Rich Heldenfels: A tribute to VHS, acclaimed TV drama, horror show and more on video

By Rich Heldenfels
Beacon Journal popular culture writer

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Local native Josh Johnson's documentary about home videos, "Rewind This!" debuted at South by Southwest. (Photo courtesy of Johnson)

For you videotape diehards longing for a new title in an old format, I have some good news.

Rewind This!, a documentary about the rise and fall of VHS, is not only being released on DVD (FilmBuff, $24.98) on Jan. 14 but in a VHS/DVD combo pack ($35.98). The latter is available only through Amazon.com.

The tape version makes sense considering the subject matter of the film, made by former Cuyahoga Falls resident Josh Johnson. But even if you are buying it on disc, it’s worth a look. As I said several months ago when the movie was released on iTunes, it offers a smart and often funny consideration of how home videotaping changed not only the way consumers viewed movies, but also the distribution of independent-studio titles and the way young moviemakers put their own dreams onscreen. It further raises the question of preservation of movies on VHS, many of which have not made it to digital formats.

Johnson, a 2001 graduate of Cuyahoga Falls High School, includes interviews with moviemakers, distributors, historians, collectors, video-box artists and others, both in the U.S. and Japan, There is talk about horror, fantasy and exploitation movies that found an audience through home video — consider titles like Frankenhooker and House of Whipcord — and clips of vintage commercials for videocassette recorders. And there are segments with people who continue to collect and sell VHS.

While it is easy to point to the technical flaws in VHS compared to DVD and other digital forms, Rewind This! argues that easier technology is not necessarily better in all ways. It’s a fine film — but with content that would have easily gotten the unrated movie an R.

Extras — on the DVD only — include commentary by Johnson and others, a music video, and additional interview footage on topics like laserdiscs.

‘Top of the Lake’

If you took a look at many of the lists of best TV shows of 2013, you often came across Top of the Lake, the Sundance Channel miniseries starring Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss. Hitfix.com’s list compiled from rankings by TV critics put the series at 10th among all series and ninth among new ones. BBC Home Video is releasing it Tuesday (seven episodes, $34.98 on standard DVD) following a previous release as a digital download.

Written and directed by Jane Campion (The Piano) and set in Campion’s native New Zealand, Top of the Lake focuses on a detective (Moss) who upon returning home is brought into the case of a 12-year-old pregnant girl who appears to have attempted suicide. The case is far from simple, the atmosphere thick with mystery — and Moss gives a performance very different from her fine work on Mad Men. But there are no extras.

‘The Following’

Also on the TV side is The Following: The Complete First Season (Warner, 15 episodes, $39.98 DVD, $49.98 Blu-ray/DVD combo). The thriller stars Kevin Bacon as a troubled detective in pursuit of a serial killer who has inspired a murderous cult. The second season begins with a special preview on Fox following the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 19, with regular telecasts beginning Jan. 27.

I was briefly a fan of the first season, which had its share of jump-at-you scares, but became disenchanted when it became too clear that the scares could not cover the silly plotting and character excesses. This was the kind of show where, soon enough, you could figure out what would happen by assuming the most innocent-looking character was anything but.

Still, if you remain interested, extras include audio commentary on the pilot and the season finale, a making-of piece, deleted scenes and other elements.

Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal, including the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com.


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