Adjust Your Tracking (Dan M. Kinem and Levi Peretic, 2013)
There’s something jarring, but pleasurable, about suddenly seeing someone you know on a big screen. Back in the 90s or early 2000s—I forget the exact date—I opened for Lefthandeddecision at the long-defunct Cleveland venue Speak in Tongues. LHD main man Phil Blankenship and I had known each other online for a couple of years by that point, and I’d bought some stuff from his Troniks and PACrec labels over the years, but that was the first (and, it turns out, only so far) time I’d met him in the flesh. Nice guy. Quiet. Until you got him on a stage, anyway. Lefthandeddecision fell by the wayside at some point, but Blank never gave it up; he still plays in Knives and LHD (no, not the same band), collaborating with other genre titans, as well as recording solo stuff under the name The Cherry Point. We fell out of touch thanks to the dissolution of the main mailing list we were both a part of, and I haven’t spoken to him in years. Then, all the sudden, I go to see Adjust Your Tracking at a convention, and there’s Phil. Aside from a mustache, he hasn’t changed a bit in twelve years or so. I’m envious, both of that and the impressive wall of VHS tapes he’s standing in front of the entire interview.
It’s relevant; Adjust Your Tracking is a documentary about obsessive collectors of VHS tapes (and one guy who still collects Betamax. Yeah, you know the rule: if someone made it, someone out there is collecting it. As Stephen King said in ‘Salem’s Lot, “’Tourists’, Hank said wisely. ‘Tourists’ll buy anything. Some of those people from Boston and New York…they’d buy a bag of cowshit if it was an old bag.’” [–100]). You’d be surprised how many there are. There’s a brief screenshot of the VHS Collectors Unite facebook group homepage, and if I recall correctly, it showed 2,295 members. Kinem and Peretic profile a dozen or so, plus the usual collection of others in different parts of the film industry (including the obligatory Lloyd Kaufman interview; he’s the Thurston Moore of film documentaries). Great stories to be had here, especially since it seems like everyone they interviewed was part of the now-infamous ebay bidding war over a copy of Tales from the Quadead Zone, Chester N. Turner’s second (and final) DTV masterpiece, which sold for $670 on ebay because, as one collector estimates, “there are maybe one hundred copies of it in the entire world.” (In case you missed the sarcasm font there, you should be reading “masterpiece” in quotes. They show a couple of abbreviated sequences from the film here; they’re hilarious.)
When Adjust Your Tracking is good, it is very, very good. Blankenship’s bits got most of the biggest laughs during the movie. (When the staffer hit play—the movie was screened, unfortunately, on DVD rather than VHS—there were nine of us, including him, in the room; by the end of the movie the crowd had increased at least eightfold and people were standing in the back of the room.) The “collector’s spotlight” sections are equally hysterical and kind of horrifying. The characters are colorful, usually without the filmmakers selectively editing to make them look silly, though there is a bit of that, and in today’s culture I’d be surprised to find a documentary that didn’t take that tack at least once or twice. And if you, like me, grew up in the age of the mom-and-pop video store, the subject matter is inherently interesting.
When Adjust Your Tracking is bad, on the other hand…I will say right up front this may have been a problem with the copy screened for us, but Kinem and Peretic did some great work throughout the film adding in VHS-tape-style effects (the tracking goes off, of course, giving you those bands of static moving slowly down the picture, the color goes off here and there, etc.). About two-thirds of the way through the film, there’s a place where the sound mix drops out in exactly the way it does on a low-budget videocassette, so for the first minute or two I put it down to that. But then it kept going. If it was an effect, it went on way too long, but after five minutes I got to feeling it was either a defect in the DVD or just plain bad mixing. The movie lacks for editing in places, as well. A slightly heavier hand in the cutting room would have done wonders for the film’s pace in certain spots, and towards the end, the movie loses direction; the first three-quarters or so is divided into concrete sections, but that goes the way of the great auk at the end. It’s unfortunate, as there’s still some good material there, but it’s as if the filmmakers said “hey, we’ve got some great footage and don’t have anywhere to put it, let’s create a final sequence that’s a junk drawer and stick it there.” A little extra consideration could have found some places to slot it in earlier in the film, I think, rather than just letting it dangle.
It’s good stuff, but I think it’s probably a vertical-market kind of thing; you hadda be there to really get the most out of this. But if you are of a certain age, this is must-see TV. ** ½