2020, NR, 92 min. Directed by Christopher Boone, Kevin Smokler.
REVIEWED By Jenny Nulf, Fri., Sept. 11, 2020
Vinyl Nation opens with a line. It’s Record Store Day, the international event when vinyl-selling shops see a large boom in business. Two children wait in line with their parents, and the son is interviewed. He explains that he’s there to find anything by Portugal the Man. A tiny music connoisseur in the making.
Music, like all forms of storytelling, is a tool used to bring people together, to bond. Vinyl Nation emphasizes that bond by focusing on the resurgence of the record industry. It’s a family affair, it’s community building, and it’s friendship strengthening. It creates a space for people to share ideas and talk about passions, and gives an added layer of depth for those whose world is music and how it moves them.
Christopher Boone and Kevin Smokler want you to know that vinyl collecting isn’t as snooty as its perceived, and they attempt to subvert the idea that only cool white male hipsters in their 30s care about records. They gather a number of diverse subjects in an attempt to break down this myth, from the leader of a Latina DJ group to the head of Urban Outfitter’s vinyl, an Asian American woman whose target is to make records accessible and affordable for a younger female demographic. And yet, even with this clear attempt to make modern vinyl collecting more diverse and less white, the film still feels overwhelmingly vanilla. This is to no fault of Boone and Smokler, who can only do so much when a record production company is documented and you notice all of the workers are white.
The doc dives into a bit of vinyl production history – most of it fairly understood at this point if you lived through the CD boom – but the one part they gloss over almost too nonchalantly is how hip hop artists would buy cheap vinyl during this period of time for sampling. This structure make Vinyl Nation feels a bit surface level, in that just when a new topic is breached the talking heads find a way to circle back to just gushing about their love of grooves in flat, black plastic. This makes Vinyl Nation a better background documentary than intense, required viewing.
Yet sometimes it’s nice to sit back and watch a documentary knowing that the material probably won’t be a heavy information overload. It’s a delight to share someone’s excitement for a hobby or collection, and see how each individual shows their love for record collecting and production, and the interviews with younger children are particularly charming (especially the kid who talks about how “regular dancing” died out, but records are forever!). Sometimes a documentary doesn’t have to change the world, but make you feel warm and that your passion for something is matched by another person.
Vinyl Nation is available now as a virtual cinema release.