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“Adjust Your Tracking: The Untold Story of the VHS Collector” dives deep into the subculture of all things VHS
Adjust Your Tracking: The Untold Story of the VHS Collector is a full-fledged, feature-length documentary by two first-time directors who traveled across America to dive deep down into the sub-culture of VHS tape collecting, which they refer to as “tape rescuing.” You can see it streaming now on Night Flight Plus.
The 84-minute film, officially released in 2014, was co-directed by Dan Kinem and Levi “Dabeedo” Peretic, who were both students at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, not too far from where Kinem grew up in Erie, PA, on the southern shore of Lake Erie across from the Canadian province of Ontario.
Filmmakers Dan Kinem (left) and Levi “Dabeedo” Peretic (right)
Kinem — co-founder of VHShitfest, a website dedicated to all things VHS — says that Peretic was “one of the few people on campus that had somewhat decent taste in movies,” and that he was “.. the most talented director in the film department” at Edinboro.
For the uninitiated, we should probably mention that VHS (an acronym for Video Home System) is a widely-adopted videocassette recording (VCR) technology that was developed by Japan Victor Company (JVC) and put on the market in 1976, although its true rise in popularity came along in the 1980s.
The origin of the documentary dates back to early 2011, to an idea of Kinem’s, which he first kicked around with producer Matt Desiderio, to document the sub-culture of VHS collectors, essentially starting off as a passion project made for collectors by a couple of collectors who wanted to capture why VHS holds such a special place in so many different people’s hearts.
They knew there were both interesting and entertaining subjects worthy of filming, including the owners of so-called “mom and pop'” video rental stores, those typically small, dingy little independently-owned little storefronts.
Kinem and Peretic also expanded their idea further to include the fact that the VHS tape format has been experiencing a notable resurgence, and movies are beginning to be released on the format again by boutique VHS labels.
We told you about one such example of this recently here on Night Flight, when filmmaker posted a blog about Mike Malloy’s Eurocrime!: The Italian Cop And Gangster Films That Ruled The ’70s was released on VHS by Celluloid Apocalypse.
By the way, Malloy’s next documentary, Plastic Movies Rewound: The Story Of The ’80s Home Video Boom, promises to be the only project to *definitively* cover the ’80s home video boom (Malloy interviewed forty actual participants in the video boom, not just collectors, during the five years he’s been working on this project, now in post-production).
Over a period of about fourteen months total, Kinem and Peretic shot a hundred interviews with collectors, distributors, and video store owners, filming over one thousand hours of footage using various small hand-held cameras — VHS, low-def and HD digital, among them — and then edited on VHS tape, which creates that fuzzy, scratchy analog VHS tape look with all the pops, cracks and tracking lines we all remember from the format.
The film also has an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1; due to those dimensions, the image has NOT been enhanced for 16×9 televisions.
In order for them to get the film to look the way they wanted, they began collecting footage of video stores, and Kinem and Peretic — who were still full-time college students at the time — did their first interviews with video store owners sometime around January 2012.
Kinem — who is a hardcore collector of VHS tapes himself, and at one point claimed to own about eight thousand tapes (he probably owns more than that now) — says they eventually decided that the film should focus on the collectors themselves and the crazy lives they lead, like treasure hunters or VHS tape archeologists, digging up tapes from dumpsters, thrift stores, and estate sales, rescuing abandoned or neglected tapes that are sometimes hidden away in vaults, storage lockers, or boxed up in the backrooms of failing mom ‘n’ pop stores and chain outlets that are in the process of going out-of-business.
Much like the trio of filmmakers (Josh Johnson, Carolee Mitchell, and Christopher Palmer) of a similarly-themed doco project, Rewind This!, Kinem and Peretic eventually resorted to a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign in to raise enough money to cover the cost of gasoline for their extended road trip, traveling around the country to meet with their interviewees.
Adjust Your Tracking begins with a brief history of VHS — the first format to “take cinema out of the movie theater” and bring it into the home for personal viewing — before going on to chronicle the video stores, which eventually were faced with heavy competition from the more corporate video store chain outlets, like Blockbuster, which effectively killed off the smaller indie stores.
The interviewees recalled for the filmmakers the outrageous prices and sizes of the first VCRs, which initially cost hundreds of dollars, and the mass-produced VHS tapes themselves, 1/2-inch magnetic tape in plastic cartridges that slipped into a VCR.
The film fills in a lot of details — such as the fact that the last standalone VCR was manufactured and sold in 2008 — and the directors also managed to track down odd little vintage commercials (including an ad for an apartment complex in which new tenants are promised a “free video recorder” as an enticement to move in).
Included in a partial list of the people interviewed for Adjust Your Tracking are: Lloyd Kaufman (head of Troma Entertainment); Tony Timpone (former editor of Fangoria); Fred Vogel (director, August Underground); Samuel M. Sherman (horror producer extraordinaire); Zack Carlson (producer of American Scream); Mike “McBeardo” McPadden (head writer, Mr. Skin), 8mm Madness’s “42nd Street Pete”; Everything Is Terrible’s Dimitri Simakis; Video Violence director Gary Cohen; Camp Motion pictures owner Mike Raso; Bloody Ape director Keith Crocker; Bradley Creanzo (Bradco Video); and graphic designer Earl Kess, among dozens of others who help shape the VHS tape-collecting sub-culture.
Mike “McBeardo” McPadden
Their interviews — and you’ll probably have noticed that most of the people interviewed for this film were male and largely horror movie fans, focusing mostly on the more obscure titles — are very engaging and occasionally hilarious, exuding a lot of enthusiasm for the topics they’re discussing, which also delves into the historical factoids surrounding officially-released VHS tapes and the often over-the-top box art and packaging, etc.
They also talk quite a bit about their love, or at least their appreciation, for the videotape format’s distinctive imperfections, not to mention the fact that the vast majority of VHS titles have never been released on either DVD or Blu-ray, which means that old VHS copies are sometimes the last surviving evidence that the film existed in the first place.
For example, for years and years movies like Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie (which he directed after Easy Rider), Cameron Crowe’s The Wild Life and Penelope Spheeris’s punk documentary The Decline of Western Civilization were not officially released on DVD, making the official VHS tape releases just that more collectible. (Decline, obviously, has since been released on DVD, which we told you about here).
Originally the documentary was premiered at the Days of the Dead Festival in Los Angeles, on April 5, 2014, and then screened during a cross-country tour which usually included a collector component of a VHS swap and sale, giving viewers a chance to talk to real collectors and to experience what it’s like to hunt for their own VHS gold.