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.

None of the locals who gathered around us at the bar to chat had heard about anything happening at the Centro or with the videos in some time.

"The last time I saw the collection, it was in a room off to the side in the Civic Museum," Moss said. "That was two years ago."

Heineken in hand, Paulo, a thirtysomething guy with hair slicked back and dark shades at dusk—like the Bono of Salemi—pulled up a chair next to me. I asked Moss if Sgarbi's "foundation," as he'd called it, still existed in any tangible way. Moss posed the question to Paulo.

Photograph by Rian Johnson
Mayor Vittorio Sgarbi and Yongman Kim had expansive (if strange) plans.
Courtesy Castelvetrano News Italy
Mayor Vittorio Sgarbi and Yongman Kim had expansive (if strange) plans.

He shrugged. "Invisibile," he said. He punctuated the air with a finger and made a "pop" sound with his mouth.

Moss translated: "Like a bubble of soap."

"The problem with Salemi is the Mafia," boomed the thickly accented voice on the other end of the line. On the day after I'd met with David Moss, the town's former Alderman of Creativity, Oliviero Toscani, called my hotel in Salemi. He was eager to air grievances. "When I say 'Mafia,'" he cautioned, "don't think of those American movies. Mafia is just a big bureaucracy."

Toscani himself left Salemi in late 2009 after finally falling out with Mayor Sgarbi and writing off Sicily as a "beautiful, damned land."

Toscani's feelings about Sicily, though poetically stated, are not exactly fringe. The island is earning a reputation as "the Greece of Italy," in no small part because of towns like Salemi, which drain funds from the national government without having much to show for it.

Two and a half years after Toscani left, in February 2012, Sgarbi himself stepped down, under accusations that he had allowed his administration to become infiltrated by the Mafia.

"If you're a politician in western Sicily, you really have to have some kind of connections, unless you're a crusader, someone who insists on having clean hands," UCLA's Agnew tells me. While Sgarbi initially presented himself as anti-Mafia, he adds, "that wasn't the way it was at all."

In fact, Sgarbi had been propped up by "Pino" Giammarinaro, Agnew says, "a quite famous fixer from about 30 to 40 years ago. He was the guy who linked together national politics, Mafia, local politics, and the health system—clinics, hospitals, and so on. These are big sources of money coming from Rome, which you can cream off, which is really what the Mafia are interested in."

Days after the mayor's resignation, Toscani sent an impassioned letter to the Sicilian president. It was printed in Italian newspapers with the headline "Save the Treasure of Salemi."

Toscani described his instrumental role in bringing the collection to Salemi and warned, "Now this treasure of over 55,000 titles is rotting, surrounded by mice, and the project is at risk of being ruined forever."

The City of Salemi promptly issued a press release disputing Toscani's claims. "The archive of film is intact and maintained under the best conditions," Vice Mayor Antonella Favuzza insisted. "[Toscani] has nothing to do with this archive."

Over the phone that day in June, Toscani kept intoning, "I wish I had those videos," with an obsessive intensity reminiscent of a supervillain, but he wouldn't admit any responsibility for the "bureaucracy" that had stopped the Kim's project in its tracks.

"Nothing is going on with those videos. All the videos are rotting in a Salemi room in mice shit," he lamented.

I asked him about the vice mayor's statement disputing such claims. "She's a mafioso!" Toscani said. "She's a good liar!"

I later tracked down the woman who had first alerted Toscani to the collection, Franca Pauli. Over Skype, she fired back at his claims. "If it was rotting, it was because of him!" she said.

Pauli had served as the mediator between the town of Salemi and Kim. Her husband, Dario, had gone to Manhattan to pack the boxes himself, and the couple even fronted the $15,000 to pay for the slow-boat shipping in early 2009.

Pauli says that while the videos were traveling across the Atlantic, Toscani had insisted she meet with his assistant, who'd tried to persuade her to divert the collection to Toscani's office in Pisa, so they could start a business streaming the videos on Amazon—copyright regulations be damned, apparently. She had protested: They had made a promise to the people of Salemi and to Kim. "Don't worry about all that," the assistant had said. "You just have to convince Mr. Kim that Salemi is a bad place."

After she'd refused to take part in this scheme, Pauli says, "Toscani was much colder with me."

Later that year, Pauli signed on to help organize a festival of Iranian films—only for the city to cancel the budget she had been promised. "I had worked on this festival for two months, and I found myself with no money and like, 10 Iranian people asking me for money. It was really a nightmare. So at that point, I had to say, 'Enough.'"

As of January 2010, when Pauli last visited Salemi, "still no one had done anything to the collection."

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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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