By Jonathan Monovich.

More than anything, Kim’s Video proves that physical media for many is much more than nostalgic, it is a way of life.”

Since their inception, video stores have been places of sacred proportions for film fanatics. Lance Lawson’s legendary Manhattan Beach video store, Video Archives, famously helped nurture Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary to be filmmakers. Tarantino and Avary’s tenure as video store employees was so integral to their development that they continue to reminisce about the experience to this day over their Video Archives Podcast. On the east coast, Yongman Kim’s epic Kim’s Video, home to 55,000 VHS tapes/DVDs from over forty countries, was New York City’s equivalent of Video Archives. Filmmakers Alex Ross Perry [Her Smell (2018)], Sean Price Williams [The Sweet East (2023)], and Robert Greene [Kate Plays Christine (2016)] are some of Kim’s many famous former employees. Unsurprisingly, in David Redmon and Ashley Sabin’s documentary, Kim’s Video (2023), it is revealed that Tarantino and Kim became friends over their shared admiration for film. What is surprising is just how fascinating the documentary’s subject, the mysterious demise of Kim’s Video, turns out to be. Even better is Redmon and Sabin’s inventive documentarian style that perfectly captures the lengths that cinephiles take to fulfill their cinematic obsessions. Redmon claims that “sometimes, life isn’t like the movies; it’s even more strange.” In the case of Kim’s Video,he isn’t exaggerating. 

For those who truly love film, Kim’s Video will resonate not only as one of the great documentaries about movies but also a deeply moving story. The film’s narrator and protagonist is its co-director, Redmon, a devout former member of Kim’s Video. Simply put, Redmon’s life is and always has been driven by film, making it appropriate for him to analogously compare his life to an eclectic selection of motion pictures. Redmon is a natural storyteller. Through collaboration with Sabin, the two have expertly crafted a collage of film clips that thoughtfully intersects the history of Redmon’s life and cinema in general. 

Redmon’s childhood was spent in Paris, Texas, the inspiration for Wim Wenders’ classic 1984 film of the same name. He recalls that voices would lure him to the television to watch movies just like Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) in Poltergeist (1982). For Redmon, it was difficult deciphering the difference between reality and fiction in film. This would cause him to travel to Austin, hoping to meet the characters from Richard Linklater’s Slacker (1990). When old enough, he worked at Wal-Mart as it was the closest he could get to movies in his rural community. After a standoff with his manager that he compares to Isle of Dogs (2018), he moved to New York. It was at this point that Redmon was introduced to the wonderful world of Kim’s Video. It was at Kim’s that Redmon became captivated by indie films like Permanent Vacation (1980), Smithereens (1982), and Rhythm Thief (1994). Kim’s store became so important to Redmon and his quest for film discovery that he compares his visits to the store as a pilgrimage.

Employees suggest that there was a communal view at Kim’s that “film knowledge matters more than ownership.” This helped foster an incredible assemblage of films. Simultaneously, this led to the eventual closure of Kim’s Video in 2008 for the inclusion of bootleg recordings. All of the videos were personally donated, by Kim, to the small town of Salemi, Italy. The condition was that they would become digitized and made free to the townspeople. Redmon becomes intrigued by the peculiar beneficiary of Kim’s Video, Salemi, as it was chosen over 40 universities interested in continuing the store’s legacy. Eventually, the same voices that attracted Redmon to the screen as a child call him to search for the videos that once resided in New York. When he arrives in Salemi to an abandoned building and realizes that the videos have been disregarded, Redmon is deeply offended. At this point, Redmon takes matters into his own hands like the well-intentioned Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) in Blue Velvet (1986). Then, like in Blue Velvet, something very strange is discovered that leads to disturbing findings of mob ties and political corruption surrounding the depressing neglection of Kim’s lifelong collection. Redmon compares the thickening plot to thematically similar Martin Scorsese films. Like clockwork, life’s strange movie-like side reappears.

What Henri Langlois did for film preservation, Redmon, Sabin, and Kim have accomplished something similar with video preservation.”

Like the subjects of American Animals (2018), the true story of a group of students who turn to heist genre films for the theft of a first edition copy of Audobon’s Birds of America, Redmon similarly devises a film inspired plan to take back the videos. Movies and real life become one for Redmon yet again. He compares the situation to Max Renn (James Woods) in Videodrome (1983) as he becomes one with the video tapes. Redmon’s efforts eventually lead him to his hero, Kim, and the two bond over their mutual passion. Kim is revealed to be an esoteric figure, and the documentary could have benefited from diving deeper into his background. Though questions about Kim are left unanswered, it is clear that his unique dedication to his video stores provided joy to hundreds of thousands and helped served many in their film education. 

The situational intricacies in Kim’s Video raise questions of depth around the role that cinema plays in our lives. Additionally, there is a complex consideration for the notion of film as a “record of existence.” To Redmon, archiving is a necessity as it allows for “collective memory.” His achievement in archiving is an incredible one, provided that the tapes from Kim’s Video are now available for former customers and a new generation to rent for free at Alamo Drafthouse’s Manhattan theater. What Henri Langlois did with film preservation, Redmon, Sabin, and Kim have accomplished something similar with video preservation. Alamo’s distribution arm, Drafthouse Films, is also behind the release of Kim’s Video. This amazing collaboration is commendable for helping finally bring fruition to Kim’s dream that had previously gone unfulfilled. Fans of Kim’s Video can continue the ongoing story by watching Alamo’s web series, Kim’s Video Collection, in which famous fans of Kim’s browse the resurrected video store. Episode one stars Chloe Sevigny. More than anything, Kim’s Video proves that physical media for many is much more than nostalgic, it is a way of life.

Kim’s Video is now playing in theaters in select cities

Jonathan Monovich is a Chicago-based writer and Image Editor for Film International, where he regularly contributes. His writing has also been featured in Film Matters, Bright Lights Film Journal, and PopMatters.

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