James "Jaime" Madden, Audio Archivest
I was on a plane thumbing through a magazine when I read a story about the man who discovered an old Jim Morrison film shot during his student days at Florida State University. I was interested in the story behind the find in the words of a professional archivest. I talked to Jaime and he agreed to this interview.
Is film your specialty? No, actually audio is my specialty. I had experience working with film and I put that to use in dealing with the material that made up the project we working with when the Morrison film was discovered.
As an archivist how do you approach the task of looking through hundreds of hours of tapes? We had well over a thousand films of various running lengths to view, describe, arrange and transfer as part of the project.
Everyday I loaded the films unto a Steenbeck 1901 flatbed film editor and got to work. I would view as many films as possible in a single day making notations regarding film subject, shooting location, individuals involved, types of scenes, whether the film was silent or had sound, whether it was in color or black and white, who created the film, etc.
Which is most important? quality, content or style? Or all they all taken under consideration? The mission of the Florida State Archives is to collect, preserve, and make available for research historically significant records relating to Florida. Therefore we took into consideration whether the film had some lasting historical value to researchers. We focused mostly upon content as I mentioned earlier. So we were watching for locations, important Floridians, noteworthy celebrities, significant historical events, things of that nature as we described and processed the films. Some films were of interest because of their production style. Several of the films were created by the Florida Development Commission which was responsible for exporting the "visit sunny beautiful Florida" theme throughout the country and the world. Many of their films were shot with a certain style that represents the way Florida was perceived by others outside the state. While many of these films aren't necessarily historically significant they are utilized quite frequently by film producers to represent Florida to their viewers.
Do you attribute recognizing Morrison to your training as an archivist, your attention to detail? Are you a big Morrison fan? Or is it a combination of the above? I would say it was a combination of my training as an archivist and being familiar enough with Jim Morrison to recognize him as a young man. Archivists are trained to do several different jobs. In conducting archival description the archivist has to pay very close attention to any detail that a document, photograph, map, audio recording or film has to exhibit. The details are essential to an accurate description.
An improper or incomplete description can render an very important archival record absolutely worthless in terms of research value. It’s quite possible that the average arrangement and description archivist would have missed identifying that young man as Jim Morrison if they weren't familiar with him. I have had a life long interest in all types of music. I put that passion into my work here at the Archives in digitizing the materials in the Florida Folklife Collection.
I've been in bands and have a weekly radio show on a local college station. Anybody who is interested in music goes through a phase where they listen to "classic rock" radio. As you know, one of the most prominent bands featured on those stations is The Doors.
On the particular day that I viewed the Morrison film he caught my eye immediately and I kept asking myself "Who is that?" I viewed the film several times in slow motion and examined his face closely as he read the letter in the film. The face was familiar but I couldn't place it. When I got to the second brief scene that featured Morrison in the office talking with the school administrator I noticed that half of his face was obscured by shadow and he had a short speaking part. That’s when I suddenly realized who it was. Several of the early publicity shots of The Doors utilized chiaroscuro, casting Jim in half light to convey a sense of mystery. When I saw him portrayed that way in the film it suddenly clicked, this is Jim Morrison.
Naturally I initially thought “but why would it be Jim Morrison and not any number of other people?” I was aware that he had gone to school here in Tallahassee at FSU and that he had been involved in film. There wasn’t anything on the film can to indicate that he was in the film. It was simply another non-descript film that had to be viewed and described. The more I watched it the more I grew certain that it was in fact Jim Morrison. I quickly researched several early photographs on him and compared them to the film. I felt confident that I had correctly identified him.
I told my boss, Jody Norman, that I was certain it would be of interest. We included the Morrison film when we transferred selected films from 16mm format to Beta tape and placed a brief clip from that film on our website among other noteworthy selections. A few days after doing so The Doors archives contacted us to request a copy and confirmed that it was Jim and that the film represented the earliest known footage of him known to exist at that time.
Shortly thereafter several media services ran stories on the film and it enjoyed a brief period of celebrity on our website, and proved quite a headache to our IT personnel who struggled to handle that popularity without our crashing our servers.