Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project by Matt Wolf (dir) - review by Peter Conrad

Peter Conrad

Thinking Inside the Box

Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project


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Recorder is about a machine, a woman and their creepy symbiosis. The machine in Matt Wolf’s documentary is the VCR, the clunky, now happily obsolete box that, when fed with reels of tape, made it possible for the first time to preserve the unmemorable ephemera that flickered through our television sets; the woman is Marion Stokes, an African-American librarian who spent her last three decades holed up in a Philadelphia apartment supervising a battery of eight VCRs that recorded every available television channel all day long; and the tale of their union – which concluded in 2012 when, after Stokes’s death, her son ritualistically turned off her video equipment as if disconnecting her life support – is a wry, sad, timely comment on our relationship with the technological media through which we conduct so much of our social, emotional and intellectual lives.

By the time she died, Stokes looked like an obsessive hoarder whose habits exemplified the absurdity of consumerism. She possessed a grand total of 192 Apple Macs, though she never used the internet because she feared being spied on. In eight overflow apartments she stored – or perhaps stowed –

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