"Can committing a crime be a work of art?"
A film about a film collection. Is there a better scenario? In hindsight, probably.
For years, nestled in the hustle and bustle of New York City, Kim's Video catered to the unique film obsessor, offering up a plethora of illegally obtained, bootlegged, and hard-to-find VHS tapes. Owned and operated by Yongman Kim, the store was a safe haven for fans of new, experimental, and esoteric offerings. But in 2008, amid the decline in VHS viewing, Kim announced that he was giving away his collection to anyone who would adhere to several stipulations.
David Redmon and Ashley Sabin's Kim's Video uncovers the history of the famed video store and its elusive owner as they track down the over 55,000-piece collection that hasn't been seen since arriving at its newly minted home in Salemi, Sicily.
Initially inquisitive, Kim's Video embodies the style of its subject, showcasing an early 90s look, a metaphor for the tapes they long to uncover. But that stylistic decision is short-lived as the film struggles to find its rhythm. Redmon throws in a record number of unneeded film references, reminiscent of a third cousin who can't help but name-drop everyone they've ever met as they attempt to highlight their importance within the world. As you'd expect, the situation quickly grows tiresome.
While the story bears some impressive qualities, Redmon and Sabin struggle to focus their attention. That is likely the result of a story that offers no true lineage, a web of lies and misdirections serving as a constant distraction as they implicate the government and mafia in the embarrassing treatment of the famed video collection. But even those moments feel rushed, an absurd (albeit possibly true) tangent that breeds little more than shock value.
When Redmon first travels to Salemi to cash in on the promise that the collection would always remain available to former Kim's Video members, he learns that the archive is closed. Relentless in his pursuit, he finds an open door on the third floor of a building where the videos are housed. His first sight is one of frustration and disgust. Tapes of obscure movies are stacked loosely all around, many with visible water damage from years of neglect. Suddenly an alarm goes off, and Redmon is told to vacate the property by the chief of police, a likable fellow who appears keen to play his role within the scope of the film.
These moments, somewhat intense and dramatic but laden with a comedic undertone, add to the confusing narrative. The audience, especially those unfamiliar with Kim's Video or its lustrous collection, struggle to make sense of what they are witnessing and the history that Redmon and Sabin are attempting to right. Is it interesting? Sure. But its lack of concise organization makes it difficult to follow, even for an established cinephile.
When Redmon makes contact with Mr. Kim, the exchange is a bit disheartening as the famed shop owner has far distanced himself from the industry and his former collection. But that doesn't deter our investigator, even when he returns to Salemi to interview Leopoldo Falco, an official who dies shortly after discussing, on camera, the possible mafia ties to the city.
If all this sounds absurd, trust me, it is. But nothing beats the film's climatic ending, a ridiculous and highly improbable string of actions that seem almost too unreal to be rooted in fact. But Redmon swears by the events, and who are we to doubt him? Even Mr. Kim is impressed with his tenacity and willingness to challenge the system and stand up for the sake of VHS history. But then again, isn't that what Kim's Video is all about?
Kim's Video caters to former members of the infamous video store where no title was obscure enough not to belong. It'd be inconceivable had the film telling its story not embodied such a tone.