By Jeff Cunningham

When there are more than 42,000 items in a collection, choosing a favorite seems impossible. Yet Tim Hackman, dean of ODU Libraries, rattled off several as he thought on the new video collection housed in the Perry Library as Naro Video @ ODU Libraries:

  • “The Conversation” (which he calls the ultimate 1970s paranoia thriller);
  • “Road House” (“the greatest Great Bad Movie ever”);
  • “Unforgiven” (for the line “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.”); and
  • “Magnolia” (in which Tom Cruise “chews the scenery like it’s a bag of beef jerky”).

Tim Cooper who, along with retired ODU art history professor Linda McGreevy, donated the Naro collection to the University in 2020, loves what he calls the “bad movies” (even name-dropping noted cult classic filmmaker Ed Wood, Jr.).

McGreevy and Cooper also pointed out that “Mystery Science Theater 3000”, a series in which a man and his two robot companions trapped on a spaceship watch old B movies and riff on them, is in the collection in its entirety.

McGreevy also listed the 2010 British film “Jackboots on Whitehall,” a hilarious film set during World War II with puppets and stop motion, as a personal favorite.

Those are but a small sample of the treasures included in Naro Video @ ODU Libraries, which officially opened to the public on March 3, 2024. Hackman hopes the collection attracts students, faculty and researchers alike, while also tapping into the community equity the name “Naro” has long enjoyed in the Ghent and Larchmont sections of Norfolk.

Hackman also wants the collection to establish ODU Libraries as a major source of film-related research on the East Coast. In addition to providing one-of-a-kind sources for academia, research and community engagement in the form of screenings and festivals, he hopes the collection will attract future film-related gifts like its recent acquisition of screenwriter Arnold Schulman’s papers.

Another highlight of the collection lies in the availability of video resources to professors and students.

“If a student was interested in conducting research on filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, the Naro collection features his entire catalog,” Cooper said.

But at the same time, “it’s more than the academics,” McGreevy said, highlighting the importance of older movies and foreign films in the collection. “I think it’s incredibly important for people to stretch their imaginations and their experience through these films.”

Since many of the films and series included in the collection are not available through streaming, it also features a section called “Unstreamable,” that is hundreds of titles deep. Some titles, like the Kevin Smith religious spoof “Dogma,” are wrapped in legal entanglements, while others, such as the anime classic “Vampire Hunter D,” have lapsed distribution rights.

Others are “too provocative for sedate streaming sensibilities,” said Kris King, a curator for the NARO Video @ ODU Libraries. Namely, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “Salo” and Todd Solondz’s “Happiness.”

“All of these titles are essential pieces of cinema under real threat of being lost in the switchover to direct digital distribution,” King said.

Amid the rampant digitization of media and efforts to police content, collections like Naro Video @ ODU Libraries take the opposite approach. McGreevy spoke of a German film titled “Taxi zum Klo, which openly depicts a gay man and prompted a visit from the police when the film was shown at the Naro Theater in the 1980s.

“Taxi zum Klo” is also part of this collection.

“While I love the ease and convenience of streaming,” Hackman said, “I’m also growing increasingly frustrated by its ephemeral nature and concerned that large parts of our collective artistic heritage could be lost at any moment due to a corporate merger, a lapsed contract or even a technical glitch.”

To that end, ODU faculty, staff and students can check out materials from the Naro collection with their University ID card. Community members can join Friends of the ODU Libraries for $50 (individual) or $100 (family) a year to check out up to three movies per week. The library also rents out DVD players.

Beyond the academic benefits, preserving the experience of renting videos for the Hampton Roads community was of paramount importance to McGreevy and Cooper.

“We could have sent the collection to NYU,” said McGreevy. “There was some interest there, and I said, ‘No, that’s too far away.’ It’s nice to be at NYU, but that doesn’t help anybody around here.”

With the collection now available to the public for the first time in years, all involved hope the interest and the access leads to future fundraising opportunities, more film festivals and more contributions from the greater film community. In addition, the “Naro Minded” public screening series, established in 2022, will continue.

There’s also the chance that, like vinyl records, physical media will see a similar resurgence. In that regard, Naro Video @ ODU Libraries is more than just a window to the past, but a bridge to the present and future.

“Nothing ever completely goes away,” said McGreevy.

“Nothing good,” added Cooper. “Anything that needs to be said, it’s said in the collection.”