The Recorder: Media obsession and common humanity

Some of Marion Stokes' 70,000 video recordings

Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project

Documentary

Directed by Matt Wolf

At film festivals nation-wide

It seems impossible that this film could be so touching, but moving it is.

For more than 30 years, African American woman Marion Stokes recorded everything on multiple TVs around her apartment in the United States. That is, every single minute of every US channel, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Having been abandoned as a child, Stokes became a Communist in the 1950s and maintained her radical thinking up to her death in 2012. Her obsessiveness destroyed her first marriage, but her radicalism brought her into contact with her second husband, who was heir to enormous wealth.

Had she not been wealthy, Stokes’ obsessions and paranoia would probably have landed her in a mental hospital. As it was, she drew to her a small group of dedicated assistants to support her weird project.

Stokes was determined to expose the way capitalist media production manipulates general society.

To put it mildly, she was a difficult person. The project cost her and her husband relationships with their children; essentially, they were wealthy, eccentric recluses.

This documentary drills into the pain and partial redemption of those relationships and that is where the common humanity is experienced.

After her death, Stokes’ gargantuan video collection was donated to the Internet Archive, which has digitised the whole lot and made it free online. It is a treasure trove of US media history. So her life was not a failure.

This film never shrinks from Stokes’ problems and the hurt she caused.  But it makes the viewer think deeply about the media and, ultimately, human relationships.