The Strange Fate of Kim's Video

The best video collection in New York was shipped to a Sicilian town with a promise that it would be kept accessible to cinephiles. Here's what really happened to it.

A hilltop town in western Sicily with a recorded population of about 11,000, Salemi was the Sicilian landing place of Giuseppe Garibaldi, the warrior whose Campaign of 1860 ultimately led to the island's absorption into a unified Italy.

But Garibaldi moved on, as did the eyes of the world. Then, in 1968, a massive earthquake, equivalent to a magnitude of 7.0, left much of Salemi's historic center in ruins and an estimated 100,000 Sicilians homeless. On Salemi's hilltop, rubble was left for decades. Most of the surviving townsfolk moved into new buildings at the bottom of the hill.

Then, in 2008, Salemi elected as its mayor Vittorio Sgarbi. An art critic, television personality, and sometime anarchist, Sgarbi had briefly served in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's cabinet but was best known as a media personality. "He was very much a self-publicist," says John Agnew, a geography professor at University of California, Los Angeles and an expert on modern Italy. "I remember him mainly from seeing him on TV, getting into shouting matches with his political opponents. He's the kind of guy who would be at home on Fox News."

Kim’s Video collection in Salemi: the town museum that’s not devoted to bread or the Mafia.
Rian Johnson
Kim’s Video collection in Salemi: the town museum that’s not devoted to bread or the Mafia.
Kim’s videos—VHS tapes and DVDs of soap operas, foreign films, and porn—minus the mice shit.
Rian Johnson
Kim’s videos—VHS tapes and DVDs of soap operas, foreign films, and porn—minus the mice shit.

Once in office in Salemi, Sgarbi invited photographer Oliviero Toscani, who had famously featured AIDS patients and death row inmates in ads for United Colors of Benetton, to serve as Salemi's "alderman of creativity."

Acting on a tip from graphic designer Franca Pauli, a former colleague, Toscani fervently pursued Kim's collection, positioning it as a key element in Sgarbi's plan to revitalize Salemi as a capital of cultural tourism. (As for Pauli, she quickly grasped Salemi's chief advantage: "Space in New York is very expensive. But Salemi, it's an entire town that's empty!")

Team Salemi created a full-color proposal stating its intentions, which Kim posted for his customers to see. The proposal promised that "by the end of January 2009," a new website at kimsvideo.org would "ensure continuity of service to [Kim's] members.

"We hope to maintain a close relationship with the Kim's community," the proposal continued, "both by updating them regularly about the project and by inviting them as honored guests in Salemi. For paid-up Kim's members, access to the collection will always be free of charge. Furthermore, Salemi will provide accommodations to both Kim's members and students who want to have access to the collection, at minimum charge (according to availability and booking in advance)."

The plans also included "a Never-ending Festival—a 24-hour projection of up to 10 films at once for the foreseeable future . . . and, eventually, the conversion of all Kim's VHS films to DVDs to ensure their preservation."

The plans were chronicled in The New York Times in February 2009. "Salemi is the future," Toscani told the Times. "New York is the past. That's why Kim's is coming here."

But was that really the reason? Kim would tell the Times that he'd received 30 proposals from across New York to take the collection off his hands. Who exactly made these proposals has never been made public. Two former Kim's employees say NYU and downtown art school Cooper Union were interested, but both universities refused to take the collection as a whole—they didn't need all 15 rental copies of Shrek, for instance. This was a stipulation on which Kim refused to negotiate.

"As far as I know, Mr. Kim did not get an offer for the entire collection other than Salemi," Michael Ferrari, who worked at Kim's for 14 years and served as head video buyer from 2002 to 2010, told me via e-mail. "I do know he really wanted an institution like NYU to have them."

But "NYU, Columbia, and other institutions only wanted part of the collection, and Mr. Kim wanted to keep it together as a whole. He was pretty adamant to keep everything in one place."

Kim's other prohibitive demand was that the collection remain accessible without interruption. When film and TV producer Rachel Fernandes heard that Kim had made the deal with Salemi, she says: "I thought, 'Oh, my God, this collection can't leave the city. Someone has to step up.'"

She and former store employee Jeff Cashvan submitted a proposal to keep the collection in New York and run it as a co-op. Cashvan and Fernandes proposed moving the collection into local, temporary storage while they raised money from grants and film luminaries.

But Kim wanted to see their video store. "And we said, 'Well, we don't have a storefront yet.' It was a fundraising proposal," Fernandes recalls. "He was like, 'I would rather it stay with my former employee and with the city, but my stipulation is that it has to be immediately transported to a place where it can be on view. Where it is accessible.'"

They'd hoped they could appeal to Kim's sense of community. That angle didn't fly. "He was like, 'Just so you know, the Sicilians are very impressive,'" Fernandes remembers. "Their proposal was like, a color glossy magazine made to appeal to his ego. They said it was going to be the Mr. Kim Museum."

