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Essential Orphanistas: John Maddox.

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Eric Kohn April 13, 2010 at 2:07AM

Essential Orphanistas: John Maddox.
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Last week, I shared a clip from Bill Morrison's work with damaged films discovered in the collection of one John Maddox from Duck, Run, Tennessee. Today, I bring you John Maddox himself, courtesy of the Library of Congress's George Willeman:


John Maddox, holding the dollar he was given by a friend to ensure his films made it to the Library of Congress.

Maddox, an apparently jolly octogenarian, kept a wide variety of silent B-movie westerns and other random films in a small storage unit behind his house. Decades ago, he used to show the films to his neighbors in his backyard. And while he wasn't exactly trained in the proper techniques for keeping nitrate film in top conditions, some of the movies managed to survive at least well enough for Willeman to recommend them to Morrison. Here's Maddox's makeshift storage room, which made dozens of archivists shudder when Willeman showed this image at the Orphan Film Symposium:

With good reason.

Maddox's story is a fascinating one, if only because it provides a reminder of just how much possibly essential filmic material continues to lurk in the dark shadows of personal collections around the world. YouTube consumers rarely think twice about the fragility of moving image material (although digital content is actually a lot less stable when you stop and think about it), so this type of preservationist discovery should offer at least a little hope that the hunt for missing pieces of history continues.

Here's an amazing still from Cromwell the Wicked, which was found in Maddox's collection: