“Pulp Fiction,” “Roger & Me,” “The Magnificent Seven,” “Mary Poppins,” “Judgment at Nuremberg” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” are among 25 films selected by the Library of Congress this year to be added to its National Film Registry.
The registry is composed of U.S.-made pics dating from 1912 that are deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” enough to warrant preservation. The list is expanded annually by 25 titles selected by the librarian from suggestions by the facility’s curators, members of the National Film Preservation Board and the public. The 2013 selections bring the number of pics in the Registry to 625.
Eligible films run the gamut of Hollywood classics, silent films, documentaries, independent and experimental motion pictures. This year’s picks are the usual eclectic mix that include MGM’s 1956 sci-fi classic, “Forbidden Planet;” John Wayne’s much-praised turn in John Ford’s 1952 drama “The Quiet Man;” the Charles Vidor- directed film noir classic, “Gilda,” with Rita Hayworth; and the 1962 animated film, “The Hole,” a meditation on nuclear catastrophe by animators John and Faith Hubley.
From the silent era comes “The Virtuous Vamp” (1919), a spoof on workplace featuring Constance Talmadge; “Ella Cinders” (1926), a film with Colleen Moore considered an archetype of 1920s comedy; and “Daughter of Dawn,” an indie pic featuring an all-Native American cast.
The library recently issued a report confirming that 70% of silent films produced by U.S. studios have been lost and that only 14% exist in their original 35mm format.
The recognition for Michael Moore’s “Roger & Me” comes as the distinctive docu about the impact of auto industry job losses on his hometown of Flint, Mich., is to mark its 25th anniversary. And it’s also an example of a modern title that is vulnerable to film deterioration and thus in need of the Registry’s TLC.
“Over the years this movie has received many acknowledgments, but this is certainly the one I cherish the most,” Moore said. “Last year I learned that there were no usable prints left of ‘Roger & Me.’ What there was had seriously deteriorated. This is why I am so grateful for the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry and the National Film Preservation Board.”
Among the other docus getting the nod are “Bless Their Little Hearts” (1984), filmmaker Billy Woodberry’s UCLA thesis project depicting a family’s trying times; “Cicero March” (1966), an eight-minute civil rights doc; and “Men and Dust” (1940), a labor advocacy film produced and directed by female doc pioneer Lee Dick and shot by husband Sheldon.
“The National Film Registry stands among the finest summations of more than a century of extraordinary American cinema,” said Librarian of Congress James Billington. “This key component of American cultural history, however, is endangered, so we must protect the nation’s matchless film heritage and cinematic creativity,” he said.
(Pictured: Mary Poppins, Pulp Fiction, Roger & Me)
Here is a complete list of the selections:
“Bless Their Little Hearts” (1984)
Part of the New Wave of independent African-American filmmakers to emerge in the 1970s and 1980s, Billy Woodberry became a key figure in the L.A. Renaissance movement. Woodberry’s UCLA thesis film, “Hearts” features script and cinematography by Charles Burnett. The spare, emotionally resonant portrait of family life during times of struggle blends grinding, daily-life sadness with scenes of deft humor. Jim Ridley of the “Village Voice” aptly summed up the film’s understated-but- real virtues: “Its poetry lies in the exaltation of ordinary detail.”
“Brandy in the Wilderness” (1969)
This introspective “contrived diary” film by Stanton Kaye features vignettes from the relationship of a real-life couple, in this case the director and his girlfriend. An evocative 1960s time capsule — reminiscent of Jim McBride’s “David Holzman’s Diary” — the simulated autobiography blurs the lines between reality and illusion, moving in non-linear arcs through evolving and unpredictable interactions of relationships, time and place. The library considers it a little-known but key work of American indie filmmaking.
“Cicero March” (1966)
This eight-minute, cinema-vérité-styled documentary was shot by the Chicago-based Film Group, Inc. to capture civil-rights confrontations in Chicago during the summer of 1966. Following violent rioting and a month of demonstrations led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the city reached an agreement with King, in part to avoid a threatened march for open housing in the neighboring all-white town of Cicero, Ill., the scene of a riot 15 years earlier when a black couple tried to move into an apartment there. King called off further demonstrations, but other activists marched in Cicero on Sept. 4, an event preserved in this film.
“Daughter of Dawn” (1920)
A fascinating example of the daringly unexpected topics and scope showcased by the best regional, independent filmmaking during the silent era, “Dawn” features an all-Native-American cast of Comanches and Kiowas. Although it offers a fictional love-story narrative, the film presents a priceless record of Native-American customs, traditions and artifacts of the time. The Oklahoma Historical Society recently rediscovered and restored this film with a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation.
Created from scraps of decades-old decomposing “found film,” “Decasia” hypnotizes and teases with images that fade and transform themselves before the viewer’s eyes. Culling footage from archives across the country, filmmaker Bill Morrison collected nitrate film stock on the brink of disappearance and distilled it into a new art form. Morrison wedded images to the discordant music of composer Michael Gordon, a founding member of the Bang on a Can Collective, into a fusion of sight and sound.
