Marion Stokes was, among many things, a black civil rights activist, a communist, a librarian, an Apple computer evangelist, a Trekker, a mother and a wife. It can also be argued that she was one of the greatest media analysts of modern times — though in secret.
In the magnificent documentary Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project, we learn that, for more than 30 years, Stokes (assisted by a handful of household staff and occasionally her family) filled 7,000 VHS tapes with around-the-clock recordings of TV shows — mainly news programs, but pretty much anything that aired on Philadelphia channels.
Her interest was sparked by the Iran hostage crisis in 1979, at which point “she hit record and never stopped,” recalls her son, Michael Metelits. Stokes was suspicious of the coverage, concerned about bias and mistruths from the government and the media, and, in Metelits’ words, keenly aware — to an obsessive degree — of TV’s power “to inform or misinform.”
Director Matt Wolf (Bayard & Me) presents an expansive, fascinating portrait of a woman with a fearless, intractable, bludgeoning intellect, as well as the tension between genius and madness, collecting and hoarding, and whether a person who’s actually being tailed by the FBI — as Stokes once was — can really be considered paranoid.
Now playing at Grail Moviehouse