2013 SXSW Interview: REWIND THIS!

By Mark Saldana

SXSW Film 2013 has turned out to be a stellar festival for showcasing Austin filmmakers. With films like Zero Charisma, Grow Up Tony Phillips and Rewind This! on the schedule, Austin’s talent is proudly displayed.  I was more than happy to sit down and speak with director Josh Johnson, producer Carolee Mitchell, and cinematographer/editor Christopher Palmer of Rewind This! The documentary covers the history of VHS and also showcases collectors of rare movies only available in the format.

Mark Saldana: What was your first VHS tape?

Josh Johnson: I don’t know if it’s the first one I’ve ever owned, but it’s the first one I remember.  It was the 1989 Batman. My dad wouldn’t allow us to see it when it was in theaters. My older brother and I griped about it for months. He eventually kind of caved. So on the day it came out on video, he knew exactly what they because there was this huge marketing push for it.  So he went to the grocery store and came back with it and we had pizza and watched Batman. I remember watching it over and over, and I think it was the first tape I owned that wasn’t recorded off the television.

Carolee Mitchell: My experience was the opposite. We didn’t really buy things like VHS movies. My dad recorded everything off the TV, so we had this entire wall of VHS recordings.  I remember tape number 1 had 9 to 5 on it and I loved that movie!  I may have totally been inappropriately young when I saw it, but of course I didn’t get a lot of the innuendo in it.

Mark Saldana: Are there certain movies that you would prefer to watch on VHS over DVD or Blu-Ray?

J.J.: Not personally. My preference is to watch something in the best possible format I can.  The appeal of VHS to me is that there are so many tens of thousands of titles that never made the jump to a superior format. So it’s that archival reason for seeing movies even if it is in a compromised form if that’s the only way I can access them.

C.M.:  And knowing that that is the only way to access them. There is something quite charming about that as well.

Mark Saldana: Obviously, you all collect VHS, especially the rare stuff. Do you have a favorite in your collections?

Josh Johnson: Well, it’s not something in my collection, but it is something that I’m looking for. It’s a Canadian movie called Science Crazed which was shot in the late 80s on 16 mm and assembled into a feature, direct to video release in 1991. And it’s about 45 to 50 minutes of original footage extended to a traditional running time by recycling that footage into new contexts over and over.  So once you are halfway through the movie, you have seen the whole movie, but it is continued to be used in new ways. It’s one of the most fascinating and unique movies I’ve ever seen.  It’s not good in a conventional sense, but if you’re interested in understanding editing and the language of film, it’s one of the most valuable tools out there.

C.M.: I have a collection, a series that I started of pregnant men movies. Movies that aren’t available in any other formats.  Those are my gems. One is called Rabbit Tests starring Billy Crystal and directed by Joan Rivers.

Christopher Palmer: I like “knock-off” movies.  Any time a movie like Armageddon and Deep Impact come out, there’s a slew of other movies that try to capitalize on the residuals. There’s this movie with Scott Baio called The Detonator where he’s an explosives expert and it’s bizarre!

Carolee Mitchell: He hangs out in a dumpster.

Christopher Palmer: It has these weird things that don’t make sense, but in some ways it’s more special

M.S.: What was it like to work with David “The Rock” Nelson?

C.P.: The Rock actually stayed with Josh.

C.M. We were at the point where we didn’t have a lot of funding left, so we put him on a train and  brought him here and we were able to do a Drafthouse event. He stayed for a whole weekend.

J.J.: The Rock lived at my house for four days. At one point while I was sleeping on my couch, I felt something on my eyes and there was a light shining on me from his camcorder. He was standing there in his underwear, pointing a camera at me with one hand and in the other hand was a rubber monster. He was urging me to wake up so that I could go back to sleep.  He told me that he did exercise routines on my bed every morning.

C.M. : What you see is what you get. It’s not a show. It is not a persona. It is him 100%.

C.P. : He’s constantly making up stories. He’s so creative!

J.J.: The public at large are extras in his films. He is always making something and he will incorporate whatever is in front of him into his story.

Rewind This! is obviously made by lovers and connoisseurs of cinema and should appeal to that audience, as well as collectors of rare movies.  If attending SXSW Film and haven’t seen it, the documentary will screen one more time on Saturday, March 16, 1:30 pm. at the Topfer Theater.


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