The first time I talked to Stephen Parr, it felt like a test. I’d been referred to him as a lead to hard-to-find footage of the Velvet Underground while researching films for a book on the group. At our first meeting, Parr asked me whether it was true that noted avant-garde filmmaker/musician Tony Conrad had been an original member. I had to explain at some length that this wasn’t the case, though Conrad had indeed played with John Cale and Lou Reed before the Velvets formed. My explanation wasn't enough for Parr, who proceeded to jab me with questions and make me justify myself.
Satisfied after several minutes that I did indeed know my Velvet Underground, he went to some lengths to help me view rare footage of the group through contacts at the Andy Warhol museum. Several years after that, he invited me to give a Velvet Underground film night of sorts at his small funky theater of sorts at the Oddball Films archive, near Capp and 18th Streets in the Mission. I presented several other screenings of rare rock films at Oddball over the past few years, and on multiple occasions I witnessed Stephen’s generally pessimistic view give way to fanboy enthusiasm when lights dimmed and the show got underway.
The last time I saw him this spring, he had no apparent physical problems, so it came as a shock to myself and the entire Bay Area film community when he died Oct. 24 at 63 years old. According to those close to him, Parr died from complications related to Parkinson’s disease.
For the past three decades or so, Parr ran Oddball Films and its massive archive that preserved the kind of footage most other film repositories overlook or even disdain. Educational shorts, industrial movies and early punk performances all found a home at Oddball. He even collected actual home movies, all obtained during “home movie days” when the originals would be given to the archive in exchange for higher-tech copies. Clients who licensed footage ranged from mainstream media corporations like ABC, HBO, and MTV to independent filmmakers struggling to complete their first feature.