Stephen Parr and the Peculiar Archives of Oddball Films Come to Miami
Screening This Weekend at O Cinema and the Frost Museum of Science
“The transition of film,” says Oddball Films owner and eternal archivist Stephen Parr, “and its 100-year plus longevity, to the ever-changing formats of digital media bring speed, lower cost and worldwide distributability though the trade-off is now everyone is an archivist, constantly migrating data from format to format, device to device.”
This lament might sting purists who long for streamlining and clarifying the ever-increasing muck of hubris clogging up the binary pipes of the modern, digital world like a dutiful librarian. But it is especially topical coming from a man who began archiving bizarre, oddball, one-off, and just plain eccentric moving images a little over 30 years ago.
Now located in a 6,000 sq. ft. facility in San Francisco, Oddball Films is almost like a plot device in the latest Dr. Who reboot. Parr’s background in film and video art was nurtured at the Center for Media Study at SUNY Buffalo in the ’70s. From there, he eventually worked his way through various residencies and created visual aesthetics for nightclubs before settling in the Bay Area. You might not have heard of Parr before, but if you’ve seen Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, you’ve seen his work.
It was through this encounter and hire that Parr would begin his archiving as a means to initially house the source material for his own work. Parr’s approach to creating films stems from his “sensitivity, over-stimulation of media and cultural incongruities,” dueling within “a world full of ironies, where the meaningless and trivial coexist with the meaningful and vital.” Aside from obsessively documenting a collection now in excess of 50,000 films, Parr’s Oddball Films is also commercially available to other filmmakers looking for stock footage.
True archivists, however, are not hoarders or eccentric collectors, and one of Parr’s best assets as curator of this ever-growing collection is his knowledge and availability. Whether it’s weekly screenings or collaborations with like-minded individuals around the world, Parr is an excellent conductor on a virtual drive back into time. “By examining the underside of culture, I try to reveal things that were always there, which people seem to either ignore or forget. Oddly enough, that seems perfectly reasonable to me,” Parr has stated in the past.
South Florida’s cultural panache has ebbed and flowed with the moneyed cues of Art Basel setting up shop in the neighborhood. Like all communities establishing an artistic identity, times of proliferation and confusion have beset this town. Now that the dust has settled, entities have emerged that genuinely crave and nurture the artistic spirit. Presented by the Lynn and Louis Wolfson II Florida Moving Image Archives at Miami-Dade College and Obsolete Media Miami (O.M.M.), “Sonic Oddities” will be a two-hour tour through the auditory weirdness of film history, featuring films from Parr’s collection with a few from the Wolfson Archives’ collections.
Parr’s voyage, “Sonic Oddities” begins at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, August 30 at O Cinema Wynwood, 90 NW 29th St., Miami. “This screening is free. And it’s strange. Need I say more?” says Wolfson Archives Director Rene Ramos. “But seriously, Stephen Parr’s archives show how rich and strange film history can be.”
Don’t sleep on this opportunity, especially if you couldn’t score tickets for Saturday’s sold-out inaugural Science Art Cinema event at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, featuring some of his archival laser footage which he’ll be introducing amidst a frenzy of multimedia happenings.