Film mavens and filmmakers in San Francisco have long known about the marvelous, lovingly curated series known under the names "Strange Sinema," "Cinema Soiree" and others in which Oddball Films and SF Media Archive founder Stephen Parr would screen a selection of clips from his archive, all on a specific theme, and never more than once. At 8 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, in the midst of his dizzying archive loft space at 275 Capp Street, Parr put on shows for a devoted base of curious fans and friends, culling gems from his archive that perhaps only he held the keys to an archive that will now have to be sorted and relocated by other film lovers now that Parr passed away unexpectedly on October 24.
As Mission Local reports, Parr's death was "possibly as a result of complications from Parkinson’s disease," though the details remain unclear.
What is clear is that his Oddball Films archive, some 50,000 film prints and 25,000 analog video and audio tapes, a good deal of which you can explore and stream for free in digitized form on his website, is going to need a new home, and film experts are trying to figure out where that might be.
Friends described Parr as nerdy, intense, and also generous and always hospitable.
A documentary short about Parr, called Oddball, was made just a year ago, and you can watch it in full here. Parr tells filmmakers Joshua Moore and Matthew Rome that he felt he was more in the memory business. "I’m screening memories," Parr says in the film. "I’m screening history, I’m memorializing it to a certain extent, reinvigorating it, giving it a new take, recontextualizing it, remixing it."
The archive has everything from historic footage, to 1960s commercials, to quirky bits of home movies and industrial reels of factory operations. He was a collector of the discarded, the specific, and the curious bits of filmed history that might otherwise get lost to time and careless peoples' closets and basements.
And as Mission Local notes, filmmakers the world over came to know him as the go-to source for such oddities, when they needed to use them for their own work.
7x7 profiled Parr in May and noted that, "The laundry list of companies that have licensed [Oddball Films'] footage for everything from TV commercials to music videos is just as impressive and ranges from news organizations (BBC), film heavyweights (Dreamworks) and documentary producers (National Geographic). Even the band Motley Crue has been an Oddball client."
Also, though, as local historian Chris Carlsson tells Mission Local, Parr was one of those characters that defined our city, at least in an era that that may have already passed. "The guy was actually in the spirit of the Mission that I think of as the artistic, sharing, open-minded, curious and friendly attitude that people have had here for a long time. That does seem to be dying, and it’s sad to have one of the stalwarts of that spirit pass away.”