Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Kim’s Video: The Documentary Caper

You know you have lived in New York for a long time when you start to see a lot of documentaries about places you used to frequent. Fortunately, Veselka is still in business (but Other Music is gone for good). Kim’s Video came and went and now they are sort of back again. Their sad demise and dramatic Phoenix-like rebirth are documented in David Redmon & Ashley Sabin’s Kim’s Video, which opens this Friday in theaters.

At its height, Kim’s Video had six East Village locations, but Mondo Kim’s on St. Mark’s was the flagship. Redmon and Sabin almost exclusively focus on Kim’s as a purveyor of rare and underground film, but it was there that I finally found an original vinyl pressing of Eddie Gale’s
Ghetto Music. Originally, Yong-man Kim started a dry-cleaners, but when he added a shelf of video rentals, it transformed the business.

Quickly, Kim’s gained a reputation for the depth and breadth of their collection, including imports of questionable provenance and outright bootlegs. Evidently, Kim had the gumption to call up cultural attaches at various embassies, to request screeners that he copied. Eventually, the FBI raided Mondo Kim’s but the confiscated bootlegs were soon replaced.

Unfortunately, digital eventually killed the video store, even including Kim’s. Mr. Kim wanted to find an appropriate home for his VHS and DVD collection, because it represented one of the largest physical media holdings in the world. Rather ill-advisedly, he accepted an offer from an aspiring cultural center in Salemi, Sicily to host the Kim’s Video collection. That is when things got weird.

When Redmon seeks to visit the Kim’s collection in Salemi, finds it is not currently available to the public, as was promised. In fact, the dank, damp storage conditions posed a great risk to the collection’s integrity. It seemed like the collection’s supposed custodians had ulterior motives for hosting it. You know what Sicily has a reputation for? Redmon was convinced that was true for some of the figures orbiting the so-called cultural center, so he hatched a crazy plan to “liberate” the Kim’s Video collection.

Bizarrely, the
Kim’s Video doc suddenly morphs into an enormously eccentric caper movie. Obviously, they were somewhat successful, since Redmon and Sabin are both still alive to talk about it—and does Redmon ever talk. He inserts his personality into nearly every frame, sometimes to the film’s detriment. That is fair to some extent, since he and Sabin took such an active role in the Kim’s Video “homecoming,” but a little of his constant ruminations go a long way. In contrast, Sabin remains scrupulously invisible and quiet as a dormouse.

Throughout their documentary, Redmon and Sabin incorporate brief “fair use” excerpts of the art films once available at Kim’s to reflect Redmon’s state of mind. Coincidentally, the upcoming Apple TV+ series
Sugar also uses a similar technique, but with greater impact.

Kim’s Video documents some fascinating cultural history, but it is unlikely to get much play in Sicily. Frankly, it is surprising how little it plays the nostalgia card, because the more recent events, which it recorded as they happened, are so wild and consequential to the overall Kim’s Video story. Recommended for movie lovers and anyone who spent much time in the East Village during the mid-to-late-1990s, Kim’s Video screens tonight (4/2) at the Alamo Drafthouse—Lower Manhattan and it opens Friday (4/5) at the Quad.