Video after Video Stores

By Scheible, Jeff | Canadian Journal of Film Studies, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

Video after Video Stores


Scheible, Jeff, Canadian Journal of Film Studies


KIM'S VOYAGE TO ITALY

In September 2008, Mondo Kim's, the most well known of New York City's Kim's Video branches, located downtown on St. Marks Place in the East Village, posted a sign announcing that it would be closing and that it was looking for a new home for its rental collection:

Kim's Video is offering a collection of approximately 55,000 films to institutions, schools, business owners, or individuals who can accommodate Kim's full line of film collection. The condition to accept this collection requires 3,000 sq. ft. of space, commitment to give access to Kim's members (charging minimum membership fee), and maintaining the collection. Although Kim's Video plans to close the rental department, the exclusive film collection should still be available to public [sic], especially film students and film lovers. Kim's deeply appreciates the kind support and wishes to maintain our rental department. Unfortunately, financial resources have rapidly declined to uphold Kim's service to Kim's lovers. We hope to find a sponsor who can make this collection available to those who have loved Kim's over the past two decades.1

Despite relatively few stipulations and many offers to house the titles, the store's owner, Yongman Kim, had a surprisingly difficult time finding the right host for the store's videos. Mr. Kim approached likely suspects in New York City, such as the Film Forum and New York University's library, but for different reasons, none were willing to house the entire collection or able to meet the conditions requested in the post.

As a bizarre and therefore ultimately appropriate ending to Mondo Kim's, an Italian graphic designer, Franca Pauli, drafted a successful proposal to move the collection to Salemi, a small town in Sicily. Much of Salemi was destroyed in an earthquake in 1968, and in recent years the town's mayor, Vittorio Sgarbi, had been trying to revitalize it through efforts to promote tourism. Sgarbi, a former art critic and television talk show host, famously announced his plans for "Project Earthquake" in 2008: earthquake-damaged houses in the ancient quarter could be purchased for one euro, provided the new homeowners renovated them to conform with Sicilian architecture. Obtaining Kim's collection seemed to complement the goals of Project Earthquake and promised to invigorate Salemi's culture and economy.

In March 2009, local schoolchildren and artists lined up in Salemi's streets to form a human chain, transporting the videos along narrow roads from shipping containers into their new home in a former Jesuit college. The 55,000 VHS tapes and DVDs became the heart of plans for a major cultural revitalization project supervised by Sgarbi to rebuild the city and create a reputation as an "international city of independent cinema."2 Keeping with Kim's prerequisites, Sgarbi even extended an offer to house any former Kim's member in good standing who wished to visit. When the videos actually arrived in Salemi, however, they ended up sitting in boxes in the historic building for years. Members of the town's mafia became involved, another politician wanted Pauli to reroute the collection to Pisa to create a business streaming them on Amazon, Pauli refused, dropped out, and plans seemed thwarted.3 In an interview, Pauli informed me that a large grant received from the government in 2012 has allowed for the project to become official again and for her to step back in.4 The videos are being unpacked, and Pauli, Sgarbi, and others involved in the project are, as of 2013, reopening conversations about and negotiating the possibilities of a variety of sub-projects with the collection: digitization, screening the videos in a "Neverending Festival," subtitling, and online streaming.

Mondo Kim's afterlife raises a series of interrelated questions. To start, how do we make sense of the trans-Atlantic nature of this move? The collection's new location instantiates an exchange between national film cultures that becomes increasingly intricate to map when one considers, first, Italy's complicated postwar cultural relations with the United States and, second, that Kim began the business as a Korean immigrant in New York, trading bootlegged VHS tapes in his Laundromat. …

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