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Thursday, June 26, 2014


First of all--just as most pre-recorded VHS tapes begin with an "FBI Warning", I feel as though I should start my review of ADJUST YOUR TRACKING: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE VHS COLLECTOR (2013) with an "FYI Warning." In short...if you're a "normal" person who doesn't understand the obsessive nature of fandom and/or collecting, chances are this documentary about rabid VHS tape collectors will not only be uninteresting to you, but puzzling and even off-putting as well.

If, however, you share even a fraction of these guys' nostalgia for the glory days of VCRs and video stores, and can empathize with their enthusiasm due to some collecting obsession of your own, then you'll probably find this gushing fanboy love letter to VHS of more than passing interest.

As for me, I bought my first clunky top-loading Magnavox VCR in 1981, as soon as my first real job afforded me the means to do so (about $600), because for me it was the realization of a lifelong dream--the ability to actually record my favorite movies and TV shows, and to put whatever I wanted to on my TV whenever I wanted to watch it.

There were no video stores in town yet, but the appliance store where I bought my VCR had a tiny bookshelf of rental tapes. I got two free ones with my purchase and chose THE GRADUATE and WHERE'S POPPA? After setting up my new VCR at home, my excitement over pushing that big "play" button and seeing the "Magnetic Video" logo pop onto my TV screen at my own bidding was something I'll never forget. That night, I used one of my two free RCA blank tapes to record ALIEN from HBO, marveling at the fact that I could then rewind the tape and watch it again and again.

My tape collection grew quicky as those $25 RCA blank tapes (which were so solidly made that they still play well to this day) gave way to ten-dollar bundles of cheap blank tapes from Wal-Mart, and pre-recorded movies came down in price from $70-100 apiece (priced to sell mostly to video rental stores) to around $20 when a mass market for them was discovered. And the spread of the mom 'n' pop "hole in the wall" video store gave me plenty of tapes to make copies of as soon as I was able to buy a second VCR in '84.

As Troma's Lloyd Kaufman states (other commentators include Fangoria's Tony Timpone, Keith "The Bloody Ape" Crocker, Wild Eye's Rob Hauschild, and our own 42nd St. Pete, along with various authors and video store owners), video stores in those days were "like bookstores." Each one had its own individual ambience and unique selection of movies. But when big, impersonal Blockbuster came along and started driving the little guys out of business, they started selling off their stock at reduced prices. Like many others, I began buying up a lot of these tapes while they lasted.

Because of all this, I can relate to the stories told by the tape collectors in ADJUST YOUR TRACKING and easily share in their nostalgia for the medium of VHS. These guys, however, take it to a whole different, overtly obsessive level that will amuse and amaze.

Many of them, in fact, have recreated the video store experience in their own homes with massive collections displayed on shelves that take up several rooms. One guy has even created his own video store dubbed "Bradco Video" in his basement, including actual store shelves and a checkout counter. Others chatter at length about their methods of categorizing, alphabetizing, and obtaining rare titles, sometimes for hundreds of dollars (a rare piece-of-crap horror flick called TALES FROM THE QUADEAD ZONE went for almost $700 on eBay).

The collectors bask in the physical attributes of VHS, especially the mostly cheapo-looking covers which they often value more than their contents. They talk excitedly about the different distribution companies such as Vestron, Magnetic, and the popular favorite, Wizard (I still have a few of those myself). They trade stories about rare finds at flea markets, conventions, and going-out-of-business sales, and the physical sensation derived from such "lowbrow archeology" ("It feels like getting your first boner").

While the drive to collect and preserve the medium of VHS may seem merely obsessive to many, the fact remains that many films are still available solely on tape and not on DVD and are in danger of becoming lost.

Only time will tell if these torch-carriers' efforts are in vain, or if VHS will resume its place in pop culture the way the vinyl record album has (but in which the 8-track tape has not).

As for me, I resisted the encroachment of the DVD in the late 90s until I was finally won over by the medium and allowed my once-avid interest in videotape to wane. But for the hardcore enthusiasts of ADJUST YOUR TRACKING: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE VHS COLLECTOR, there is only the delirious pleasure of taking a slab of plastic out of a crudely-decorated box and inserting it into a clunky machine, and watching something which, like life itself, is full of crackles, drop-outs, and other imperfections, and for which adjusting the tracking periodically is simply part of the fun.

(NOTE: I reviewed a screener without the extras. The 2-disc set should include a co-directors' commentary, a producers' commentary, extended interviews, a behind-the-scenes documentary, three short films by the directors, deleted scenes, festival Q & A footage, trailers, and Easter eggs. )

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