WASHINGTON -- America's best movies may be saved for eternity in a Blue Ridge bunker that was originally built as a haven for federal bureaucrats to survive a nuclear holocaust.
Library of Congress officials talked about the new repository at a press conference to announce the annual list of 25 films chosen for preservation on the National Film Registry. This year's selections included the 1926 version of "Ben Hur," "West Side Story," "The Hustler," "The Thin Man" and "Rear Window," as well as the first newsreel ever chosen, 1937 footage of Republic Steel strike riots. Newsreel footage of the Hindenburg disaster is also on the list.
The facility deep inside Mount Pony, near Culpeper, Va., could become the library's main film repository -- providing "precisely attuned storage conditions" for its current collection of 150,000 movies, plus future favorites, said James H. Billington, the librarian of Congress.
Besides movies, the library's collection includes more than 85,000 television titles and 2.5 million sound recordings.
Congress approved the library's takeover of the 41-acre facility, now used by the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, located about 70 miles southwest of Washington. Instead of holding gold, as it once did, the facility would hold cinematic treasures like those on the National Film Registry. The registry now includes 225 "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant movies that will be preserved under the National Film Preservation Act.
The librarian of Congress chooses the films after consulting the National Film Preservation Board, whose members include movie makers, film critics, writers, actors, theater owners and academics. This year's 25 selections are:
* "Ben-Hur" (1926): The silent film stars Ramon Novarro and cost a huge $4 million to make.
* "The Big Sleep" (1946): Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall star; Howard Hawks directs.
* "The Bridge on the River Kwai" (1957): David Lean's epic World War II story about British soldiers in a Japanese prison camp and the insanity of war.
* "Cops" (1922): Comedian Buster Keaton is pursued by an entire police force.
* "Czechoslovakia 1968" (1968): A 20-minute film produced by the United States Information Agency.
* "Grass" (1925): A documentary about Persian nomads directed by Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack and Marguerite Harrison. Cooper and Schoedsack later directed "King Kong."
* "The Great Dictator" (1940): Charlie Chaplin satirizes Hitler in the director's first real talkie.
* "Harold and Maude" (1972): An offbeat dark comedy about love and suicide directed by Hal Ashby.
* Hindenburg disaster newsreel footage (1937).
* "How the West Was Won" (1962): A cast full of stars includes Gregory Peck, Henry Fonda, James Stewart, John Wayne and Debbie Reynolds.
* "The Hustler" (1961): Paul Newman is the pool shark who challenges Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason).
* "Knute Rockne, All American" (1940): The football bio with Pat O'Brien and then-future President Ronald Reagan.
* "The Life and Death of 9413 -- A Hollywood Extra" (1928).
* "The Little Fugitive" (1953).
* "Motion Painting No. 1" (1947): An avant-garde film of geometric shapes moving to classical music.
* "The Music Box" (1932): Oscar-winning short in which Laurel and Hardy try to deliver a piano.
* "The Naked Spur" (1953): James Stewart stars as the bounty hunter in this western; Anthony Mann directs.
* "Rear Window" (1954): The Alfred Hitchcock classic stars James Stewart and Grace Kelly.
* Republic steel strike riots newsreel (1937).
* "Return of the Secaucus 7" (1980): John Sayles' tale of the reunion of seven friends who were arrested 10 years earlier on their way to a war protest.
* "The Thin Man" (1934): With this film, stars William Powell and Myrna Loy launched a series of banter-filled mysteries.
* "Tulips Shall Grow" (1942).
* "West Side Story" (1961): The classic musical rethinking of "Romeo and Juliet" with Leonard Bernstein's soaring score.
* "Wings" (1927): A silent World War I drama and winner of the first Best Picture Oscar.
Pub Date: 11/19/97