Review by Sean Boelman
What is so unique about vinyl lovers is that if you ask a hundred different people, they could each come back with a different reason justifying their love for the medium. Christopher Boone and Kevin Smokler’s documentary Vinyl Nation pays homage to the community that has sprung up around the appreciation of analog music listening, and it’s a wholesome little movie.
The film is essentially a “state of the union address” for the eponymous fandom, offering a glimpse into the remaining collectors, vendors, and manufacturers in the record industry. And while that is understandably a lot of ground to cover in just one documentary, there have been more specialized films to come out that offer a more in-depth look at any one part of the business, so this is a refreshing survey.
At a nice ninety minutes, the film is short and sweet, and because of the journalistic approach the filmmakers take, it’s a pretty breezy watch. As expected, the film cashes in on a lot of nostalgia, but because of the resurgence in interest that vinyl has had from the younger generation, there’s another aspect to the film as well.
What is so magical about the art of music is the way in which it unites people, and Boone and Smokler really focus on that aspect of the vinyl community. Music lovers from all ages and walks of life can come together and put aside their differences to discuss and admire this tangible form of an otherwise intangible art. It’s pretty mind-blowing to think about it in that way.
As the title implies, this film is about the global community of record fans, and the film features a diverse group of people talking about their passion. From amateur collectors to musicians who have their own extensive personal libraries, the film may not spin too much time with any one individual, but does an excellent job of exploring the greater scene.
The only real disappointment about the film is that the soundtrack isn’t more memorable. Of course, given that this is an independent documentary, a lot of this likely boils down to the fact that song licensing is expensive and it simply wasn’t within the budget to use higher-profile music. But it’s hard to communicate the appeal of the sound of vinyl without a sound to demonstrate.
That said, the film is quite strong visually. There are a lot of things working in the film’s favor, like quick and stylish editing and plenty of inspired visuals to use as inspiration. Some of the charm of vinyl is the album artwork, and there are some pretty extensive discussions of some iconic and undersung examples.
Vinyl Nation is sure to be a fun documentary for anyone who loves browsing through the record store. And although it isn’t the deepest or most profound documentary in the topic, it accurately captures not only who makes up this community, but why it formed in the first place.
Vinyl Nation is now screening online in partnership with indie theaters (and more). A list of participating locations can be found here.