Cassette should make a nice (if decidedly less geek-pandering) pairing with Rewind This!, the VHS doc that played SXSW earlier this year. Both explore the history and impact of the explosively popular media formats of the 1980s and 90s, which altered our relationship with movies and music and saw them become more ephemeral, own-able objects. Cassette was funded by a Kickstarter campaign early last year, and is heading towards completion and (one presumes) some festival activity at the end of 2013. A recent graduate of the University of Wales, director Zach Taylor has worked with NY photographer Seth Smoot to craft a sharp-looking doc.
I don’t find it shocking that both Cassette and Rewind This! would emerge in the same year- they’re symptomatic of a growing form of format nostalgia that doesn’t revolve around the technical merits of a medium (as is the case with vinyl, photochemical filmmaking, etc) so much as the cultural paradigm they are emblematic of. Tapes reigned during a perfectly little bubble when you could own the things you loved, collect them with pride, but were not yet paralyzed by the infinite choice and cultural splintering that came with the digital age. There was still some unity, still that sense of a cultural campfire, but with the novel objectification of media still all shiny and new.
The documentary appears to explore the history of the format and extract stories from cool people that were affected by it in profound ways. Weirdly the doc also seems to be making the claim that cassettes are experiencing a “comeback” without any mention of why that would be a good thing. Also, one small company still making a million tapes a year to service latent niche markets does not a trend make (especially when there are massive tape markets remaining in poorer countries).
The light resurgence of vinyl as a niche hobby item (which, lets be realistic, still represents effectively 0% market share) at least has grounding in perceived richness of sound quality. It’s hard for me to see the re-integration of tapes into one’s life as anything other than an affectation. The dreaded “hipster” word looms here, many would agree. But we’ll see how all of that shakes out in the actual film.
As much as I’m not the guy to be onboard for format nostalgia, I love hearing stories of how industry people got their start and the histories of different technologies. If Cassette doesn’t cross the line from “fond remembrance” to “obtuse nostalgia wank,” it should be a great time.