ARCHIVIST, COLLECTOR, ODD OBSESSION LIBRARIAN
Written + Video Produced By Sean Stillmaker | Photographed By Kelley Mullarkey + Sean Stillmaker
From the pyramids of Egypt to the rock art of Scotland, ancient societies across the world have forged their existence into physical artifacts so as to be preserved, studied and remembered for eternity.
However, our cultural landscape and heritage has diverged from physical preservation to digitalization. With this prevalent process many artifacts remain lost in transition.
This truth has never been out of focus for Brian Chankin – an analog purist, obsessive-compulsive collector and film archivist.
Brian’s passion and obsession has been immersed in the world of film ever since he was a child growing up in New Mexico watching films like Big Trouble In Little China with his father. Upon adulthood his admirable cultural contribution has been opening up his video rental store in Chicago appropriately named Odd Obsession.
In business for nine years, Brian has amassed a DVD and VHS collection of over 22,000 titles available to rent. With each title personally owned by Brian, he’s un-beholden to any stake-owner, bank or nonprofit entity, the epitome of reigning supreme as a small business owner.
“I know that so many of these movies I have hard copies of will never see the light of day in any sort of streaming method, or even on YouTube, let alone a Redbox,” Brian explained. “So having the hard copy, having the real archive of it, is a big deal. Not to say that I’m the only one that has these, a lot of people have them. But I don’t know anyone that has this sort of collection.”
Odd Obsession is a unique palace of traditional-based video rentals. The vast venerated worldly collection of physical film history adorns shelves meticulously categorized to maximize discovery pleasure.
Collecting is only part of Brian’s self confessed obsessive compulsiveness. His scrupulous cataloguing tendencies are congruent to any perfectionist librarian, which is evident through the gulf of unfamiliar titles.
The store is organized into an abyss of sections, some categorically obvious and others entirely idiosyncratic. Brian has part of the store broken down to country of origin and time period, subcategorized by director while other sections like American Exploitation that has subcategories like “Islands, Jungles, Nazis and Prisons,” which hasn’t been changed in over eight years, but is “still fitting,” Brian said.
Ignoring the contemporary and new release sections, renting at the store feels more like an archaeological journey rather than a passive viewing hobby. But for the collector who owns this, for the man whose job is to watch, maintain and preserve film all day, what section is truly special to him?
Brian cannot possibly give one definitive answer because his love and passion for each genre is immense. But world cinema, specifically genre-oriented films on shoestring budgets resonate deeply.
“Italy is the most unique country film wise to me. They’ve been through so many different phases, similar to the U.S. I love third world cinema, but I think American cinema is the best,” Brian explained. “Italian film really explored genre better than any other film… They’ve founded these unique subcategories in cinema. All of them on a low budget and all of them in rejection to normal narrative, the normal everything – the normal classic style, but done it in a way all on their own.”
His journey attaining over 22,000 titles was certainly no easy feat. Before opening his store he had a personal collection of approximately 2,000 titles from his childhood growing up in Albuquerque. Having been disillusioned with working for others, Brian felt compelled to go into business for himself.
“I figured I had enough movies that people wanted to see that others didn’t have,” Brian recalled.
Taking an unconventional approach, similar to how Kevin Smith financed Clerks, Brian maxed out his credit cards to double his collection in 2003, a time when DVDs cost an average $20, and for foreign specialty and those on Criterion, an easy $30 per title.
Although struggling to make ends meet at the beginning, the gamble paid off. Within two years from opening shop in Lincoln Park, Brian grew his collection from 4,000 to 6,000 titles and needed more shelf space. He has since remained at the same location in Wicker Park and nearly quadrupled his collection.
Having this completest collecting drive has been present for as long as he could remember, but not just with film. Brian has been an avid vinyl collector for over 12 years amassing over 8,000 records.
His collection is almost entirely comprised of reggae with a specific focus on Jamaican reggae sounds from 1985 to 1991. “It’s the epitome of music for me,” Brian proclaimed.
While inside his flat only blocks away from his store, Brian pulled out a variety of records from Banana Man to King Sunny Ade describing the creative labels, pulsating beats and DJ sound blasting wars that were intrinsic to reggae records.
Having an appeasing sound is of course the first reason why Brian is so enamored with reggae music, but it’s also because the genre plays fully heartedly into his compulsion.
“That’s surely my obsession with reggae – it’s never ending capabilities. There’s always more out there and I’ll never find every reggae record.”
This obsessive compulsive collecting drive can be a nuisance and often times “hurts” him when he has something missing from his collection, Brian said humbly, still snickering at his own folly.
“If I don’t have it, I feel very weird. I need to complete it somehow or until I find something else to freak out on and I forget it.”
DVDs and records have recently taken a back seat to Brian’s new obsession, collecting film posters from Ghana. These physical artifacts are as creatively distinct as they are connected to his primary passion.
For Brian, words cannot describe his sheer jubilation of these masterful works of art. Instead he allows the posters to talk for themselves. With over 100 distinguishable sheets in his collection, he eagerly rolled out some of his favorites.
“It’s movies that seem familiar to me but painted in a way I can’t even understand,” he tried conceptualizing. “It’s like each artists own take on a movie, maybe they haven’t even seen the movie… The posters are always, always more interesting than what the actual movie is.”
Just recently though this obsession has led into another related avenue – collecting barbershop posters from Ghana.
“These are even better than the movie posters. They’re just so simple and goofy,” Brian simply summed up this obsession.
With such a diverse and specific collection habit, Brian emulates a minimalist sense of modest and comfortable personal style, T-shirts and shorts being his uniform.
“I dress like the skate shop next door,” laughed Brian. “I was a skater growing up in Albuquerque.”
But it’s fashion that’s quickly gaining traction at Odd Obsession. Brian’s been creating Odd Obsession T-shirts of movie icons such as Charles Bronson and Willem Dafoe – who’s been seen recently sporting the shirt himself.
Whether it’s creating T-shirts or curating Ghanaian art, Brian ceases to relinquish his quest for archiving, cataloging and preserving his film history collection.
“I think it’s an amazing collection. I think it should be saved. That in itself is why I have Odd Obsession Movies, to preserve movies, to preserve their space in history. The physicality of things is an important part of our existence. The more and more things go digital, the more you’ll loose, and I don’t think people understand that,” Brian concluded.
Music By Theran Alexander