In the beginning there was silence. Then came sound.
Humans searched for a way to entrap it, hoping they could keep it… and tame it.
At the dawn of the third millennium, music seemed to be all around us.
In every place. At every moment. But where does music come from?
These are the opening voiceover lines of the 2012 documentary Vinylmania: When Life Runs at 33 Revolutions Per Minute, and it immediately gives you an idea of what you’re in for. In last month’s review of 2015’s Records Collecting Dust, we remarked that the film didn’t bother to ask why its subjects love and collect vinyl, and we described that film as having “an open-hearted attitude” with “no trace of elitism or snobbery.” Take the polar opposite of those observations, and you’ve got a rough sketch of Vinylmania. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
In fact, what makes Vinylmania enjoyable is that it has such a clear a point of view: vinyl is the best way to listen to music, vinyl is real, and the people who love and collect it know they are the true music listeners. For anyone cynical of vinyl as a relevant medium in the 21st century, Vinylmania will be off-putting. But for vinyl collectors, the film plays as 75 minutes of preaching to the choir. One London-based DJ urgently proclaims that “the CD is a lie… the people who told you they sound better 20 years ago were lying, and they knew they were lying! Nothing sounds better than vinyl.”
The film is directed by Paolo Campana, a DJ and filmmaker based in Turin, Italy who assembled the film from almost a decade’s worth of footage. It might be an indie-minded project (a Kickstarter campaign helped fund the DVD release), but Vinylmania has a varied and accomplished visual look. Campana provides the voiceover throughout the film himself, offering poetic, charmingly nonsensical lines like, “Gazing at these grooves, I feel like I’m traveling inside of them.”
Covering an array of different subjects related to vinyl, Vinylmania tends to ramble a bit, but the movie works as an episodic travelogue. Campana begins by detailing his own vinyl obsessions—for example, he irons his 7-inch sleeves and hangs them out on clotheslines to dry—before branching out to interview others. Over the course of several segments, Campana travels between London, San Francisco, Tokyo, Prague, New York, and other international locales to interview DJs, collectors, record pressers, and album cover artists.
What emerges is a well-rounded study, biased as it may be, of why and how vinyl maintains such a big presence decades after it became obsolete in many people’s minds. Campana is riffing on the different reasons vinyl can be so seductive: he visits the Japanese manufacturer of a laser record player (vinyl as technology), observes tourists at the Abbey Road zebra crossing (vinyl as iconic artwork), and profiles a number of record stores (vinyl as a product and as a hobby). Campana seeks out people that share a passion for vinyl from different perspectives.
All in all, while there are aspects of Vinylmania that may make some viewers’ eyes roll, the film serves as a positive, well-rounded celebration of vinyl and the different ways we obsess over it.
As of this writing, Vinylmania is available to stream on Amazon Prime (warning: this version is missing English subtitles for the many scenes that require them), digital rental or purchase through Amazon, or on DVD through the film’s website.
This piece was written by Matt Scott and is part of an ongoing documentary review series. New reviews will post on the 2nd Wednesday of every month. Catch the next review on December 10, 2015.
* The Vinyl Exam does not take credit for the photos you see above. If you know who took these shots, let us know and we will gladly credit them appropriately.