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If you made it to Pixelodeon a couple of weeks back, you might have seen Rob Parrish’s Tapes of My Father. Composed entirely of found, public domain footage set to voice over, Tapes purports to be a son’s presentation of recently unearthed videos made by his late father, a public access TV producer who secretly recorded his innermost thoughts over stock footage reels. On Parrish’s Blip.TV page, the clip is listed as the 33rd episode of his fascinating and addictive weekly series Next to Heaven, but to me it seems like a more logical entry point for the series as a whole than any of the 32 episodes that precede it.
The intro to Tapes is played dead straight. When the son says something like, “Releasing dad’s secret videos in this film is part of the healing process for me,” even though it plays over footage branded “Public Access Producer’s Association” (or, “P.A.P.A”), it’s still possible that this could be a real, non-ironic tribute from a real son to his real dad–there certainly are enough of them on YouTube. But the second we flip over to “dad’s footage”, it’s clear that Parrish isn’t emulating or even spoofing the existing family tribute genre. He’s much more interested in a different genre: the comedy of personal misery.
Parrish seems to be using the juxtaposition of old footage and narration both to evoke nostalgia for the era of the totally subjective movie narrator, and to conduct an investigation into the nuances of a certain type of first-person storytelling, one that’s simultaneously confessional and not at all reliable. But all of that aside, each episode also works as a kind of convoluted joke. Throughout the series, as in Tapes, you never see the punchline coming right away, because Parrish is so slick about slipping into the tropes of the footage that define each clip. Maybe it’s a trick of the ears and eyes, but Parrish’s modulated voices pair so well with his montages that, sometimes, it’s not until I’m laughing out loud that I remember that I’m watching a manipulation.
I’ve watched about ten Next to Heaven episodes, and my favorite so far is probably episode 41, in which an ex-junkie describes replacing his addiction to heroin with an addiction to anti-drug education films–particularly those narrated by Paul Newman.