Kim’s Video, 2023.
Directed by David Redmon and Ashley Sabin.
Playing with the forms and tropes of various cinema genres, the filmmaker sets off on a quest to find a legendary lost video collection of 55,000 movies in Sicily.
It’s hardly a startling revelation that streaming killed the rental store, but following a glut of documentaries endlessly pining for the bygone Blockbuster era, David Redmon and Ashley Sabin’s Kim’s Video finds a more creative way to lament insufficient physical media preservation and the modern lack of physical spaces for film education.
Kim’s Video operated in New York City for 20 years under mysterious owner Yongman Kim, serving as a mecca for everything from blockbuster titles to porn to the rarest ephemera, offering 55,000 films to its 250,000 members. Kim took his enterprise seriously enough to send employees to film festivals to curate the collection, and was even raided by the FBI in 2003 for offering bootleg copies of Jean-Luc Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinéma.
Seeing the changing tide of film distribution, though, Kim decided to close his flagship store in 2008 and donate the collection to a willing host, on the conditions that they properly store the films and make them available for public use. The successful candidate was the southwestern Sicilian town of Salemi, which additionally promised to digitise the entire collection for Kim’s Video members.
Though the tapes were soon enough shipped to Salemi, in the years that followed it became clear that the stated promises had not been followed through, and so filmmaker David Redmon heads to Salemi to get to the bottom of the collection’s apparent disappearance from public view, and eventually seek out Mr. Kim himself.
The result is an irreverent, amusing documentary which melds archive footage of Kim’s Video in its heyday with interviews with former employees and Redmon and Sabin’s bewilderingly oddball contemporary investigation. Clearly a deeply personal work for Redmon in particular, his own love – nay, obsession – with films was fostered by Kim’s Video, and his quasi-pathological fascination with cinema results in many of the film’s funniest moments. Redmon’s deadpan narration regularly compares the movie’s events to moments from films – such as, hilariously, comparing his former Walmart boss to a character from Manos, the Hands of Fate – though it’s admittedly an overused gag which feels affected and played-out by the pic’s mid-way point.
But above all else, Kim’s Video is a staggering testament to the power of filmmaker persistence; it’s frankly incredible how much access Redmon was able to gain to the pivotal figures ensnared in the Salemi debacle through his sheer indefatigable need to keep knocking on doors.
Without giving too much of the film’s big conceit away, the collection fell through the cracks amid a surprisingly complex political kerfuffle, one which just might involve the mafia and, at times, leaves one genuinely fearful for Redmon’s wellbeing. In one of his more riotous cinematic namedrops, as Redmon is driven into an imposing tunnel by one of his sketchier interview subjects, he remarks how much it feels like a Scorsese movie before adding, “I don’t wanna be in a Scorsese movie.”
Yet even in its most eyebrow-raising diversions – where it’s implied an interviewee who later turns up dead may have been assassinated by the mob – there’s a playfulness to Redmon and Sabin’s film that clearly revels in hamming up what might, at its core, be far more of a banal bureaucratic mess than a mafioso conspiracy. The doc takes yet unexpected further turns when Redmon seeks to track down Mr. Kim himself, and mutates once more in the final stretch into a giddy genre pastiche best left unspoiled, which shamelessly confesses the filmmakers’ love of cinema.
All in all the directing duo are evidently self-aware enough to appreciate the frivolousness of investigating a disappeared film collection per the movie’s decidedly not-serious tone, even if concerns about the ephemeral nature of streaming media are very real. But rather than make a tired argument villainising Netflix – who do get one amusing invocation here – they use this extremely odd case of neglected physical media to bang the drum for wider custodianship.
This oft-hilarious, sometimes worrying doc champions the preservation of physical media while unfurling a globetrotting mystery that goes down a wildly unexpected rabbit-hole
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.