On the heels of At the Video Store comes Vinyl Nation, another love letter to a niche corner of the entertainment industry.
But unlike its amateurish, directionless and occasionally confounding predecessor, this music format documentary by Christopher Boone and Kevin Smokler is a far more vibrant, insightful, professional and purposeful exploration that benefits from spotlighting a significantly more prosperous business sector — yet does so with similar structural flaws as its movie rental counterpart.
Opening with the thrill of Record Store Day at Mills Record Co. in Kansas City, Mo., the film offers an engaging mix of the history of vinyl records, plus insights from industry members and partners, along with an excessive amount of personal reflections by fans of analog music.
Among their overly widespread subtopics, Boone and Smokler investigate how records are made and pressed, nicely demystifying the process, and passionately chronicle vinyl’s unique rise and fall in popularity since it first became commercially available in 1930.
Their interviews with factory owners, rabid collectors, indie record label executives, journalists, DJs and Instagram celebrities are consistently well lit and meaningfully edited with a playful range of camera angles and zooms that foster a strong connection to the person speaking.
Sadly, Vinyl Nation doesn’t visit Asheville, but the filmmakers check in with Chris Livengood from Winston-Salem’s Ember Audio + Design and Merge Records co-founder (and Superchunk bassist) Laura Ballance in Durham, who prove to be two of its most well-spoken participants.
Toss in memorable audiophile and record store depictions from such films as Boogie Nights, Ghost World and, of course, High Fidelity, plus discussions about the various shortcomings of the format and the white male-dominated industry subsets that continue to support it, and the documentary is on a compelling, well-informed roll for just over an hour.
But like an album that dilutes its strong start with frustrating back-end filler, Vinyl Nation’s winning approach runs out of steam, becomes little more than a string of enthusiasts gushing and starts sounding like, well, a broken record.
In its repetitive B-side, an occasional fun and/or sweet anecdote arises, but new substantial insights are all but absent. Still, these heartfelt, often emotional reflections foster an appreciation for the format and music in general, making it all but impossible to resist heading to one’s turntable and dropping the needle on a cherished album after the credits roll.
Available to rent starting Aug. 28 via grailmoviehouse.com