.
The documentary illustrated how the VHS revolution brought about a new group of low budget film producers who quickly responded to the near insatiable demand for rental product. VHS certainly made changes there as it did for the adult movie industry, which learned that people are far more amenable to watching porn in their homes than in movie theaters.
What I liked about this film is that it covered so many bases in an entertaining way and revealed to me there are still people who collect VHS tapes and watch them. Certainly I’ve kept a bunch largely because a large percentage of what was released on VHS never made it to DVD or Blu-ray.
A superbly satisfying look at a technological development told in a funky and fun way, “Rewind This” is well worth finding. The movie’s website – http://buy.rewindthismovie.com
– offers viewing options if you have difficulty locating it.