Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project
What may or may not have social currency is a question obfuscated by the mysteries of human behaviour. Matt Wolf’s documentary Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project shows that the only real difference between a hoarder and a collector is what “value someone else has in what they’ve got”.
Marion Stokes is the collector in question. Although largely an enigma, we learn definitive things about her along the way: she was born in the Depression era, she was active in the Socialist Party in the 1960s, she was undoubtedly tracked by the FBI, and, above all else, she instinctively understood the power of television to inform or misinform its viewer. With that last fact, Wolf’s film makes it clear that she knew then what we are only truly coming to terms with now: media reflects society back to itself. In the 1970s, Marion Stokes hit record and began amassing her collection of 70,000 VHS tapes of live televised news broadcasts.
Recorder relies on the mystery of its subject to keep its viewer intrigued. The film is pieced together through her archival footage and interviews from family members and employees. They help to draw a sketch of her life, but it’s not quite satisfactory. Instead, the film works to arrest the attention of its viewers through her archival footage. The strategy largely works. We react emotionally to the drama of “Breaking News” splashing across our screens. Nonetheless, it is a missed opportunity to use news footage to clearly articulate her point that if you control what people see, you can, in turn, control what they think. The interlude about the Iranian Hostage Crisis, which gave birth to the 24-hour news cycle, is the most pertinent and successful example. However, it seems television used other crises just as successfully to solidify reigning ideological standpoints.
Ultimately, an invaluable message is encased in Recorder’s portrait of Marion Stokes. Those in power are able to write their own history from their own bias. And so, no matter how exhausting, it is vital to be a critical viewer.
Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project is released in select cinemas and on demand on 6th November 2020.
Watch the trailer for Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project here: