Interview with Josh Johnson, director of Rewind This!
Videonomicon got a chance to speak with Josh Johnson, the director of the award-winning documentary about the history of home video Rewind This! Along with his two colleagues, Carolee Mitchell and Christopher Palmer, Josh traversed the world interviewing the likes of Atom Egoyan, Frank Henenlotter, Mamoru Oshii, Charles Band, and many others involved with the VHS boom. So let’s hit play!
Videonomicon: What sparked the idea of documenting the cultural impact of VHS and home video? Josh Johnson: There were two driving forces behind making the documentary. The first one was a desire to see the story of home video told on film, in a way that showcases how revolutionary it was. The other was to show the current value of videotape as an archival resource, since so many films have never been released on any other format. VN: What challenges did you face while trying to tell the story? JJ: There were only three of us working on the film for the entirety of its production, and we were doing this around day jobs, so the biggest challenge was just finding the spare time to put into the project. The film was an all-consuming project while we made it. That aspect of the experience was incredibly rewarding, but also very difficult. VN: Originally the battle was between VHS and Beta. Did you experience both or just one of the formats growing up? JJ: We were always a VHS household. I remember seeing Beta tapes in some stores, but we didn’t have the machine. When I was a teenager, and Beta had been dead for a number of years, I bought one at a garage sale. It came with second-generation dubs of Aliens and Lethal Weapon. I watched those two tapes many, many times. VN: Since VHS has had the longest succession dominating as a physical format, as compared to DVD and Blu-ray, how do you feel about the domination and gravitation towards digital media and the eventual demise of physical media? What do you believe to be the pros and cons of this change? JJ: I’m very uneasy about the demise of physical media. The main advantage is that you don’t need to worry about space or clutter. I can completely understand that, having moved a large media collection several times. Another huge advantage of digital delivery is that your collection is made portable. I can purchase an entire television series, and watch it piece by piece while I travel. The ease of consuming large quantities of filmed material without needing to transport it is very desirable. That said, I fear people are giving up a form of ownership that may not be good for film obsessives like myself. I don’t believe everything from the various film catalogs will be made available for streaming and/or download. That means it will be all the more important to hold onto physical media, as it may remain the only way to access a huge chunk of films. VN: Rewind This! explores the history of VHS, but also touches on collecting. Were you, or are you, an avid VHS collector? JJ: Yes, absolutely. I have a large collection of videotapes, all of which are titles that haven’t been released on newer, digital formats. I love VHS, and it changed my life, but I don’t believe it is the best way to watch a film. There are so many films languishing on the format though, and I want to be able to watch them. VN: Since the video store is considered extinct, aside from independent operations, what do you think the greatest loss to society is because of this vanishing? JJ: I think the social aspect of going to the video store was tremendously important for a lot of people. It meant getting out of the house, and exploring another space. It gave a weight and importance to the title you selected, which made the eventual viewing of that title more of an event. You could also have a conversation with another human being, and get recommendations based on their knowledge rather than an algorithm. VN: What is your fondest video store memory? JJ: My fondest video store memory isn’t a specific trip to the store, but more of a general experience that occurred every time I was there. I would spend hours wandering around and browsing. Every box held so much potential, and I would read every single box over the course of multiple trips. I loved watching movies, but the experience of wandering through those aisles and imagining what sorts of experiences were contained within the boxes on the shelves was as enjoyable as getting them home and putting them in the VCR. The world of movies seemed endless in the earliest days that I spent in the video store. VN: How can people go about seeing Rewind This!? JJ: It is available right now on iTunes in all English-speaking parts of the world for another week, and it will roll out to all other digital platforms on September 10th, as well as for purchase through our website via VHX. We’re finalizing DVD special features right now, and the physical release will be sometime early 2014.
Interview conducted by Tyler Baptist. All contents copyright 2013 Videonomicon.