By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.
Kenneth Powell and Thomas Edward Seymour’s VHS Massacre: Cult Films and the Decline of Physical Media (2016) is a riveting exploration of the effects of VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, downloading and streaming on independent photoplays. The subject matter alone is naturally fascinating. Yet, Powell and Seymour’s documentary benefits from a variety of insightful interviews from cinematic insiders and commentators. They include the head of Troma Entertainment, Llyoyd Kaufman, actress Debbie Rochon and legendary critic and author John Bloom (Joe Bob Briggs). Clocking in at a lean seventy-two minutes, the consistently absorbing and nostalgia-inducing project also benefits from the sheer likability of all those on-screen.
What is just as gripping are the many scenes where the crew of the venture go to different video stores. This is to record their experience. It is also to reminisce on the days when such establishments were thriving. Such bits are mesmerizing. The fun of that era, where previously unknown movies were fighting for patrons’ dollars mainly through the eye-popping nature of their cover art, is sent up well. This is most evident in a game spied throughout the duration. It ardently showcases those involved with the exercise going to various VHS sellers. Upon doing so, they see who can bring home the most interesting program. This is based solely on the above-mentioned criteria.
The obvious love for cinema that stems throughout, especially in the aforesaid segments, further heightens the delight at hand. This makes the times when the endeavor feels a bit like an advertisement for Rudyard Kipling’s Mark of the Beast (2012), which Seymour co-directed with Jonathan Gorman, easy to overlook. This can be exemplified during a mid-point intermission. At this juncture, the trailer for the formerly addressed presentation is shown. What also helps these minor flaws are that such episodes, as is true of the entirety of the exertion, are erected with cleverness, sincerity and good humor. These passages also potently reflect the underlying message and thesis statement of the affair.
Powell and Seymour, though utilizing an approach to the material that is routine, have crafted a work that is as much a love letter to technology as it is a warning against such advancements. This balance is spellbinding. Such makes this New York Cine Productions related effort evermore endearing. The result is as immediate as it is immersive. Augmented by outstanding editing, music and cinematography, this ambitious item is essential to understanding both the past, present and potential future of motion pictures.
Available now on Blu-ray.