25 movies added to National Film Registry

Baltimore Sun reporter

From the MIchael Sragow Gets Reel blog:

Today the Library of Congress announced 25 more selections for the National Film Registry. The Registry is designed to highlight the American cinema's broad social-cultural significance as well as mark its key creative leaps. It also underlines the need for film preservation -- to safe-keep our native art and our collective historical memory.

Happily, in doing so, the Library each year manages to honor an eclectic group of entertaining or fascinating movies.

Airplane!" (1980). At the tail-end of the Seventies disaster-film craze, this smash-hit parody of a plane-in-peril movie brought Hellzapoppin' brashness and energy to the burlesque of Hollywood genres. Though it spawned sub-standard sequels and a debased comedy sub-genre of its own (see, for instance, the "Scary Movie" series), it also led to some other disreputable classics -- the "Police Squad!" TV show and "Naked Gun" franchise, also starring Leslie Nielsen.

"All the President’s Men" (Pictured above, 1976). This rendering of how Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward ( Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein ( Dustin Hoffman) exposed the underbelly of the Nixon White House both fed into contemporary political disillusionment and romanticized investigative journalism. (The romance peeked with Jason Robards' debonair depiction of editor Ben Bradlee as a swashbuckling commander in a well-tailored suit.) Screenwriter William Goldman cannily inserted a show-biz saying into the script -- "Follow the money" -- that was widely seen as the most authentic and meaningful line in the whole movie. It was nowhere to be found in Bernstein and Woodward's original book.

"The Bargain" (1914). Cowboy star William S. Hart's debut movie. The Library of Congress says, "the film was selected because of Hart’s charisma, the film’s authenticity and realistic portrayal of the Western genre and the star’s good/bad man role as an outlaw attempting to go straight."

"Cry of Jazz" (1959). African-American independent filmmaker Ed Bland made this 34-minute short subject in Chicago’s black neighborhoods with scores of volunteers helping him conduct, film and edit interviews with "interracial artists and intellectuals." Featuring Sun Ra and his Arkestra, this short, according to the Library of Congress, "argues that black life in America shares a structural identity with jazz music" and "demonstrates the unifying tension between rehearsed and improvised jazz."

"Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB (1967)." This is the short film that George Lucas wants you to know about when he discusses returning to "small experimental movies." Made while he was studying film at USC, later expanded into "THX 1138" as part of Francis Ford Coppola's American Zoetrope production slate at Warner Bros., it's a Big-Brother-is-Watching-You dystopia that created a sensation in film circles -- I remember reading about in the basement of the Bleecker Street Cinema when I was working for a defunct magazine called "Film Society Review."

"The Empire Strikes Back (1980)." Lucas invented and sustained the "Star Wars" series, but director Irvin Kershner elevated its artistic standing with this second entry in the series. (For my tribute to Kershner, click here.) Now how about including Kershner's other great movies, like the film that won him this assignment -- a lesser-known but also terrific sequel, "The Return of a Man Called Horse?"


"The Exorcist" (1973). However you feel about William Friedkin's monster hit of a horror movie (I'm among the skeptics), it widened the horror audience, poured new ingredients into the cauldron, and brought other gifted filmmakers into the form -- including John Boorman, who made the visually extravagant "Exorcist II: The Heretic." That's Max von Sydow and Linda Blair in a scene from Friekin's film, above.

"The Front Page" (1931). This gleeful rejiggering of the crack Ben Hecht–Charles MacArthur stage comedy about Chicago newspapers influenced rapid-fire farces like the inside-Hollywood spoof "Bombshell" and spawned the now-more-famous "His Girl Friday." It remains a gas to see and hear Hecht and MacArthur's ink-stained clowns spew purple jokes and argot in Lewis Milestone's gritty, energetic version. Director Milestone ("All Quiet on the Western Front" always worked best in the trenches—the movie’s press room has all the testosterone of a gym or a barracks.

"Grey Gardens" (1976). The Albert and David Maysles cinema-verite milestone created a cult for East Hampton, New York's mother-and-daughter eccentrics, “Big Edie” and “Little Edie” Beale, relatives of Jacqueline Kennedy. It was the basis for the Broadway show and the HBO movie of the same name.

"I Am Joaquin" (1969). Luis Valdez, who later created the Los Angeles theater sensation "Zoot Suit" as well as its movie version, and the Ritchie Valens biopic "La Bamba," made this 20-minute adaptation of Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales's epic poem. According to the Library, the poem "weaves together the long tangled roots of his Mexican, Spanish, Indian and American parentage and a past mythology of pre-Columbian cultures" and the film "is important to the history and culture of Chicanos in America, spotlighting the challenges they have endured because of discrimination."

"It’s a Gift (1934)." It's the third W.C Fields film on the list; we'd be happy if the Library decided to include his entire canon.

"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."

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