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If you were an ardent film fanatic and you walked into Kim’s, the fabled New York movie-rental emporium, which opened in 1987 and ultimately expanded to five Manhattan locations (the most famous was Mondo Kim’s on St. Mark’s Place), the store looked like nothing so much as the inside of your brain. At Kim’s, you seemed to be standing in the middle of an explosion of cinema. It was a store where grindhouse movies rubbed shoulders with Bergman and Bresson, where the wall of horror included films by Dario Argento that weren’t even out on video, where the avant-garde felt mainstream and genres like action and espionage were displayed like the subversions of sanity they actually were. What Kim’s was about — more than any other video store — was possibility.
“Kim’s Video” is a film about the rise and fall of this beloved institution, and if the entire documentary were simply devoted to exploring the era of what it meant to watch movies on VHS and DVD, and what finding them at Kim’s was all about, I would have been as happy as a clam to watch it. The film opens with David Redmon, one of the film’s co-directors (the other is his wife, Ashley Sabin), approaching people in the St. Marks Place area and asking them if they remember Kim’s, which many of them do, and if they wonder what happened to it, which provokes responses along the lines of, “Probably went out of business. Because nobody rents videos anymore.”
“They had so much stuff that you couldn’t find anywhere,” recalls the film critic Dennis Dermody. Like bootlegs of movies from Europe and the New York underground, or reams of ’60s drive-in pulp. What was heady about Kim’s was the connections it made among all those things. The store said: Peckinpah and Carl Dreyer have more in common, and more in common with John Waters and Maya Deren and “Ms. 45,” than any of them have in common with the post-“Star Wars” landscape of blockbuster sterility.
Watching “Kim’s Video,” I was primed for a tantalizing nostalgia trip. To my surprise, though, the film’s exploration of the glory days of Kim’s — what the store was like, the metaphysics of film as physical media — lasts all of 10 minutes. Redmon wastes no time cutting to the beginning of the end: the decision to close down Kim’s and find a home for its treasure trove of VHS tapes and DVDs. The year was 2007, and the writing was already on the wall for video stores, even outré hipster-central ones like Kim’s. At the time, much coverage was devoted to the deal that set up the store’s vast stockpile of films to become a well-tended archive in Sicily. After that, the saga sort of ended. But what became of the Kim’s collection?— Owen Gleiberman, Variety
Thu March 14, 7:30 PM, VAC Basement Auditorium (1B20)
United Kingdom, United States of America; 2023; in English, Italian, Korean; 89 min • official site
Director: David Redmon, Writer: David Redmon, Director: Ashley Sabin, Writer: Ashley Sabin, Cast: Isabel Gillies, Robert Greene, Eric Hynes, Lorry Kikta, Ryan Krivoshey