Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project—Get Your VCR Ready

Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project
Record this!

Do you remember the days of VHS? Well, with this documentary you’ve got no choice but to as you head back down memory lane.

A film about the life of Marion Stokes (1929-2012), it explores her character and archivist/hoarding tendencies as she amassed 400,000+ hours of American and world history through endless VHS recordings.

Ever wondered how dedicated someone can be to something? Here we go.

Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project

Directed by Matt Wolf, Recorder doesn’t concern itself too much with Stokes’ seeming addiction for recording history.

It’s as much as a character study of a very intelligent, if obsessive, activist and intellectual who was a mass of energy.

Stokes grew up in Philadelphia and was a librarian in her early 20s. She was also passionate about social equality and justice.

She was initially a socialist but later in life appeared to take a more libertarian world view, particularly loving technology and how it could make people achieve great things. For instance, she was obsessed with Apple and worshipped Steve Jobs.

In the late 1970s she also helped run a early morning local TV show called Input, which discussed important social justice topics of the day.

And here’s a full episode to give you the gist of all that.

Of the clips of these going around, you can see Stokes was smart, forthright, confident, and clearly thinking about social progression and advances.

She was dogmatic, enigmatic, reclusive, but also classed as a loving and generous person.

And as mass media TV coverage stepped up in the 1970s, she became aware the news sometimes would skip over certain details and spin stories in incorrected directions.

This was particularly the case with the 1979 Iran hostage crisis.

Her reaction to that was to start recording everything she could, 24/7, across American channels Fox, MSNBC, CNN, C-SPAN, and CNBC.

She eventually did this across eight VCR players using VHS and Betamax tapes, with her whole living coming to revolve around managing her archive.

Stokes was meticulous in all of this. Her care in preserving the collection was outstanding and has helped preserve decades of world news for posterity.

Whilst doing this she also read voraciously and amassed over 30,000 books (all of which she stored around her various properties). She also received 100-150 monthly publications (all of which she also stored).

In the late ’70s she married for the second time to John Stokes Jr. and the pair viewed themselves as soulmates. He died several years before Marion, but it’s from him she became wealthy as he was already a millionaire when they met.

And that’s where she got the wealth do complete all these seemingly impossible projects.

Stokes may seem like a difficult individual throughout the film, even falling out with her son (Michael Metelits) for many years, but she believed what she was doing was for the greater good.

For some people, Marion Stokes will come across as an OCD hoarder with a manic intent to record everything for no apparent reason.

But in a reclusive and peculiar way, Stokes’ aim was to reveal the set agendas of governments and news organisations to try and promote real reporting.

Her recordings were her way of persevering something for future generations so they can learn and benefit from what she did.

And that’s ultimately the case as all 17,000+ tapes were driven from Philadelphia to San Francisco in four separate shipping containers.

Meanwhile, her book collection was donated to a charity for disadvantaged communities.

And the 400,000+ hours of unprecedented footage will gradually be stored digital in the Internet Archive for historic purposes.

So, at the heart of Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project you have an intellectual eager to preserve the important moments of history.

But also someone who’s drive and focus didn’t always make her the easiest person in the world, but has gifted the world with something unique.

And the documentary is an intriguing character study, but also a time capsule for the defining historical moments in the second half of the 20th century.


  1. How much money did this woman have to buy all those videotapes? And how many videorecorders to record so much on multiple channels? And how big was her house to store them all? Video cassettes cost something like £7.99 for 4 and they held 3 or 4 hours. I heard the 4-hour tape was thinner and lower quality than 3-hour tape, but possibly this was just urban myth. Even if you set the player to longplay you’d need 3 cassettes minimum for every 24 hours’ TV. Sounds like recording all this stuff was a fulltime job, except instead of getting paid you’re shelling out £1000s on video recorders and more and more and more tapes!


    • She married into wealth, so she ended up spreading everything between her 9 apartments/houses. So it’s an example of luck and privilege really, as most people wouldn’t have been able to do this. But at least the recordings will be put to some use for posterity.


  2. PS Betamax was way better than VHS. I did what they’d now call an internship at a TV station back in the day and VHS was never used. The Betamax they had there was full DVD quality, crystal clear. Nothing like raggedy old VHS!

    Liked by 1 person

      • Back when I first saw video recorders there were 2 competing systems VHS and Beta (nobody called it Betamax, except at the TV station). Everything at the video library was on VHS. But not everything was on Beta, so the decision was easy.
        PS the Betamax at the TV station may have been a professional grade Betamax… whatever it was, the picture was way better than VHS. True professional quality, which VHS wasn’t really.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I have zero recollection of Betamax, it was always VHS for me. But I was a young ‘un back then of less than 10 around 1993 so things are rather hazy on that matter. But I did manage to record a few things here and there, to the point of obsession! Although not on Marion Stokes’ level.

          Liked by 1 person

Dispense with some gibberish!

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