“It’s like vinyl – it sounds different, it looks different. Now we’re older we want to go back to the way we first experienced it”. Perry Horton – Movie Madness.
VHS was my first movie watching format, but being the fickle, easily led soul that I am I fell for DVD the minute it came along. Blu-ray caught my attention a couple of years later, and with the evolution of these formats I lay in the camp of the naïve and expectant. “Its fine… EVERYTHING on video is going to come out on DVD – we just have to wait!”. That’s obviously not the case and nor will it ever be, so my time of leisurely casting off my hefty VHS collection with the misplaced arrogance of them being surplus still habitually wakes me up in a cold sweat at 3am. A few years back I started collecting again – the urge to see Enemy Territory (Peter Manoogian, 1987) once more was just too strong, and instantly I was back in the world of trawling car boot sales, pawn shops and popular auction-based internet sites.
All of which makes Adjust Your Tracking an 80 minute priceless exercise in collecting therapy, designed to make you realise that those lines of alphabetically ordered clunky boxes of plastic are vital to your wellbeing! Adjust Your Tracking is resolutely geared towards hardcore collectors with a slew of talking heads that belong in the VHS world – Zack Carlson (writer of Destroy all Movies), Mike Raso (Camp Motion Pictures) and Bruce Holecheck (Cinema Arcana) to name but a few which barely scratches the surface of multitude of contributors that Kinem and Peretic speak to.
They begin with a timeline that covers the introduction of the first VHS players as well as the initial retail tapes ($60 no less), before going on to cover the rise of the Mom & Pop independent video stores. As Gary Cohen, director of Video Violence states though “It really was a thrill to own a video store in that period, then Blockbuster killed it for everybody”. There’s a universal disdain for the Big Blue as everyone attacks the negative effect their corporate greed had upon the industry. “It was the beginning of taking any personality out of video stores” says Dimitri Simakis (Everything is Terrible!).
Conveying the pleasure and total satisfaction of owning a VHS collection is what the documentary succeeds with the most. Everyone featured is so in love with their collections, be it the smell, the look, but most importantly the artwork. As Zack Carlson says though “It would be impossible that there would be a movie in the box that matched the awesomeness of the cover” – and he’s right, the lurid, hypnotic sleeves of those tapes that contained imagery that never even featured in the movie is part of the allure of VHS. Perhaps the most important lesson from this documentary though is the stark fact where Carlson states “45% of films released on VHS have not made it to DVD or Blu-ray”. That’s a mind blowing figure, and as a few people are quick to highlight collecting VHS can be construed more as preservation than simply hoarding. There are some great clips in this segment too with some saliva inducing snippets of such absent from DVD fodder as Psychos in Love (Gorman Bechard, 1987), Rubin and Ed (Trent Harris, 1991) and Club Life (Norman Thaddeus Vane, 1986).
Other aspects of the documentary see a couple of Collector Spotlights where we meet Joe Clark and his collection of 4200 tapes – all horror, and also Bradley Creanzo who has taken the unusual step of creating a video store in his basement. There’s analysis on such vital things as how collectors organise their acquisitions as well as insight on just who were the coolest labels to collect, to which Charles Band’s Wizard Video comes out on top . We’re also introduced to a gloriously intriguing film called Tales from the Quaded Zone (Chester N. Turner, 1987) which at the time of shooting was proving to be a Holy Grail in the world of VHS with one of the Massacre Video boys having paid $660 for a copy.
As is the norm it seems for documentaries of fascinating subject matter – Adjust Your Tracking found itself with a similarly themed companion as it came out at a similar time to Josh Johnson’s Rewind This! (2013). While Johnson’s flick is essential viewing, I’d say it veers into more mainstream territory with talking heads like Frank Henenlotter, Charles Band and Atom Egoyan tracing a more linear, nostalgic look at the format. Adjust Your Tracking on the other hand seems like the underground bastardised sibling of it – content with speaking to an array of odd looking (and occasionally menacing) characters who passionately detail the extraordinary lengths they go to in order to grow their collections. While it does spend time eulogising the history of the format, its heart is firmly in the present day with these guys still building their collections and also touching on the recent surge in film companies releasing new product onto VHS.
Presented in 4:3 and full of tracking issues and tape mangling effects, Adjust Your Tracking urges you to embrace it as a VHS. Indeed, a few people have questioned its presentation along with its slightly ADHD narrative. To me though it was perfect, it was just what I wanted and the bulging collection of people interviewed were an assemblage of folks that I felt a true connection with to the degree that the feature encapsulated the true desire of a VHS collector. Add to this over 7 hours of special features [described below] – Adjust Your Tracking is something to treasure, fawn over and utilise as a medium to make you realise that your obsessive collecting isn’t that crazy after all.
Director Commentary with Dan Kinem and Levi Peretic: The boys give a really fun commentary packed with great anecdotes about the people that they interviewed as well as a thorough history of how Adjust Your Tracking was made. They get side-tracked – a lot! – but that just adds to the general kooky vibe.
Producer Commentary with Josh Schafer and Matt Desiderio: These guys have a more restrained style to their commentary and they detail the role they played with facilitating the production of the documentary as well as offering opinions on the interviewees.
- Video Shelf (11mins) The story of a small town family run video store now renting 5 or so movies a day, whose former space is gradually being taken over by other business pursuits (a hair salon) while a devastating fire nearly burned them out completely destroying 20,000 films in the process.
- It Wasn’t in Vain, It Was in Staten Island (6mins) Insight into the last video store in Staten Island – Bayware Video, owned by Harvey Root.
- The Ballad of Chester Novell Turner (7mins) The pursuit of the cult director Chester N. Turner, who made Tales from the Quaded Zone (1987) and Black Devil Doll (1984).
Deleted scenes (26mins) – As opposed to ubiquitous barrage of lame deleted scenes in DVD releases, everything contained here is pertinent to the documentary. Highlights include stories of contributor’s first viewings of Faces of Death, the ridiculous concept of Redbox and a great mini-feature on the awesome Scarecrow Video.
Extended Interviews (133mins) – Over 2 hours of fascinating extended pieces with many of those people interviewed. It begins with 42nd Pete who just has a hypnotic way of telling amazing stories right through to the crazy Joe Clark who details his horror obsession further, to Uncle Lloydie who speaks about his experiences in the height of the VHS era.
Behind the Scenes – Foggy Mountain Breakdown (9mins) A look at the shooting of the documentary where it moves briefly into the realm of a Sasquatch hunt!
Alamo Drafthouse Q&A (18mins) Directors Dan Kinem and Levi Peretic speak to Joseph Ziemba (Bleeding Skull) about the inception of the film – they were both college students and shot it over the course of a year – as well as some Jerry Maguire themed anecdotes.
Back Alley Film Series Q&A (22mins) More from the directors, this time in the company of Back Ally Film series director, Jay Morong. It covers some of the ground from the Alamo Q&A but there’s enough fresh material to make it fascinating viewing. Both Dan and Levi really spark off each other and seem really tight, and above all you can see the passion that they both have for the subject that they’ve covered.