Brief Descriptions and Expanded Essays
of National Film Registry Titles
About the Images on This Page
In most cases, the images linked to Registry titles listed below were selected from the Library’s Prints & Photographs Online Catalog, however some are drawn from
other Library collections.
About the Essays on This Page
Expanded essays are available for select Registry titles below as indicated. The authors of these essays are experts in film history, and their works appear in books, newspapers, magazines and online. Some of these essays originated in other publications and are reprinted here by permission of the author. Other essays have been written specifically for this website. The views expressed in these essays are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Library of Congress.
12 Angry Men (1957)
In the 1950s, several television dramas acted live over the airways won such critical acclaim that they were also produced as motion pictures; among those already honored by the National Film Registry is “Marty” (1955). Reginald Rose had adapted his original stage play “12 Angry Men” for Studio One in 1954, and Henry Fonda decided to produce a screen version, taking the lead role and hiring director Sidney Lumet, who had been directing for television since 1950. The result is a classic. Filmed in a spare, claustrophobic style—largely set in one jury room—the play relates a single juror’s refusal to conform to peer pressure in a murder trial and follows his conversion of one juror after another to his point of view. The story is often viewed as a commentary on McCarthyism, Fascism, or Communism.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Only a few films are transcendent, and work upon our minds and imaginations like music or prayer or a vast belittling landscape. Alone among science-fiction movies, “2001” is not concerned with thrilling us, but with inspiring our awe.
Expanded essay by James Verniere
3:10 to Yuma (1957)
Considered to be one of the best westerns of the 1950s, “3:10 to Yuma” has gained in stature since its original release as audiences have recognized the progressive insight the film provides into the psychology of its two main characters that becomes vividly exposed during scenes of heightened tension. Frankie Laine sang the film’s popular theme song, also titled “3:10 to Yuma.” Often compared favorably with “High Noon,” this innovative western from director Delmer Daves starred Glenn Ford and Van Heflin in roles cast against type and was based on a short story by Elmore Leonard.
42nd Street (1933)
At a little less than 90 minutes, “42nd Street” is a fast-moving picture that crackles with great dialogue and snappily plays up Busby Berkeley’s dance routines. A famous Broadway director (Warner Baxter) takes on a new show despite his ill health, then faces disaster at every turn, including the loss of his leading lady on opening night. The film features Bebe Daniels as the star of the show and Berkeley regulars Guy Kibbee, Ginger Rogers, Dick Powell, and Ruby Keeler, whom Baxter implores, “You’re going out a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star!”
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)
Special-effects master Ray Harryhausen provides the hero with fantastic antagonists, including a giant cyclops, fire-breathing dragons, and a sword-wielding animated skeleton, all in glorious Technicolor. His stunning Dynamation process, which blended stop-motion animation and live-actions sequences, and a fantastic score by Bernard Herrmann (“Psycho,” “North by Northwest,” “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” “Citizen Kane,” “Vertigo”) makes this one of the finest fantasy films of all time.
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
Freight handlers Bud Abbott and Lou Costello encounter Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster when they arrive from Europe for a house of horrors exhibit. After the monsters outwit the hapless duo and escape, Dracula returns for Costello whose brain he intends to transplant into the monster.
Lon Chaney Jr. as the lycanthropic Lawrence Talbot, Bela Lugosi in his final appearance as Dracula and Glenn Strange as the Monster all play their roles perfectly straight as Bud and Lou stumble around them.
Throughout the film, Dracula and the Monster cavort in plain view of the quivering Costello who is unable to convince the ever-poised and dubious Abbott that the monsters exist. until the wild climax in Dracula’s castle, where the duo are pursued by all three of the film’s monstrosities.
Adam’s Rib (1949)
Written by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, Adam’s Rib pokes fun at the double standard between the sexes. Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn play husband and wife attorneys, each drawn to the same case of attempted murder. The defendant (Judy Holliday) had tearfully attempted to shoot her husband (Tom Ewell) and his mistress (Jean Hagen). Tracy argues that the case is open and shut, but Hepburn asserts that, if the defendant were a man, he’d be set free on the basis of “the unwritten law.” As the trial turns into a media circus, couple’s home life suffers. Holliday’s first screen triumph and the film debuts of Hagen and Ewell.
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
When Richard the Lion-Hearted is captured and held for ransom, evil Prince John (Claude Rains) declares himself ruler of England and makes no attempt to secure Richard’s safe return. A lone knight, Robin Hood (Errol Flynn), sets out to raise Richard’s ransom by hijacking wealthy caravans traveling through Sherwood Forest. Aided by his lady love, Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland), and band of merry men (including Alan Hale and Eugene Pallette) Robin battles the usurper John and wicked Sheriff of Nottingham to return the throne to its rightful owner. Dashing, athletic and witty, Flynn is everything that Robin Hood should be, and his adversaries are memorably villainous, particularly Basil Rathbone with whom Flynn crosses swords in the climactic duel. One of the most spectacular adventure films of all time, and features a terrific performance by the perfectly cast Flynn. Only a spirited and extravagant production could do justice to the Robin Hood legend; this film is more than equal to the task. Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s score won an Oscar, as did the editing and art direction.
