[FESTIVAL REVIEW] ADJUST YOUR TRACKING: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE VHS COLLECTOR (2013)

I don’t think it’s really possible to be a devoted film fan and not have something of an obsessive collector instinct.  Even if all you collect is the experience of having watched films, you still have an understanding of the compulsive, almost perverse need to get as much as possible to have and hold, whether or not it actually takes up storage space. Despite getting rid of titles when they come out on DVD, I’m still hoarding over a thousand VHS cassettes myself, under the idea that I’m some kind of cultural preservationist, saving the history of movies for future generations. Or they’ve got really great box art.

As you may gather from the title, Dan Kinem and Levi Peretic’s ADJUST YOUR TRACKING: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE VHS COLLECTOR puts the focus on collectors of prerecorded VHS tapes, something anyone reading Daily Grindhouse can appreciate. ADJUST YOUR TRACKING, like THE SPACE INVADERS, takes a look at collector communities with a genuine feeling of camaraderie rather than the “look at this obsessive weirdo” edit sometimes found in films that take a look at collectors from the outside.

Louis-Justin-VHS-tattoo-screenshot

ADJUST YOUR TRACKING runs briefly through the history of VHS and Mom & Pop video stores (subjects to be tackled more specifically in REWIND THIS! and the upcoming PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND) to get to the meat of the flick, a wealth of die-hard VHS collectors whose inventories number in the thousands talking about the hobby they love.  The eclectic group talks about their love of the format, how they got into collecting (especially odd as a good percentage of the group seems far too young to remember being charged for rewinding) and the depths that they’ll go through in order to get the titles they crave. 

Among those interviewed are Mondo Digital writer and Cinema Arcana blogger Bruce Holecheck, former Fangoia editor Tony Timpone, Cinefamily programmer Phil Blankenship, Everything is Terrible!’s Katie Rife and many of the regular contributors to the Horror VHS Collectors Unite!  Facebook group.  All of those interviewed are identified by, appropriately enough, VHS labels bearing their name and association, as though the interviews themselves were pulled from raggedy black tapes bearing their moniker.

Lloyd-screenshot

 

The best insights come from “Destroy All Movies!!! The Complete Guide to Punks on Film” co-author Zack Carlson, who keeps his sense of humor intact when talking about the nature of VHS collecting from the depths of a plastic ball pit.  A pair of older interviewees, like producer Sam Sherman and the ubiquitous Lloyd Kaufman, are much more dismissive about VHS culture, with the former shrugging it off in a “people will collect anything” sort of way and the latter just admitting that Troma will release whatever people will pay for.  Cover art is discussed quite a bit, primarily in the differences between cover art and actual content, like the disappointment of CANNIBAL CAMPOUT or the bizarrely desperate outsider art qualities of the early ‘90s release of THE BEAST MUST DIE as BLACK WEREWOLF.

Kinem and Peretic do a great job at maintaining the tone of the proceedings, starting things off with a vintage VCR commercial and tossing in VHS blemishes and actual tracking lines only on occasions when the speaker is talking about such things.  While there’s clearly a VHS “look” being presented, the deliberate distortions never come with the price of missing any information on screen – admirably, ADJUST YOUR TRACKING works as a textbook example of how to do the “retro” look in order to enhance the feel of the tone rather than making it distracting.

bradley-creanzo-(built-video-store-in-his-basement)

 

On a pair of occasions, ADJUST YOUR TRACKING deviates from its narrative to focus on the nature of specific collectors.  Bradley Creanzo showcases the huge video store he’s replicated in his basement, down to the ancient computer at the desk for checkout purposes (we don’t find out if he’s actually got video store inventory software installed, sadly, though I’d be willing to bet he does) in a sequence that made me cringe from the insane obsessive nature and bask in unbridled envy of the work.  Joe Clark is also profiled, though his insights are less valuable, and veer into the bizarre when he starts talking about his shelf of severe gore films.  (I would have been more interested to hear the likes of the more self-aware Carlson or Holecheck showing off and talking about their collection.)

The only major criticism I can offer for ADJUST YOUR TRACKING is that I wanted to hear a lot more in-depth conversation about issues with collecting and specific discussion of certain titles and labels.  While both Wizard Video and TALES FROM THE QUADEAD ZONE (the “Chase the Chuck Wagon” of VHS collectors, it seems) get a moment in the spotlight, I’d love to have heard more collectors talk about their favorite labels and titles and what makes them so important, rare or interesting.  Why are some releases of the same movie more sought after than others?  Why are VHS collectors primarily horror and exploitation-based in their interests?    

black werewolfMost likely, I’m betting, this is an issue with the limited running time – 84 minutes is scarcely enough time to devote to satisfying the needs of every VHS fan, and more likely the perfect length for someone who has no idea of the joys of a rare Raedon cassette.  I’d expect much longer interviews to show up on the forthcoming DVD/Blu-Ray/VHS release in order to scratch that itch, and the directors have done a fine job of putting together a film that doesn’t delve into minutia for the sake of wider audience interest.

(With the Wizard segment, there is no mention of the recent Wizard VHS re-release controversy, but that’s more likely due to the interviews having been shot before Charles Band allegedly explored his cavernous warehouses.   As it is, it’s kind of an odd exclusion, especially as it could have been used to springboard into discussing how VHS re-releases affect the market in general, but it’s certainly not the filmmakers’ fault.)

Despite these minor reservations, anyone who has a genuine love for exploitation film should check out ADJUST YOUR TRACKING, as even you’re not someone who’s going to spend six hundred bucks on a Chester N. Turner movie (owning one, not making one) you’ll find a great look at a subculture filled with people with whom you can identify.   You may end up wanting to build a video store in your basement as well, even if you may have a problem getting that cleared with the other members of your household.    

ADJUST YOUR TRACKING is currently touring festivals and conventions.  Keep up with their website here and join their Facebook page here.

– Paul Freitag-Fey

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