“Ella Cinders” (1926)
With her trendsetting Dutch bob and short skirts, Colleen Moore brought insouciance and innocence to the flapper image, character and aesthetic. By 1926, however, when she appeared in “Ella Cinders,” Moore’s interpretation of the flapper had been eclipsed by the more overtly sexual version popularized by Clara Bow and Joan Crawford. The film is an archetype of 1920s comedy, featuring a star whose air of emancipation inspired her generation.
“Forbidden Planet” (1956)
Directed by Fred M. Wilcox, the MGM film is one of the seminal science-fiction pics of the 1950s. Cast includes Walter Pidgeon, Leslie Nielsen, Anne Francis and, in his debut, Robbie the Robot. Loosely based upon Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” it is both sci-fi saga and allegory about the dangers of unrestrained power and technology. Along with its literary influence, special effects and visuals, the film pushed the boundaries of cinematic sci-fi. It is also remembered for its innovative score — or lack thereof. No music exists on the film’s soundtrack. All ambient sounds are “electronic tonalities” created by Louis and Bebe Barren.
“Gilda” defined the Hollywood glamorization of film noir. Director Charles Vidor capitalizes on the voyeuristic and sadomasochistic angles of the genre, focusing on Rita Hayworth poured into a strapless black satin evening gown and elbow-length gloves. George Macready and Glenn Ford round out the tempestuous triangle.
“The Hole” (1962)
With “The Hole,” animators John and Faith Hubley created a chilling Academy Award-winning meditation on the possibility of an accidental nuclear catastrophe. Jazz great Dizzy Gillespie and actor George Mathews improvised a lively dialogue that the Hubleys and their animators used as the voices of two New York construction workers laboring under Third Avenue. Ominously but humorously, the Hubleys commented on the fears of nuclear devastation ever-present in cold war American culture during the year of the Cuban Missile crisis.
“Judgment at Nuremberg” (1961)
The film about the post-World War II Nuremberg war crimes tribunal targeted the concept of justice within modern society. Conceived by screenwriter Abby Mann during the period of McCarthyism, it argues that those responsible for administering justice must also ensure that human-rights norms are preserved even if they conflict with national imperatives. Mann’s screenplay, originally produced as a Playhouse 90 teleplay, makes “the value of a single human being” the defining societal value that legal systems must respect. Mann and actor Maximilian Schell received Academy Awards.
“King of Jazz” (1930)
A sparkling example of a musical in the earliest days of two-color Technicolor, the film is a fanciful revue of short skits, sight gags and musical numbers, all with orchestra leader Paul Whiteman at the center. Directed by John Murray Anderson and an uncredited Paul Fejos, it attempted to deliver something for everyone from a Walter Lantz cartoon to leggy dancers and contortionists to the crooning of Bing Crosby in his earliest screen appearance. Also featured is an opulent production number of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”
“The Lunch Date” (1989)
Adam Davidson’s 10-minute Columbia University student film examines the partial erosion of haughty self-confidence when stranded outside one’s personal comfort zone. A woman has a slice-of-life, train-station chance encounter with a homeless man, and stumbles through several off-key reactions when they share a salad she believes is hers. Winner of a 1990 Student Academy Award, “The Lunch Date” stands out as a simple, yet effective, parable on the vicissitudes and pervasiveness of perception, race and stereotypes.
“The Magnificent Seven” (1960)
The popularity of this oater, based on Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” (1954), has continued to grow since its release due partly to its role as a springboard for actors Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn and Horst Buchholz. It also gave a twist to the career of Yul Brynner, who bought the rights to Kurosawa’s original story and picked John Sturges as its director. Contributing to its lasting appeal is Elmer Bernstein’s vibrant score.
Martha Graham Early Dance Films (1931-1944)
Perhaps the preeminent developer of modern dance, Martha Graham formed her own dance company in 1926. Four silent films featuring Graham document important early works: “Heretic” (1931), with Graham as an outcast denounced by Puritans; “Frontier” (1936), a solo piece celebrating western expansion and the American spirit; “Lamentation” (1943), a solo piece about death and mourning; and “Appalachian Spring” (1944), a multi-character dance drama, the lyrical beauty of which is retained even without the aid of Aaron Copland’s famous and beloved music.
“Mary Poppins” (1964)
Alleged to be Walt Disney’s personal favorite from the Disney canon, “Mary Poppins” is based upon a book by P.L. Travers. Screenwriters Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi, with the aid of songwriting brothers Richard and Robert Sherman, fashioned the movie musical about a most unusual nanny. Featuring equal parts innocence and sophistication, the film enjoyed an artistic and commercial success that solidified Disney’s knack for big-screen, non-cartoon storytelling and invention. Cast included Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, Jane Darwell, Glynis Johns and Ed Wynn.
“Men and Dust” (1940)
Produced and directed by Lee Dick — a female pioneer in the field of documentary filmmaking — and written and shot by husband Sheldon, this labor advocacy film is about diseases plaguing miners in the midwest. Sponsored by the Tri-State Survey Committee, it is a stylistically innovative documentary and a valuable ecological record of landscapes radically transformed by extractive industry.
Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche and John Barrymore are featured in this often overlooked Mitchell Leisen romantic comedy written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett that showcases Leisen’s strength in timing. He established the pace of a scene by varying the tone and cadence of his voice as he called “ready…right…action!” Penniless showgirl Colbert impersonates a Hungarian countess, aided by the aristocratic Barrymore, until she falls for a lowly taxi driver (Ameche) —all amidst a continental sumptuousness abundant in Paramount films of the era.
“Notes on the Port of St. Francis” (1951)
When Frank Stauffacher introduced the Art in Cinema film series at the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1947, he was on his way to becoming a significant influence on a generation of West Coast filmmakers. Through the series, he cultivated his knowledge of San Francisco surrealist films of the 1940s as well as the “city symphonies” produced by earlier European filmmakers. Impressionistic and evocative, it is shaped by the director’s organization of iconic imagery, and by the juxtaposition of these visuals and the soundtrack comprised both of music and narration by Vincent Price.
“Pulp Fiction” (1994)
By turns utterly derivative and audaciously original, Quentin Tarantino’s mordantly wicked Möbius strip of a movie influenced a generation of filmmakers and represents a milestone in the evolution of U.S. independent cinema, making it one of the few films on the National Film Registry as notable for its lasting impact on the film industry as its considerable artistic merits. Directed by Tarantino from his profane and poetic script, it combines narrative elements of hardboiled crime novels and film noir with the bright widescreen visuals of Sergio Leone.
“The Quiet Man” (1952)
Director John Ford used “The Quiet Man” with unadulterated adulation to pay tribute to his Irish heritage and the grandeur of the Emerald Isle. With her red hair ablaze against the lush landscapes, Maureen O’Hara embodies the mystique of Ireland, as John Wayne personifies the indefatigable American searching for his ancestral roots, with Victor Young’s jovial score punctuating their escapades. The film and the locale are populated with characters bordering on caricature. Sly, whiskey-loving matchmaker Michaleen O’Flynn (Barry Fitzgerald), town bully Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen) and the put-upon but patient Widow Tillane (Mildred Natwick) are the most vivid. It is shot by Winton C. Hoch, with art direction by Frank Hotaling.
“The Right Stuff” (1983)
Philip Kaufman’s adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s novel is an epic straight from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Director/screenwriter Kaufman takes elements of the traditional Western, combines them with satire and peppers the concoction with subversive jokes. At its heart, “Stuff” is a tribute to the space program’s role in generating national pride and an indictment of media-fed hero worship. Remarkable aerial sequences (created before the advent of CGI) and spot-on editing team up to deliver a movie that pushes the envelope.
“Roger & Me” (1989)
After decades of product ascendancy, American automakers began facing stiff commercial and design challenges in the late 1970s-‘80s from foreign automakers. Michael Moore’s controversial doc chronicles the human toll of jobs lost from these upheavals, in this case the firing of 30,000 autoworkers by General Motors in Moore’s hometown of Flint, Mich. Moore employs a comic device sometimes found in political campaign commercials, weaving a message around the search for the person behind a perceived wrong, in this case G.M. Chairman Roger Smith.
“A Virtuous Vamp” (1919)
Employing a title suggested by Irving Berlin, screenwriter Anita Loos, working with husband John Emerson, crafted this charming spoof on romance in the workplace that catapulted Constance Talmadge, the object of Berlin’s unrequited affection, into stardom. During the silent era, women screenwriters, directors and producers often modified and poked fun at stereotypes of women that male filmmakers had drawn in harsher tones. In this satire of male frailties, the knowing innocence of Loos’ character captured the imagination of poet Vachel Lindsay, who deemed the film “a gem” and called Talmadge “a new sweetheart for America.”
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966)
Edward Albee’s 1962 stage triumph made a successful screen transfer in this adaption by Ernest Lehman, staged by Mike Nichols. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton — both Oscar-nominated for their work (with Taylor winning) — each achieved career high-points in their respective roles as Martha and George, an older couple who share their explosive evening opposite a younger husband and wife, portrayed by George Segal and Sandy Dennis. Claustrophobic staging and stark black-and-white cinematography by Haskell Wexler echoed its characters’ rawness and emotionalism.
“Wild Boys of the Road” (1933)
Historians estimate that more than 250,000 American teens were living on the road at the height of the Great Depression, traversing the country with risk to life, limb and incarceration while hopping freight trains. William Wellman’s “Road” portrays these young adults as determined kids matching wits and numerical strength with railroad detectives as they shuttle from city to city seeking work. Wellman’s “Wild Bill” persona is most evident in the action-packed train sequences. Strong performances by the young actors, particularly Frankie Darrow, round out this exemplary model of the gritty “social conscience” dramas popularized by Warner Bros. in the early 1930s.
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- Colleen Moore
- National Film Registry
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- Constance Talmadge
- Rita Hayworth