The African Queen (1951)
Adapted from a novel by C.S. Forester, the film stars Humphrey Bogart in an Oscar-winning portrayal of a slovenly, gin-swilling captain of the African Queen, a tramp steamer carrying supplies to small African villages during World War I. Katharine Hepburn plays a prim spinster missionary stranded when the Germans invade her settlement. Bogart agrees to transport Hepburn back to civilization despite their opposite temperaments. Before long, their tense animosity turns to love, and together they navigate treacherous rapids and devise an ingenious way to destroy a German gunboat. The difficulties inherent in filming on location in Africa are documented in numerous books, including one by Hepburn.
“Airplane!” emerged in 1980 as a sharply perceptive parody of the big-budget disaster films that dominated Hollywood during the 1970s. Characterized by a freewheeling style reminiscent of comedies of the 1920s, “Airplane!” introduced a much-needed deflating assessment of the tendency of theatrical film producers to push successful formulaic movie conventions beyond the point of logic. One of the film’s most noteworthy achievements was to cast actors best known for careers in melodrama productions, e.g., Leslie Nielsen, and provide them with opportunities to showcase their comic talents.
This film’s appeal may lie in its reputation as “a haunted house movie in space.” Though not particularly original, “Alien” is distinguished by director Ridley Scott’s innovative ability to wring every ounce of suspense out of the B-movie staples he employs within the film’s hi-tech setting. Art designer H.R. Giger creates what has become one of cinema’s scariest monsters: a nightmarish hybrid of humanoid-insect-machine that Scott makes even more effective by obscuring it from view for much of the film. The cast, including Tom Skerritt and John Hurt, brings an appealing quality to their characters, and one character in particular, Sigourney Weaver’s warrant officer Ripley, became the model for the next generation of hardboiled heroines and solidified the prototype in subsequent sequels. Rounding out the cast and crew, cameraman Derek Vanlint and composer Jerry Goldsmith propel the emotions relentlessly from one visual horror to the next.
All About Eve (1950)
The catfight of the century, with smiling understudy Anne Baxter flashing deadly epigrams at aging Broadway star Bette Davis. Much of the fun of the film depends on a casting twist—making Baxter the bitch and Davis the doe-eyed victim. The dialogue is sharp and justly famous, though at time it sounds like what people wished they’d said.
All My Babies (1953)
Written and directed by George Stoney, this landmark educational film was used to educate midwives throughout the South. Produced by the Georgia Department of Public Health, profiles the life and work of “Miss Mary” Coley, an African-American midwife living in rural Georgia. In documenting the preparation for and delivery of healthy babies in rural conditions ranging from decent to deplorable, the filmmakers inadvertently captured a telling snapshot at the socioeconomic conditions of the era that would prove fascinating to future generations.
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
This faithful adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s classic pacifist novel is among the greatest antiwar films ever made, remaining powerful more than 80 years later, thanks to Lewis Milestone’s inventive direction. Told from the perspective of a sensitive young German soldier (Lew Ayres) during WWI, recruited by a hawkish professor advocating “glory for the fatherland.” The young soldier comes under the protective wing of an old veteran (Louis Wolheim) who teaches him how to survive the horrors of war. The film is emotionally draining, and so realistic that it will be forever etched in the mind of any viewer. Milestone’s direction is frequently inspired, most notably during the battle scenes. In one such scene, the camera serves as a kind of machine gun, shooting down the oncoming troops as it glides along the trenches. Universal spared no expense during production, converting more than 20 acres of a large California ranch into battlefields occupied by more than 2,000 ex-servicemen extras. After its initial release, some foreign countries refused to run the film. Poland banned it for being pro-German, while the Nazis labeled it anti-German. Joseph Goebbels, later propaganda minister, publicly denounced the film. It received an Academy Award as Best Picture and Milestone was honored as Best Director.
All That Heaven Allows (1955)
The rich visual texture, using glorious Technicolor, and a soaring emotional score lend what is essentially a thin story a kind of epic tension. A movie unheralded by critics and largely ignored by the public at the time of its release, All That Heaven Allows is now considered Douglas Sirk’s masterpiece. The story concerns a romance between a middle-aged, middle-class widow (Jane Wyman) and a brawny young gardener (Rock Hudson)—the stuff of a standard weepie, you might think, until Sirk’s camera begins to draw a deeply disturbing, deeply compassionate portrait of a woman trapped by stifling moral and social codes. Sirk’s meaning is conveyed almost entirely by his mise-en-scene—a world of glistening, treacherous surfaces, of objects that take on a terrifying life of their own; he is one of those rare filmmakers who insist that you read the image.