She adds: "To his credit, that's what it looked like. I remember looking at the proposal—that's what the Sicilians had outlined. While it seemed crazy to us that he would ship this collection overseas, at least they had a space."

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12 comments
max555
max555

Most of the comments here are more interesting than the article, this person found out about kims in 2003 that's just not enough history, I'm not against recent New Yorkers at all but if you are writing an article and everyone reading it knows more about the place than you do, it just doesn't work out.

rawcuzima
rawcuzima

I remember when Mr. Kim owned a dry cleaners on Avenue A with his wife. He started his VHS rental video business there. I remember thinking "Movies and dry cleaning? Come on!"

MIPC
MIPC

Cassidy, "armpit of Europe" : yes Kims Video VHS collection is now in the new Kim's centre in Salemi Sicily Italy, some interns are digitizing it all !!! I've seen them.

kelvinpeeterson
kelvinpeeterson

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walkerp
walkerp

I was a regular at Kim's back before Mondo when it was on the other side of St. Mark's and to the east a bit (later turned into a clothing store).  It was quite a scene and I made some good friends through that place, including one of the employees.  They had an awesome collection of movies.  It was back when HK movies were all the rage and though there were still two theatres still going in Chinatown, Kim's was the place to get everything that you had missed.  It wasn't just the collection, but also that all the people that worked there were super into the movies and would tell you what next thing you should check out.  

 

They also had tons of great stories about the place.  My favourite and most outrageous (and possibly totally apocryphal) was the Halloween story.  Mr. Kim had a bodyguard and driver that would ferry him from store to store where he would check on the goings-on and take deposits.  One Halloween, the story goes, he forced the driver to wear a clown costume.  The driver happened to have some kind of stomach flu on that same day and he kept having to go to the bathroom.  Mr. Kim got fed up with waiting and wouldn't allow him to go so that he ended up shitting the pants of his clown suit.  He was sitting in the back of the store with his shit-stained clown suit pants while Mr. Kim berated him for being a "disgrace to the Korean race".

 

Good times.  It's the kind of funky, punk-rock, crazy small-businessman place that can no longer exist in New York.  It's kind of surprising how long it did last actually.

irvoneil
irvoneil

Loved Kim's Video and went there often and had to take a train ride just to get there, it wasn't in my neighborhood. Just going there to get obscure films made me feel like I was tapping a kind of fountain of eternal youth, recapturing over and over my gusto for movies. I couldn't understand why in a city like NY, with all the big money here, all the cinema luminaries and cultural hotshots, that NOBODY could take on that collection and make it perpetually available HERE, not on the other side of the world. Well, this article explains why. A sad tale. @irvoneil 

TheRTTC
TheRTTC

Hey cinephiles. I've recieved sad news from my girlfriend in Trinidad and need to go there asap. This seems a good place to announce this. I have my collection of 60's - 80's exploitation dvds which I am willing to part with to make this trip. Tell me what you want and I'll tell you if I have it, as the list to too long. Some are opened but most are not. I'm in Brooklyn. You don't have to buy the full collection, but I prefer you spend a minimum of $50+ at a FAIR OFFER! I'm collecting for a plane ticket so I need an amount that is going to take a big bite out of that cost. (average prices right now are in the $600 range) Dvd's are 'special ed', unrated, etc. email your request to retro.trash.theatreco@gmail.com  Also, for those of you intersted, I have back issues of Make-Up Artist and Fangoria Magazine availble for sell! Thanks!

marieepstein
marieepstein

Sgarbi and Toscani yell at each other on Italian Radio Zanzara (Mosquito) -- here Toscani calls Sgarbi impotent and Sgarbi says Toscani is a drug addict. http://video.corriere.it/cultura/index.shtml

 

What was the video rental around Houston and 6th?  They had foreign, vintage, indy and they were very nice.

Cassidy
Cassidy

Wait a minute...so this legendary thing I've been hearing about off and on through the years, this "Kim's Video," this "Mondo Kim"...is just some Korean guy's extensive and eclectic tape and disc collection????

 

And it's now in some closed-off if not entirely abandoned facility in the middle of nowhere in Sicily, the armpit of Europe????

 

Sounds like the premise of a student film project!!

Binkconn
Binkconn

I heard of its reputation when I was at the NYFA in late '01, but thought the $150 deposit to join was outrageous (still do). RIP Kim's but not really missed.

LisaKS
LisaKS

 @walkerp OUTRAGEOUSLY untrue and frankly defamatory.

Mr. Kim drove a Jeep himself for 10 years during the peak of the Kim's stores success. His "bodyguards" would work at a single store and monitor the place for shoplifters.

 

Want to hear a funny story? He kept on most of his employees on staff long after he knew he had to get rid of his rental section all the while hemorrhaging $$ just to keep them paid.

katherine.gleason
katherine.gleason

 @marieepstein It was Evergreen Video. They moved to Carmine Street and then they closed. They had great stuff. I always intended to rent the 8 part serial of The Master and Margarita, but I never did. Boo.

 

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