Here's more of my annotated list of the new additions to the Library of Congress' National Film Registry:
"Let There Be Light" (1946). Let's hope some astute revival programmers think of showcasing this great film, not just with John Huston's other classic war-time documentaries, "Report from the Aleutians" and "Battle of San Pietro," but with his intelligent and haunting biopic, "Freud." The War Department's ban on "Let There Be Light," an unsparing documentary about the psychological treatment of traumatized combat veterans, lasted for three and a half decades. Those of us who saw it on public television in the 1980s will never forget it. The Library says it "was blocked... because no effort was made during filming to disguise or mask the identities of combat veterans suffering from various forms of psychological trauma." Critic James Agee wrote, "the glaring obvious reason has not been mentioned: that any sane human being who saw the film would join the armed forces, if at all, with a straight face and a painfully maturing mind."
"Lonesome" (1928). As cinema, Paul Fejos's movie is beautiful and inventive; as a romance it's equally robust and delicate as it depicts two lovers caught in a storm at Coney Island.
"Make Way for Tomorrow" (1937). Orson Welles said that Leo McCarey's movie about old age in hard times would "make a stone cry," but it temporarily made McCarey unemployable -- which is why he took on the assignment of "The Awful Truth." I've been dying to see this portrait of a senior couple and their selfish children since Criterion released a disc of it this fall; this is one more good reason to catch up with it.
"Malcolm X" (1992). Spike Lee's biopic, featuring a charismatic performance by Denzel Washington in the title role, is important for all sorts of historical and cultural reasons. But for movie-lovers its biggest gift may have been to nudge this gifted but erratic director into fact-based filmmaking -- and into his current standing as one of our great documentary-makers. (That's Lee, above, in 1992.)
"McCabe and Mrs. Miller" (1971). One of my 115 favorite films. Click here to read my reasons for it on my list of "unabashed movie ecstasies."
"Newark Athlete" (1891). An experimental film made at the Edison Laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey, where the fhe filmmakers, W.K.L. Dickson and William Heise, would help create the Edison Kinetograph (the great inventor's breakthrough camera) and the Edison Kinetoscope (the great inventor's breakthrough playback device).
"Our Lady of the Sphere" (1969). The Library calls this Lawrence Jordan movie, inspired by "The Tibetan Book of the Dead," "a surrealistic dream-like journey blending baroque images with Victorian-era image cut-outs, iconic space age symbols, various musical themes and noise effects, including animal sounds and buzzers."
"The Pink Panther"(1964). Terrific choice. See my post on director Blake Edwards and this movie here.
"Preservation of the Sign Language" (1913). The Library describes it as "a two-minute film featuring George Veditz, onetime president of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) of the United States, demonstrating in sign language the importance of defending the right of deaf people to sign as opposed to verbalizing their communication."
"Saturday Night Fever" (1977). Is this the first time that a list has contained both a seminal movie and a parody of it? John Badham's superb pop musical (above) exploded into theaters -- and schools and clubs and streets -- with its red-hot Bee Gees sound track and its dynamite John Travolta performance. Travolta showed real movie-star greatness as a Brooklyn boy who achieves poetry in motion on the dance floor; he helped Badham snag audiences of all ages into the emotional vortex of frustrated post-'60s urban youth. This movie turned the disco craze volcanic -- inspiring Robert Hays' riotously funny burlesque of Travolta's dance moves in "Airplane!"
"Study of a River" (1996). The Library praises Peter Hutton's "meditative examination of the winter cycle of the Hudson River over a two-year period, showing its environment, ships plying its waterways, ice floes, and the interaction of nature and civilization. Some critics have described Hutton's work as reminiscent of the 19th century artist Thomas Cole and other painters of the Hudson River School."
"Tarantella." (1940). Again, according to the Library: "A five-minute color, avant-garde short film created by Mary Ellen Bute, a pioneer of visual music and electronic art in experimental cinema. With piano accompaniment by Edwin Gershefsky, "Tarantella" features rich reds and blues that Bute uses to signify a lighter mood, while her syncopated spirals, shards, lines and squiggles dance exuberantly to Gershefsky's modern beat."
"A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" (1945) Elia Kazan displayed his extraordinary movie talent in his very first feature film, based on the novel by Betty Smith about a girl growing up in Brooklyn tenements at the turn of the last century. It inspired one of critic James Agee's most moving and original reviews. He praised Kazan's handling of the girl (the incandescent Peggy Ann Garner) and her alcoholic father (the searingly poignant James Dunn), and noted Kazan's budding visual artistry: "There is a shot of Dunn ghastly drunk in his inky waiter's suit, so painfully malappropriate to daylight, being shoved and shouted along his home street, which is as poetic and individualized an image of a state beneath humiliation as I have seen."
"A Trip Down Market Street" (1906). Give the Library of Congress credit for both historical and contemporary journalistic savvy. "Sixty Minutes" recently covered this 13-minute "actuality" film of a cable-car ride along San Francisco's Market Street, detailing how historian David Kiehn discovered that it was (as the Library notes) "likely filmed just a few days before the devastating earthquake on April 18, 1906."