By Greg Carlson
The unbelievable fate of one of the world’s largest collections of physical movie media is the subject of “Kim’s Video,” a fizzy and entertaining nonfiction cocktail mixing essay-like asides on the power of cinephilia with an oddball odyssey involving the Italian Mafia.
Directed by David Redmon and Ashley Sabin, the feature premiered as part of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
In some ways, the timing is always right for a consideration of disc and tape as we continue to stumble through an often hellish and always fractured streaming landscape where access to titles can vanish without warning. “Kim’s Video” reminds viewers that there was something very special about browsing the shelves of shops both large and small.
Given the unpredictable plot twists and the movie’s blend of narrative approaches that bounce from personal diary to travelogue-infused investigation to meta-heist caper, it is not surprising that a number of early reviews have criticized the filmmakers for failing to make a straight documentary about dry cleaner/video rental magnate Yongman Kim and his legendary New York City outlets.
Many viewers, myself included, at first imagined a more traditional biography/history of Kim and Kim’s Video in the vein of Puloma Basu and Robert Hatch-Miller’s “Other Music.” But once it became apparent that the massive library of VHS and DVD landed, mostly intact, in the small Italian town of Salemi, I was ready to get on board with Redmon and Sabin.
In 2012, a few years after Kim’s video business was shuttered, Karina Longworth wrote an excellent feature for “The Village Voice” detailing her own visit to Italy in search of the collection. Now, a decade later, the contours of Longworth’s report mirror a great deal of the Salemi-set sections of “Kim’s Video.”
The idea that Kim’s offer to give away his entire inventory in exchange for an assurance that existing members (who numbered in the tens of thousands) would be able to access the collection is wild enough, but the reality – which Redmon and Sabin consider with the same incredulity as their viewers – turns the film into a rallying cry to liberate the neglected treasure from its moldering prison.
The filmmakers know that Yongman Kim, the man, is a vivid subject, even though he will only pop in and out of the unfolding drama. They tease his appearance, using comments from a variety of former employees to heighten the mystery with quirky anecdotes and descriptions of Kim’s often intimidating intensity.
Whenever Kim shows up, the movie sparks with energy unmatched by scenes in which relentless narrator Redmon is given the runaround by cartoonishly hapless Italian bureaucrats as he pokes around overseas. The latter category provides comic relief, which plays in contrast to clips from movies (like “Blue Velvet” and “La Dolce Vita”) that offer context for our host’s movie-obsessed single-mindedness.
For lovers of the nostalgia associated with the days when VHS was king, “Kim’s Video” joins “Rewind This!” “Adjust Your Tracking,” “Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project,” and several other movies that explore different aspects of rental, collecting, and/or taping culture.
Certainly, a different film could have presented a deeper dive into something like the magic of a film education provided by a place like Kim’s, but the absurd sight of a robbery crew hidden behind masks of Hitchcock, Varda, Godard, and other auteurs should put a smile on the face of every clerk, projectionist, ticket-taker, and counter-jockey who dreamed of making a movie.
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