(Release Info London schedule; November 6th, 2020, Curzon Home Cinema)
"Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project"
A 'Communist' radical who became fabulously wealthy later in life, Marion Stokes secretly recorded 'American' television 24 hours a day for 30 years from 1975 until her death in 2012. By the time of her death, Stokes had amassed 70,000 'VHS' tapes, capturing not just world history, but who we're; what we watched, what we valued, and what we thought. For Marion, taping was a form of activism to seek the truth and she believed that a comprehensive archive of the media would one day be invaluable. Her visionary and maddening project nearly tore her family apart, but now her tapes are being digitized for future generations. The story of this remarkable archive, and the enigmatic woman behind it, provides a fascinating look into the media’s crafting of history, and our complicity in watching it.
Marion Stokes was secretly recording American television twenty-four hours a day for thirty years. It started in 1979 with 'The Iranian Hostage Crisis' at the dawn of the twenty-four hour news cycle. It ended on December 14th, 2012 while 'The Sandy Hook Massacre' played on television as Marion passed away. In between, Marion recorded on 70,000 'VHS' tapes, capturing revolutions, lies, wars, triumphs, catastrophes, bloopers, talk shows, and commercials that tell us who we're, and show how television shaped the world of today. Before the era of 'fake news', Marion was fighting to protect the truth by archiving everything that was said and shown on television. The public didn’t know it, but the networks were disposing their archives for decades into the trashcan of history. Remarkably, Marion saved it, and now 'The Internet Archive' will digitize her tapes and we’ll be able to search them online for free. A mystery in the form of a time capsule, the film delves into the strange life of a radical 'Communist' activist who became a fabulously wealthy recluse archivist. Marion’s work was crazy but it was also genius, and she would pay a profound price for dedicating her life to this visionary and maddening project.
Marion diligently handwrote the dates, times, and networks on the spines of each of her tapes. When her son Michael and her trusted secretary Frank Heilman began the onerous task of organizing her collection, they stored her tapes in thousands of cardboard file boxes, which Marion amassed over her lifetime. Those boxes were loaded into a parking lot full of storage pods, but Michael and Frank didn’t know if anybody would take the tapes. They feared that it would all just be thrown away. Remarkably, in 2013, 'The Internet Archive' acquired Marion’s unprecedented collection with the commitment to digitize her tapes and to make them accessible online. The storage pods were shipped from Philadelphia to 'The Internet Archive’s' storage warehouse in Richmond, California, where the tapes currently live on hundreds of pallets. The film creates a unique conveyer belt system with a digital camera, and a crew of archivists captured high resolution photos of the spines on Marion’s tapes. Zooming into these images allowed us to track the contents of each tape through Marion’s diligent documentation. "Recorder" creates an eclectic wish list of dates from Marion’s start in 1979 through the day of her death on December 14th, 2012. These greatest hits include an eclectic list of events, from historic dates like the fall of 'The Berlin Wall', to esoteric pop culture moments like the collapse of 'The Miss America' pageant’s stage. Each of Marion’s tapes are 6-8 hours because she recorded on extended play, and the preservationists at 'BAVC watched these tapes in real time to assure a clean image from these degrading analog videocassettes. In total the film transfers 100 tapes for approximately 700 hours of television footage.
People sometimes ask if Marion was just a pathological historian whose uncontrollable hoarding tore her family apart. She was an uncompromising activist, whose insight into media and technology was decades ahead of her time. Marion’s 70,000 tapes are an endless collage of fuzzy clips, from tragic and triumphant, to historic and mundane, images that show the texture of our times. Her work is incredibly relevant today. We're living in the era of so-called 'fake news'. Now more than ever, the truth is under attack. The truth is hard to find, to know, and the truth is more important than ever. This is what Marion committed her life to. She recognized that television is a persuasive and pervasive medium, and that it can be manipulated to shape public opinion. Her story should inspire others to fight for the truth in unusual and creative ways. Whether it’s vintage 'Kellyanne Conway' defending 'Bob Dole' on 'CNN' or a four-screen montage that shows how the news of '9/11' broke on various networks in real time. Viewers see familiar things in a new way. This story is also a mystery. Marion’s an enigmatic and complicated character, and one of the ways we got closer to her is with stylized recreations that peer into her private world. These cinematic sequences from Marion’s limousine or her secretive recording stations in her apartment trace the evolution of television and computer technology as vintage footage plays on screens. The film reflects on Marion’s mission, his anger and frustration about her selfishness, and her pride in her accomplishments. Like Jobs, Marion wasn’t warm and fuzzy and she put her work and her ideas above her personal relationships. She thought differently and people didn’t always get it. But she made profound sacrifices to pursue a project that she hoped would take on a life beyond her own. And now we've the opportunity to use it.