Adjust Your Tracking: The Untold Story of the VHS Collector (VHShitfest, NR)

dvd adjust-your-trackingIs it smart for 22-year-olds to make a documentary about something for which they weren’t alive to see the heyday?

 

 

 

A good documentary can make you interested in a subject you previously couldn’t’ve cared less about. Have you seen, say, Barbara Kopple’s film Harlan County USA, and found yourself really caring about striking coal miners in Kentucky circa the mid-’70s? Or you’re left with a lust to learn more about door-to-door Bible salesmen after watching the Maysles brothers’ 1968 film Salesman? Okay, so what do you do if you see a documentary about something you’re already interested in, and the movie turns you off of it?

That’s how Dan Kinem and Levi Peretic’s Adjust Your Tracking: The Untold Story of the VHS Collector was for me. A mere two months ago, I wrote a column about how much I love physical media, VHS included, and recently I read Daniel Herbert’s excellent new book Videoland: Movie Culture at the American Video Store. That said, I only own 17 VHS tapes, and could stand to learn plenty more about the obscure gems that haven’t resurfaced since their release on that medium. And that’s where Adjust Your Tracking fails. You don’t really learn about interesting titles, you aren’t left with a want to get into video hunting and collecting, and you mostly find yourself repulsed by the people who do.

Now, let’s be fair: I am like the people in this movie. It’s not my intention to act like I’m better than them. But here, they do come off pretty unpleasantly. Between the film, its commentaries, and its numerous deleted scenes, extended interviews, and more, you’ll hear a lot from people who don’t have their facts straight; you’ll bear witness to casual misogyny and homophobia; and you’ll encounter a couple of fairly scary dudes who are a little too into horror films. Some of the interviewees can barely speak, let alone make you care about their weird hobby (even if it is a weird hobby you happen to share).

And about those DVD extras… The release comes packed with, including the feature film, nearly nine hours of content. The problem is, if the 80-minute movie is enough to mildly annoy you, why would you want to watch all of the stuff that the filmmakers didn’t deem worthy of inclusion in the movie? Oddly, at least some of the special features are halfway decent. A trip to Scarecrow Video in Seattle is always welcome, and a couple of Peretic’s short films are pretty good, but it’s basically a lose-lose endeavor, because most of the special features are bad and not worth watching, but the good ones make you wonder why they didn’t include them in the subpar movie (well, apart from the short films, anyway; at least that makes sense). But why wouldn’t they have included that Scarecrow footage? Or an interview with John Alan Schwartz, the director of the first six Faces of Death films? Why, from a 26-minute tour of an amazing video collection modeled after a 1980s video store (which tour is in its entirety on the special features), did they only include footage of a gumball machine and rental counter in the film? Worse, one of the directors at one point mentions that they had an interview with one of the Found Footage Festival guys, but wound up not doing it—they could have learned a lot from those guys, as they’re way better at this stuff than Adjust Your Tracking’s directors are.

There is one part of the movie that works. A good 10 minutes or so is devoted to one particular movie, Chester Turner’s Tales from the Quadead Zone, which is one of the most coveted VHS tapes among collectors. At the time of filming, a copy had sold on eBay for a then-staggering $660, and the story of the film, the selling of the tape, and an interview with the buyer make for interesting material; it’s a shame that more of the movie isn’t like this. A too-brief celebration of Wizard Video’s box art comes close, but that’s about it.

A clue to how this subject could have gone so wrong comes up in the special features. It turns out that the two directors were only 22 years old when they made this, and were born around 1990. Is this a good film for a couple of 22-year-olds? Yes. Is it smart for 22-year-olds to make a documentary about something for which they weren’t alive to see the heyday? Maybe sometimes, but not this time. | Pete Timmermann

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