Reviews

Round the Clock Coverage

Shyla Seller

Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project is a documentary film by Matt Wolf about Marion Stokes, a Black librarian, collector, communist and television commentator, who recorded 24-hour-a-day television news on Beta and VHS cassette tapes from 1979, starting with the Iran hostage crisis, until her death in 212. Stokes recorded multiple news channels at the same time on televisions and videocassette decks in her home in Philadelphia and created a collection of 71,716 tapes of local and national news recordings, which trace the early years and growth of CNN and Fox, as well as closed captioning technology and the decline of local cable network news. Wolf focuses mostly on Stokes’s life story, her relationships and family life, and how her family and friends perceived her and her documentation and collecting activities. Contemporary interviews are cut with news footage digitized from Stokes’s recordings and attempt to discern a motivation behind her mammoth thirty-five-year project. There’s plenty of historical footage to choose from, and Wolf focuses on the most iconic news events from those thirty-five years to demonstrate the influence television news has on our understanding of society and the world; seeing Obama elected president on grainy VHS footage is a jarring reminder of how dedicated Stokes was to a technology long abandoned by most. But Stokes’s project and person is best expressed in the clips of her on Input, a panel discussion show on public access television in Philadelphia, where she was a panelist from 1968–1971; her fearless intelligence, bravery and commitment to a better world shines in nuanced and challenging conversations about race and social justice difficult to find on television today.

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Shyla Seller

Shyla Seller works as an archivist and editor in Vancouver, on the unceded traditional territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.


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