As arcane subjects for documentary scrutiny go, the makers of “So Wrong They’re Right” have, well, settled on a pretty arcane one: Audiophiles obsessed with the defunct 8-track tape format. Though edited in lively style, feature-length docu might easily be trimmed down to a size likelier to attract ever-trend-sniffing MTV’s interest; relevance to the ’70s-retro movement could spur minor theatrical bookings in collegiate and major-city burgs.
Filmmakers Russ Forster (editor of 8-Track Mind Magazine) and Dan Sutherland traveled coast-to-coast filming “stubborn visionaries … who’ve opted out of the consumer culture” in their ongoing affection for 8-track tapes. That audio form, industry-eased-out by the early ’80s, now constitutes an “analog heritage” very cheaply purchased at your local Goodwill if not already dumped into landfill.
Eight-tracks easily snapped or wore out, sported an awkward song-interruptus “ka-chunk” during side-flip interludes, and accrued static like an LP gathers dust. Still, they dominated a ’70s period when Styx, Curtis Mayfield or “Disco Duck” blaring from your Chevy van meant you were really gettin’ somewhere.
Point is made that we’re all slaves to the recording industry’s latest “innovations,” with some observers claiming this “totally dumb” format offered sound quality still superior to CDs. (Plus, nobody steals 8-tracks from parked cars in the ’90s.) Now-funny-looking stereo paraphernalia is displayed; releases ranging from mood-Muzak to Kiss, the Village People and Sex Pistols are noted as falling within 8-track’s prime era.
Yet after its speedy setup, “So Wrong” degenerates into repetitive snapshots of various enthusiasts, many of whom were barely born when this format swept the listening nation. (A smiley-face knickknack collector broadens the kitsch palette while underlining its shallowness.) Director Forster’s savvy pace, amid a polished tech package, maintains interest to a point, but interest soon flags. Only collectors of audio esoterica will appreciate every moment; others may wish for a more succinct report.