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I didn't know how long the tapes and discs had been here, but they didn't seem to be rotting in mice shit. The boxes suggested wear and tear, and there's always a chance that VHS tapes stacked atop one another could demagnetize one another. But on the whole, the level of care exceeded anything I had been led to believe existed.
The guy indicated he had been hired to make digital backups of every title in the collection. I asked if he was in charge, and he made a hand motion to indicate "sort of." He mentioned Antonina Grillo, the project "coordinator" who'd been quoted on the press release dismissing Toscani's allegations.
I asked if she was around, and he shook his head. Then he explained that they were having a blackout, so he couldn't let me in to see the center's movie theater. That seemed to be the reason he'd walked out of the building to begin with — he couldn't use the digitization station without having power.
We'd reached the limit of what we could communicate. And so we got in our car and left, and the next day flew out of Palermo to come home.
Yongman Kim, of course, was not the only video-store owner to discover over the past decade that the rental business had become untenable, but his circumstances were unique. A turning point came the summer of 2005, when Mondo Kim's was busted in a sting for selling bootleg mix CDs and DVDs. Employees were arrested, and computers and cash registers were confiscated.
At the time, Kim was distracted by the production of One-Third, his self-financed debut as a director of feature films. A largely silent drama about a teenage hooker and a Buddhist monk, mostly shot in and around the Mondo Kim's building, One-Third was the first film in what Kim planned as a trilogy. When he couldn't find a distributor, Kim funded a pay-to-play week at Manhattan's Cinema Village, and then a DVD release.
The reviews were decidedly mixed. Writing in Slant Magazine, current Village Voice film critic Nick Schager concluded that the movie "comes across as the type of overreaching indie apt to be mocked by the rude, condescending clerks at his landmark stores."
Given his financial position, it's hard to blame Kim for giving away a collection he stood little to gain from by renting. The collection's struggle to find a local home raises the question of its worth outside of its original context.
"I don't know about monetary value, [but] I think the Kim's collection has a huge cultural value," says Jake Yuzna, who recently curated "VHS," a show at Manhattan's Museum of Arts and Design dedicated to the disappearing analog medium, which featured a working video-rental store as part of the exhibit.
But the collectors' value of used VHS tapes and DVDs is next to nil. Even Yuzna admits that the museum had no intention of keeping its rental stock at the end of the exhibit.
In Salemi, David Moss had argued that a library of physical film objects is actually more valuable there than it would be elsewhere: "What's a video worth in New York? It's dead. Whereas here, it's at least a piece of media."
There are no video stores in Salemi, no movie theaters; the city library doesn't have DVDs to lend.
Yet Moss and friends had told me that when Kim's movies were shown in the castle on a handful of summer nights, the events had attracted crowds who flowed in and out, treating the projections like art installations. Some of the movies weren't in Italian, and in a country where almost all foreign releases, especially Hollywood films, arrive dubbed, it wasn't so much an entertainment as an oddity.
Does anyone in Salemi still talk about the video collection? Pietro, a 40-something with square, rimless glasses and a gold chain swinging from his neck, shook his head. "Really, everyone's forgotten."
In New York, the Kim's faithful have not forgotten. "People talk about Kim's all the time — it's like an urban legend," filmmaker Fernandes says.
As for Perry, the more he talks about the formative role Kim's played in his own life, the more people randomly approach him, asking what happened to the collection. "I'm not dropping names, but I was talking to Parker Posey last night. She was, like, 'Do you know what happened to Kim's? Because I knew her from coming all the time. People are always asking."
He adds, "It would be like if the Barnes Foundation, instead of moving to some controversial new location, they were, like, 'Oh, we're gonna open up a museum in some other city,' and then it just was, like, 'What the fuck ever happened to that artwork?' "
When I was in Salemi in June, the collection's future still seemed unresolved. The state had just sent a temporary administration to run the city. According to one resident, one of the commissioners' first decisions was to cancel the mafia museum ad at the airport, which cost 45,000 euros annually.
With austerity in the air and Sgarbi's projects tainted by association, it seemed like a long shot that the commissioners would consider a videotheque to be of high priority. As Moss put it, "No use having Kim's Video if the streets aren't working."
@LifeinSicily Yes weird but it does not surprise me @sicilyguide: Mondo Kim's Video Was Shipped from New York to Sicily http://t.co/TIYbO4W9
@sicilyguide Also no comprehension of lack of funds and how funds go missing here. TBH a video collection the least of Sicily's problems ;)
@sicilyguide No not surprising, description of Salemi & bureaucracy etc made me laugh actually as so typical!
Hi Karina MOSS here from Salemi. Great article. A little negative at first but accurate. Pleased to find that your treasure hunt round Salemi for Kim's Video lead you to the new Kim's Center where digitization is "work in progress". Lets hope the Salemi Kim's team has your same dedication.