Greetings again from the darkness. Yes, many of us still use the word "taping" when referring to recording a TV show, movie or something else. Nomenclature changes slowly, even if technology progresses quickly. In the mid-1970's, when Marion first started recording TV programs ... initially news reports before also spreading to other topics ... taping was her only option. VHS and Betamax tapes. This was long before TiVo became a common gift, and certainly prior to most cable services including a DVR with their bundles.Director Matt Wolf takes us back to a time, not so long ago, when the term "fake news" had not yet become a familiar phrase. Marion Butler-Metelits-Stokes was a Philadelphia librarian and socialist/communist/activist who spent many years, up until her death, recording TV broadcasts. This resulted in more than 70,000 VHS tapes documenting how the daily news was presented to us. The real mystery here is "why"? Why did Marion feel the need to do this religiously for 35 plus years? It's the "why" where the movie's approach is a bit stretched. Through interviews with her son, and the kids of her second husband, we are led to believe Marion was some type of crusader for the truth, and concerned that crucial information was being purposefully omitted from broadcasts.Her son, Michael Metelits, inherited the tapes and donated them to the Internet Archive, which has been methodically digitizing them ever since with the goal of making the information searchable and available for research. Through interviews with Michael, as well as her second husband's daughter, we come to realize that Marion was more focused on recording than on raising kids. When she married John Stokes, they shared a world view, and his family money provided her a chauffeur and secretary, as well as multiple houses and storage units. Yes, not only was Marion obsessive about her recordings, but she was a world class hoarder. When she died, she had nearly 50,000 books, plus a massive collection of newspapers, magazines, and even Apple Macintosh computers.Since Marion never recorded her own story or what motivated her, we can only marvel at what she left behind. It's clear that her mission shifted into high gear with the Iran Hostage Crisis, which led to the development of "Nightline". We see clips of a very young CNN host named Kellyanne Fitzpatrick (better known today as Conway), and a young attorney named Jefferson Sessions up for a judicial appointment. There are many other snippets of the big stories through these years, but it's the 4-way split screen of CNN, NBC, CBS, and ABC on the morning of September 11, 2001 that will stick with you. We watch in real time as CNN shows the first tower and then the slow progression as the other networks catch up. It's still devastating to watch.We will never know if Marion was a crusader of curiosity or obsessed due to paranoia. What we do know is that her collection leaves a treasure trove of TV news that might one day be properly studied to determine if it's the foundation for today's fake news.
Antenna Documentary Film Festival is back with a schedule full of cutting-edge and thought-provoking documentaries from around the globe. 'Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project' is just what I needed, to get pulled into this doc-lovers paradise.In 'Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project' we get to meet Marion Stokes, a former TV producer and activist turned recluse. As a form of activism, to seek out the truth and check facts, she started recording everything that happened on television. This all started with her obsession with the Iranian hostage crisis back in 1979, which eventually became an event everyone was watching 24/7 and gave the idea to start a non-stop news channel - CNN. She noticed that important information started to change while the story developed and wanted to make sure the truth would never get erased from the public eye. For three decades - until her death in 2012 - she secretly recorded TV channels in America, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.Over 70,000 VHS tapes hold footage on wars, catastrophes, talk shows, commercials and lies, shaping the world we live in today. This documentary gives us an in-depth look at who Marion Stokes was and bares the question many would ask: "Why did she do it?". Director Matt Wolf interviews Stokes' family, friends and colleagues, who emotionally look back at Marion's behaviour and career. There's also an aspect in the documentary that dissects how she became the old reclusive lady in that New York apartment. Not only collecting everything that happens on her many tv's, but also identifying herself with Steve Jobs - adopted, hard on people and smarter than most of us - and buying 'Apple'-shares. She loved technology, because it would unlock people's potential.What I really appreciate in this documentary, was the personal feelings brought forward in how Marion treated the people closest to her, not always putting her in a good light. As her own son Michael says: "She had unrealistic standards in how people should behave with each other." Yes, she did great work on screen and behind closed doors to move herself forward. But in doing that, she was at times cruel to her son and loved ones, to the extent of pushing them out of her life. This made me connect to the interviewees and pulled me in even more. Every one of these people, helped her change the tapes on a daily basis. Marion knew exactly when a tape would stop.The facts are all there - Marion was a very intelligent woman of colour and at the forefront of equal rights for everyone. Her mission was crazy, but ends up being a gift to the modern world, archiving footage that might otherwise have been lost throughout time and space. We can only thank this woman for what she has accomplished and be grateful, without judging her personal shortcomings in life. Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project is fascinating in many ways, flipping from interviews to important footage that define the modern world, not shying away from the hard truth and truly identifying what is right in front of us.
This film bothered me. It was opaque, meandering, and as didactic & strident as the subject itself. Marion was an interesting cat, in a way, from her early political views, not for her being an OCD news junkie in the last 30 years of her life. I wish I had these 90 minutes back. It didn't provide any type of a meditation on life or whatever it was seeking through her 'collections.'
Whether you agree or not w/devotion to a pursuit that many would say was obsessive to the point of altering one's life it never-the-less was a remarkable feat with results that may benefit us all. Over 30 years (late 1900s to early 2000s) of large scale VHS/Betamax taping of mostly news tele programming was her passion. The collection is currently being digitized hopefully with access provided to us all.
It is fascinating how what seems to be an incoherent obsession becomes one of the most valuable works on our collective memory. Thanks to Ms Stokes tenacity in recording all of the news channels for 35 years, we have a treasure of information which we can just begin to value. She deserves to be in history books and people should know about what she achieved. A great documentary about this woman who did things her way and lived life as she saw fit. She was quite a jewel.