All That Jazz (1979)
Director/choreographer Bob Fosse takes a Felliniesque look at the life of a driven entertainer. Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider, channeling Fosse) is the ultimate work (and pleasure)-aholic, as he knocks back a daily dose of amphetamines to juggle a new Broadway production while editing his new movie, an ex-wife Audrey, girlfriend Kate, young daughter, and various conquests. Reminiscent of Fellini’s “8 1/2 ,” Fosse moves from realistic dance numbers to extravagant flights of cinematic fancy, as Joe meditates on his life, his women, and his death. Fosse shows the stiff price that entertaining exacts on entertainers (among other things, he intercuts graphic footage of open-heart surgery with a song and dance), mercilessly reversing the feel-good mood of classical movie musicals.
All the King’s Men (1949)
Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Robert Penn Warren and directed by Robert Rossen, “All the King’s Men” was inspired by the career of Louisiana governor Huey Long. Broderick Crawford won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Willie Stark, a backwoods Southern lawyer who wins the hearts of his constituents by bucking the corrupt state government. The thesis is basically that power corrupts, with Stark presented as a man who starts out with a burning sense of purpose and a defiant honesty. Rossen, however, injects a note of ambiguity early on (a scene where Willie impatiently shrugs off his wife’s dream of the great and good things he is destined to accomplish); and the doubt as to what he is really after is beautifully orchestrated by being filtered through the eyes of the press agent (Ireland) who serves as the film’s narrator, and whose admiration for Stark gradually becomes tempered by understanding. In addition to its Oscars for Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge, the film won the Best Picture prize.
All the President’s Men (1976)
Based on the memoir by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein about political dirty tricks in the nation’s capital, “All the President’s Men” is a rare example of a best-selling book that was transformed into a hit theatrical film and a cultural phenomenon in its own right.
Called the master of “cosmic cinema,” Jordan Belson excelled in creating abstract imagery with a spiritual dimension that featured dazzling displays of color, light, and ever-moving patterns and objects. Trained as a painter and profoundly influenced by the artist and theorist Wassily Kandinsky, Belson collaborated in the late 1950s with electronic music composer Henry Jacobs to create elaborate sound and light shows in the San Francisco Morrison Planetarium, an experience that informed his subsequent films. The film, Belson has stated, “was probably the space-iest film that had been done until then. It creates a feeling of moving into the void.” Inspired by Eastern spiritual thought, “Allures” (which took a year and a half to make) is, Belson suggests, a “mathematically precise” work intended to express the process of becoming that the philosopher Teilhard de Chardin has named “cosmogenesis.”
America, America (1963)
“My name is Elia Kazan. I am a Greek by blood, Turk by birth, American because my uncle made a journey.” So begins the film directed, produced and written by Elia Kazan, and the one he frequently cited as his personal favorite. Based loosely on Kazan’s uncle, Stavros dreams of going to America in the late 1890s. Kazan, who often hired locals as extras, cast in the lead role a complete novice, Stathis Giallelis, whom he discovered sweeping the floor in a Greek producer’s office. Shot almost entirely in Greece and Turkey, Haskell Wexler’s cinematography evokes scale and authenticity that combines with Gene Callahan’s Oscar-winning art direction to give the film a distinctly European feel. Intended as the first chapter of a trilogy, the epically ambitious “America, America” also earned Oscar nominations for best director, best screenplay and best picture.
American Graffiti (1973)
Fresh off the success of “The Godfather,” producer Francis Ford Coppola weilded the clout to tackle a project pitched to him by his friend, George Lucas. The film captured the flavor of the 1950s with such paradoxical ? ironic? humorous candor tinged with latent foreboding.and helped spark nostalgia for nothing else would era
, but only for $750,000 on a 28-day shooting schedule. Despite technical obstacles, and having to shoot at night, cinematographer Haskell Wexler gave the film a neon glare to match its rock-n-roll soundscape. Lucas’ period detail, co-writers Willard Huyck’s and Gloria Katz’s realistic dialogue, and the film’s nostalgia for the pre-Vietnam years appealed to audiences amidst cultural upheaval. The film also established the reputations of Lucas (whose next film would be “Star Wars”) and his young cast, and furthering the onset of soundtrack-driven, youth-oriented movies. Although the On the surface, Lucas has made a film that seems almost artless, but the film’s buried structure shows an innocence in the process of being lost, and as its symbol Lucas provides the elusive blonde in the white Thunderbird -- the vision of beauty always glimpsed at the next intersection, the end of the next street.
