With streaming services yanking titles from availability and even disappearing completed works that may now never be shown again, it might seem like the perfect time to eulogize physical media, once again. We’ve had movies about obsessive collectors, we’ve had the story of the sole remaining Blockbuster video; now comes Kim’s Video, the cleverly titled tale of the legendarily huge catalogue of the New York-based Kim’s Video chain.
David Redmon and Ashley Sabin’s documentary bounces back and forth between Redmon’s obsessive love of cinema and his feelings of a psychic bond with the store’s 55,000-plus collection and tales of clerks-turned-filmmakers (Sean Price Williams and Alex Ross Perry turn up here) or celebrity late fees (the Coens supposedly owed 600 bucks). Redmon can’t go thirty seconds without name-checking a famous movie, at one point likening his compulsion to that of Kane with Rosebud. It’s meant to be cheeky and playful, but then it becomes assaultive and annoying, like being trapped in a conversation with someone who doesn’t care about your half of it.
Eventually, the film gets to its heart: In 2008, owner Yongman Kim decided to close the business, and dutifully sought another home for the collection. Bizarrely, he settled on the Italian town of Salemi, which promised to keep the archive available to any Kim’s Video member, hold festivals, and even project titles in the town square, all in an effort to boost tourism. But as Karina Longworth discovered in 2012, that never happened. Instead, the mountain of tapes and DVDs sat rotting in a crappy, locked basement. Redmon journeys to Salemi, where he finds not only this dismal sight, but encounters a shifty local politician, a possible mafioso, and even maybe a murder, before finally settling on a mostly tongue-in-cheek “heist,” referencing both Godard and the movie Argo, to liberate Kim’s collection and return it to the U.S. The performative nature of the whole thing is functionally pretty grating, and seeing what’s left of Kim’s Video wind up in the hands of a theater chain using it as a kitschy loss-leader to sell beer and T-shirts is disheartening at best.
What’s worse, Kim’s Video has nothing to say about the value of the physical media Redmon is so intent on rescuing, nor does it spend any time discussing all of the other collections around the country (and indeed, the world) that are doing major work keeping that art alive and accessible. It’s mostly just a nerd’s prank. It’s not enough to just love movies, it’s not enough that that love has formed so much of your identity; you’ve got to have something to say about that.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 4.