Spoiler: VHS died. Once upon a time, entire rental houses and large sections of stores like Best Buy were overflowing with films in the VHS format. And then DVD came along, and one-by-one the shelves of Best Buy transitioned away from VHS until one day there was but a single rack devoted to the format, and eventually… nothing. The rental stores clearanced out their VHS stock and went the way of the digital versatile disc, and then A History of Violence came along, marking the last VHS Hollywood officially produced before the format was phased out. And VHS was gone, defunct, irrelevant, a relic of a bygone era bound for the trash heaps of the world… or so it seemed.
Because there were some who just wouldn’t give up on VHS. And I’m not talking about hipsters here. No, I’m talking serious collectors, those who were and are still very much devoted to that beautiful magnetic tape housed in hulking plastic cases. But why? Why cling to a format that many would call “obsolete”? That’s the question that the documentary Adjust Your Tracking: The Untold Story of the VHS Collector (2013) is here to answer, to delve into the world of the VHS collector and celebrate the format that dominated the home entertainment industry from the 1970s until its demise in the year 2000 and subsequent revival amongst specialty distributors in recent years. The answer would seem to be a simple one: a staggering percentage of the movies released on VHS were never released on any other format. If you want to keep those movies alive, you have to buy VHS.
But Adjust Your Tracking shows that the continuing appeal of VHS is about more than mere preservation. Through discussions dominated largely by horror VHS collectors, the film imparts to viewers the passion that VHS instills in its fans, the excitement and disappointment one experiences when rooting through boxes of tapes at an old video store or flea market, and the nostalgia those of us who grew up renting tapes from mom-and-pop rental stores feel when we think about the many hours we “wasted” languishing among the shelves looking for that one right movie we’d spend our hard-earned allowance/wages on renting.
At right around 80 minutes, Adjust Your Tracking is the perfect length to stir up that excitement and nostalgia and give viewers insight into a world of VHS collectors they may know nothing about—and to do so without wearing out its welcome. So passionate and affecting are the interviewees that I suspect more than a few viewers will walk away from Adjust Your Tracking wanting to break out the old VCR and give VHS another go… unless of course they’re already swept up in a whirlwind of VHS nostalgia as I too have been for the last year or so.
The downside of its running time, though, is that the film really does have a limited purview, focusing almost exclusively on a handful of collectors in an already insulated community. That said, the filmmakers, along with distributor VHShitfest, have put out a 2-disc collector’s edition DVD packed with more than seven hours of special features, which, having only pored over some three hours of it myself, I can tell you more than compensate for any lack I saw in the feature itself. In short, Adjust Your Tracking is an ode to VHS that’s well worth its weight in copies of Tales from the Quadead Zone.