ADJUST YOUR TRACKING: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE VHS COLLECTOR
*** (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Dan Kinem & Levi Peretic
STARS Lloyd Kaufman, Mike Raso
If vinyl can make a comeback, why not VHS? That's the question posed by one of the participants in Adjust Your Tracking, an entertaining documentary that's hitting town as the latest entry in the Back Alley Film Series.
Subtitled The Untold Story of the VHS Collector, the film briefly traces the history of movies on videocassette, charting its revolutionary debut in the late 1970s through its near-extinction once DVD became the primary method to watch movies from the comfort of one's couch. Directors Dan Kinem and Levi Peretic managed to track down some terrific vintage commercials for this section, including an ad for an apartment complex in which new tenants are promised a "free video recorder" for moving in. There are also commercials for the obvious villain of the piece: Blockbuster Video, which effectively killed off the nation's mom 'n' pop video stores.
The movie's main focus, however, is on the various folks who continue to collect and cherish old videos. The reasons for their devotion are many: the nostalgia factor; the appreciation for the format's distinctive imperfections (chiefly, the snap, crackle and pop heard during playback); the thrill of selling and trading (collector Eric Spudic bought the Holy Grail of videos, a 1987 low-budgeter named Tales from the Quadead Zone, for $2 at a store and sold it online for $660); and the simple fact that the vast majority of VHS titles have never made it to DVD or Blu-ray. And although it's not emphasized, there's also the attraction of playing the old-guard maverick in a world that has turned its back on the format. As one interviewee amusingly notes, "The people who hate tape, it's like you're asking them, 'Hey, do you have diapers filled with vomit?' 'Oh, no! Why would we have those!?'"
Practically everyone interviewed for this film is male and all largely collect only horror flicks, bringing up the obvious question of whether there's anyone out there who collects VHS tapes of, say, 1940s Westerns or movies from the Italian neorealism movement. Still, Kinem and Peretic have managed to snag some colorful subjects to showcase on camera; I especially was intrigued by Joe Clark, who owns over 4,200 cassettes. "Anybody who is collecting horror films is collecting them from a deeper reason than, 'Oh, I think that's cool,'" he states. "No, there's something inside you; you want to own all the horror, you want to know all the evil, you want to possess it." Clark proceeds to point out select titles from his collection, including such marquee-unfriendly efforts as Zombie! vs. Mardi Gras (with the tagline "Beads... Breasts... Blood!"). He then pauses to take note of a particular shelf containing movies he deems so horrific (I Piss on Your Grave and I Puke on Your Grave being but two) that he only watches them on rare occasion — you come away from viewing these films "a little different," he insists.
Clark's diehard devotion to the videocassette is matched by that of everyone interviewed for this informative and engaging documentary, from Putrid, an artist who states that VHS represents his manhood, to Bradley Creanzo, a filmmaker whose rather spectacular basement video store even includes a counter, a few Beta tapes and an enormous gumball machine he purchased at a Blockbuster going-out-of-business sale. Wait, did I say "everyone"? There's one holdout among the interviewees: Lloyd Kaufman, the irrepressible Troma Films co-founder whose various movies (The Toxic Avenger, Class of Nuke 'Em High, etc.) were wildly successful on videocassette. "I personally don't care for VHS," he opines. "DVD is infinitely better."
Adjust Your Tracking: The Untold Story of the VHS Collector will be screened at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 7, at Crownpoint Cinemas, 9630 Monroe Road. Admission is $10 ($5 for Charlotte Film Society members). The screening will be surrounded by two special events. There will be a VHS Tape Swap & Trade event at 6 p.m. (so bring those cassettes!). Then following the screening, Kinem and Peretic will present a Q&A session. For more details, go to www.backalleyfilmseries.com.