Back in the day I had a mountain of VHS tapes all meticulously labeled containing my favorite films and TV shows. I would be a fanatic about creating my own movie/TV collection when the opportunity would arise to add another feature to my growing collection of video tapes I had. I knew I would keep them all forever!
I was meticulous with how I wanted to record my movies on my VHS tapes. I didn’t want any commercials or intros from the cable channel at the very beginning of the tape. I wanted every tape to start up with black and the opening credits fading up. Then the end of the film was required to contain all the closing credits.
If I had enough room on that tape to squeeze another movie (at a certain point I thought I better start to conserve some shelf space) then movie number two would have to start precisely after the previous films credits faded out and gradually fade in with movie number two’s opening credits. Any tape jumps or a quick glimpse of some random television show that the tape was used to record previously in between these archived movies would be completely unacceptable.
What a picky, little perfectionist bastard I was. I ended up selling off all my VHS tapes through subsequent garage sales through the years. All that wasted energy for nothing. Well, I did make a about seven bucks from them all.
Anyone who lived through those ‘VHS Years’ or is just a red-blooded fan of movies should really enjoy the documentary Rewind This! It’s a terrific nostalgic look back at the video tape revolution.
This was the video format that for nearly twenty years dominated the way people watched movies in the comfort of their own homes. It covers the creation of the home video market, the impact it had on the film industry and the radical, more affordable ways movies themselves were being made.
It seems so long ago when I picture images of countless video rental stores popping up on every corner of the country, obscure and strange movie titles filling shelves and the gathering of friends on a Saturday night asking the all important question of “What should we rent tonight?”
The documentary details all the steps of how VHS was the winner in the VHS vs. Betamax battle and would become the dominant home-viewing format all the way through its eventual demise. It’s an education hearing about the earliest skeptical views from movie studios believing this thing would never catch on to the pioneering individuals who thought it would work and took the chance.
Before we all knew it popular movies became available priced to buy for consumers to own. It was a revolutionary idea. You could actually have your own movie collection! Then this led into the subsequent progression of cheaper productions being made specifically to take advantage of that VHS demand and cater to niche audience with sex/horror exploitation films.
It’s a fascinating examination of how it all evolved and how the home video market was created. We hear from fans, film historians, filmmakers and distributors who were right in the middle of it all offering their perspective and memories of how it all came to be.
Of course this leads up to the inevitable disintegration of it, when those smaller production companies begin to disappear, those Mom & Pop owned video rental stores were stomped out by Blockbuster video and VHS becomes an antiquated technology.
The extinction of VHS opens up an interesting discussion of film preservation. Thousands and thousands of these cheap, straight-to-video movies have never made the leap to another format, therefore their VHS presentation is still the only way to view them. In some cases that might be the only version of them that exists.
It’s sad. I mean, you could easily dismiss the quality of many straight-to-video movies and say “it’s not even worth saving, that they’re not worth it”, but how can anyone be the ultimate judge of that? Good or bad they’re part of our cinematic legacy. It’s depressing to think one day many of the movies made during the ‘VHS Age’ could conceivably disappear.
One brief interesting avenue the film takes is a look at the artwork that would adore VHS covers. With thousands of tapes lining shelves all vying for consumers attention, it subsequently created some wonderfully bizarre, outrageous and sometimes beautiful artwork.
Again, leaving aside the quality of the films themselves, some of the posters that consisted of handpainted artwork which the movie uses to illustrate its point are indeed beautifully done. Sure they might be schlocky and over-the-top, but that’s kind of the point and they do leave a visual impact.
The hands-on artwork has been replaced by more photoshopped, digital manipulated Hollywood movie posters. There’s something that got lost. I have noticed this trend with movie posters before. They now usually consist of big movie star faces in some kind of weird lighting with the title beneath them. Crapier and cheaper that they are, some of the VHS covers those older movies had are brilliant!
VHS still has its share of fans that aren’t willing to let it die so easily. The film features many VHS fans/collectors who still maintain their devotion to it and continue to scour flea markets and garage sales looking for more obscure titles to add to their dusty collections Their passion for VHS is oddly inspiring.
I cannot recommend Rewind This! enough as both an
exhaustive and entertaining account of the technological leap VHS made to home movie watching and movie making, along with being a wistful and amusing love letter to the joys and influence it brought to hundreds of millions of home viewers the world over. It’s one of the best movies I have watched this year so far.
Check it out!