Worship the Almighty Tape: Our Review of ‘VHYes’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical, VOD/iTunes/DigitalDownload by - January 19, 2020
Worship the Almighty Tape: Our Review of ‘VHYes’

For all intents and purposes, statements about this generation against that one fall short because they necessitate a totalized form of thinking. All totalizations inevitably fall incorrect when just one example disproves your statement.

With that in mind, I think about the fact that my generation perfected the art of laughing at nothing. Hello, my name is Thomas Wishloff and I am theoretically a zoomer. My generation is the generation of memes, vines, and gifs; of copy pastas, creepy pasts, and Jersey Boys Makin’ Pastas. This is our art; dumb, nonsensical things where a woman is hysterically screaming at a bemused cat sitting at a dinner table.

The long running YouTube video series Everything is Terrible tries to bridge the gap between these two worlds. The premise rests on dedicated viewers sending in bizarre videotapes of things such as infomercials and Duane, whereby the creators then build goofy video art out of it. Generally speaking, it’s more miss than hit.

Everything is Terrible is inevitably a reference you will hear a lot when reading about Jack Henry Robbins’ latest film VHYes, a deeply incoherent ode to the very practice of VHS taping. Adult Swim is another one. Their wildly popular short film Too Many Cooks should probably be the free space in VHYes review reference BINGO.

Robbins’ narrative structure, in which 12-year-old Ralph (Mason McNulty) “accidentally” tapes over his parents wedding video with verite styled footage and a whole host of late-night TV, allows the director to ostensibly do whatever they want. There are several intervening questions that I have with this premise from my ancilliary understanding of VHS and Betacam recordings, but the chief one is that if you tape over something, it’s like, gone right? The tape doesn’t hold the half-life of everything that’s ever been recorded onto it, where it’s then regurgitated channel surfing style at regular intervals when played right?

This is basically what happens for roughly 90% of VHYes runtime, where this cursed video tape pumps out whatever snippet of sketch comedy it can. Sometimes, domestic discord seeps through as if Robbins’ were trying to flimsily impose a through line on this thing. It doesn’t work. Pretty much every second that involves Ralph and his friend Josh (Rahm Brawslaw) feels genuinely pointless, a mandated work stoppage from the aesthetic incoherence that permeates the rest of this.

With all anthology films there’s snippets that are interesting, and snippets that you can’t possibly feel anyone would ever like. It’s the reality of byte sized shorts that are striving for some form of similar tone. Here is no different. I really liked the female Bob Ross and the guy having a heart attack in the middle of the hot aerobics show. I hated the faux-infomercials. You win some, you lose some.

What VHYes really cares about is adoring the concept of the tape. This form of all mighty worship for the weirdness that VHSes and Cable TV bring us is present too in Everything is Terrible. It’s present in the “Inter-Dimensional Cable Episodes” of the show Rick and Morty too. The same problems are prevalent in all three, and probably in all of this kind of art: it’s about snap jokes and ideas to be consumed for a quick rush. They’re like the cinematic equivalent to bite-sized brownies. You can eat a whole bag, and it may taste really good, but you’ll probably get sick too.

For my money the best ode to VHS and late-night channel surfing is Flying Lotus’ Kuso, all of VHYes with some actual edge instead of eyerolling try-hard edge. Better than that is Hannah’s Swamp Years, a roughly twenty-five short film that is my generation’s experimental version of this. VHYes doesn’t even come close to either of these things.

This post was written by
Thomas Wishloff is currently an MA student at York University. He is new to the Toronto Film Scene, but has periodically written and podcasted for several now defunct ventures, and has probably commented on a forum with you at some point. The ex-Edmontonian has been known to enjoy a good board game, and claims to know the secret to the best popcorn in the world.
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