Matt Wolf’s take on the oddball story of Marion Stokes has you wavering between the feeling that she was either a chronic compulsive obsessive hoarder, or that maybe her actions were the result of her ability to see the enormous value of recording the present for the future.
African/American Stokes who had been born into a wealthy Philadelphia family became a passionate political activist and such a committed Communist she and her first husband actually tried to emigrate to Cuba at one time. HIghly opinionated, she became a regular panellist on a local TV Discussion Show. But it was watching others on TV ……in particular ….on the News Broadcasts …… that became her real lifetime work. In the late 1970’s she started taping all the TV news, kept 3 to 8 VCRs going round the clock, 24 hours a day, taping multiple channels.
This lasted for the next 30 years, and she retained every single tape, cataloguing and storing it, creating a running diary of television news coverage, from network to CNN to the cable channels that followed.
Stokes was also fascinated with not just the technology that allowed her to record, but also the introduction and development of personal computers. She became a big fan of Steve Jobs and Apple and not only bought a huge quantity of everything thing they made, but she also invested heavily in their stocks when they first became available. The vast profits she ended up making on these enabled her to buy nine apartments where she not only stored all the VHS Cassettes but every single newspaper and magazine she had read, and her book collection which was in excess of 50,000. She never threw anything away.
It was her second marriage to John Stokes who co-hosted one of these local TV discussion shows that seemed to give her some personal happiness. Everyone interviewed testified that this very unlikely pair turned out to be a perfect match. They were however so much into each other, that Marion always wanting to control everything, sended up ostracizing John;s adult daughters and she didn’t talk to her own son for years,
Much of the detail of Stoke’s daily life came from her trio of personal staff : maid/carer, chauffeur and personal assistant who all seemed fond of their late employer that they considered a harmless eccentric. Although they really couldn’t see the importance of her breaking off a social engagement to be driven at top speed home just so she could change a video tape that had just finished.
By the time the credits roll the jury is still out on Stokes real motives for her life’s project, but Wolf does paint her as a fascinating and relatively charming woman who succeeded in achieving her ambition even though she herself never made it perfectly clear to anyone what her real aspiration was
What was abundant clear though was that whatever we may have thought of her 30 years of recording, the historians as the San Francisco Internet Archive couldn’t contain their sheer excitement at accepting the several trucks full of Stoke’s tapes. As so many of the TV networks had never bothered to archive their own broadcasts, these were the only records in existence, Academics will be able to study how the networks had been portraying the news especially in major events like the Iran Hostage Crisis and if in fact their coverage had actually affected history.
This well produced documentary arrives at a vital point in our history when politicians want so much to manipulate real news, and an increasing number of so-called Reality TV stars want to us it simply to promote their fake personas. One wonders what people would think in 30 years time if we carried on Marion Stokes work.