Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape
directed by Zachary Taylor and Georg Petzold
starring Lou Ottens, Ian MacKaye, Thurston Moore
Seagull and Birch, Fireglory Pictures
In the beginning, there was the Edison cylinder. Then the 78 RPM platter, the LP, the 45, Reel to Reel, the eight track, and finally, the cassette. Cassettes were magic, you could easily record music for yourself, play them in your car or with a portable machine, and tape cools songs off the radio for later listening pleasure. This gem of an idea came from Philips in the Netherlands, and Lou Ottens led the team that invented it. By today’s standards the audio is a hissy, speed- shifting analog relic, but that relic has joined vinyl in the hipster pantheon of retro musical reproduction. In this loving doc, Henry Rollins (Black Flag) proselytizes, DJ Red Alert discusses how cassettes were the only distribution media for hip hop, and young singer songwriter Sarah Bethe Nelson rhapsodizes over the sound quality and how she’s selling more tapes then CDs or downloads. Go, girl!
When not on the means streets of Bushwick or Brooklyn, we spend time with Ottens and his remaining designers. They produced original art work and engineering drawings and reminisce about the old days. Ottens has no particular love for the media; as an engineer he does a design, prefects it and moves on the next challenge. We visit the Philips museum of antique technology; here my favorite product failure was a six cassette player that automatically inserted and removes cassettes to increase the already impressive 90 minute playing time. Old technology is always cool to mess around with. But what does all this mean? I’ll defer to cartoonist Will Eisner who once stated “No form of communication ever really goes away. It just becomes more rarefied.” People still collect Edison cylinders. I rest my case.
This film was presented as part of the Florida Film Festival.