An American in Paris (1951)
Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Georges Guetary, (The film was supposed to make Guetary into “the New Chevalier.” It didn’t.) The thinnish plot is held together by the superlative production numbers and by the recycling of several vintage George Gershwin tunes, including “I Got Rhythm,” “’S Wonderful,” and “Our Love Is Here to Stay.” Highlights include Guetary’s rendition of “Stairway to Paradise”; Oscar Levant’s fantasy of conducting and performing Gershwin’s “Concerto in F” (Levant also appears as every member of the orchestra). “An American in Paris,” directed by Vincente Minnelli, cleaned up at the Academy Awards, with Oscars for best picture, screenplay, score, cinematography, art direction, set design, and even a special award for the choreography of its 18-minute closing ballet in which Kelly and Caron dance before lavish backgrounds resembling French masterpieces.
Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
Director Otto Preminger brought a new cinematic frankness to film with this gripping crime-and-trial movie shot on location in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where the incident on which it was based had occurred. Controversial in its day due to its blunt language and willingness to openly discuss adult themes, "Anatomy"—starring James Stewart, Ben Gazzara and Lee Remick—endures today for its first-rate drama and suspense, and its informed perspective on the legal system. The film includes an innovative jazz score by Duke Ellington and one of Saul Bass’s most memorable opening title sequences.
Annie Hall (1977)
Woody Allen’s romantic comedy of the Me Decade follows the up and down relationship of two mismatched New York neurotics. “Annie Hall” blended the slapstick and fantasy from such earlier Allen films as “Sleeper” and “Bananas” with the more autobiographical musings of his stand-up and written comedy, using an array of such movie techniques as talking heads, splitscreens, and subtitles. Within these gleeful formal experiments and sight gags, Allen and co-writer Marshall Brickman skewered 1970s solipsism, reversing the happy marriage of opposites found in classic screwball comedies. Hailed as Allen’s most mature and personal film, “Annie Hall” beat out “Star Wars” for Best Picture and also won Oscars for Allen as director and writer and for Keaton as Best Actress; audiences enthusiastically responded to Allen’s take on contemporary love and turned Keaton’s rumpled menswear into a fashion trend.
Expanded essay by Jay Carr
Antonia: Portrait of the Woman (1974)
Directed by Jill Godmillow and Judy Collins, this Oscar-nominated documentary chronicles the life of musician-conductor Antonia Brica and her struggle to become a symphony director despite her gender. Told by many that it was ridiculous for a woman to think of conducting, she admits, “I felt that I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t try.” And the pain and deprivation which she has known all her life are over-shadowed in this film by her ebullient, forthright warmth.
The narrative of her life alternates with glimpses of her at work—rehearsing or teaching. She also reflects on the emotional experience of conducting— including the acute separation pangs that follow a concert.
The Apartment (1960)
Billy Wilder is purported to have hung a sign in his office that read, “How Would Lubitsch Do It?” Here, that Lubitsch touch seems to hover over each scene, lending a lightness to even the most nefarious of deeds. One of the opening shots in the movie shows Baxter as one of a vast horde of wage slaves, working in a room where the desks line up in parallel rows almost to the vanishing point. This shot is quoted from King Vidor’s silent film “The Crowd” (1928), which is also about a faceless employee in a heartless corporation. Cubicles would have come as revolutionary progress in this world. By the time he made this film, Wilder had become a master at a kind of sardonic, satiric comedy that had sadness at its center. Wilder was fresh off the enormous hit “Some Like it Hot,” his first collaboration with Lemmon, and with “The Apartment” Lemmon showed that he could move from light comedian to tragic everyman. This movie was the summation of what Wilder had done to date, and the key transition in Lemmon’s career. It was also a key film for Shirley MacLaine, who had been around for five years in light comedies, but here emerged as a serious actress who would flower in the 1960s.
Apocalypse Now (1979)
The chaotic production also experienced shut-downs when a typhoon destroyed the set and star Sheen suffered a heart attack; the budget ballooned and Coppola covered the overages himself. These production headaches, which Coppola characterized as being like the Vietnam War itself, have been superbly captured in the documentary, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse. Despite the studio’s fears and mixed reviews of the film’s ending, Apocalypse Now became a substantial hit and was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor for Duvall’s psychotic Kilgore, and Best Screenplay. It won Oscars for sound and for Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography. This hallucinatory, Wagnerian project has produced admirers and detractors of equal ardor; it resembles no other film ever made, and its nightmarish aura and polarized reception aptly reflect the tensions and confusions of the Vietnam era.
This early sound-era masterpiece was the first film of both stage/director Rouben Mamoulian and cabaret/star Helen Morgan. Many have compared Mamoulian’s debut to that of Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane” because of his flamboyant use of cinematic innovation to test technical boundaries. The tear-jerking plot boasts top performances from Morgan as the fading burlesque queen, Fuller Mellish Jr. as her slimy paramour and Joan Peters as her cultured daughter. However, the film is remembered today chiefly for Mamoulian’s audacious style. While most films of the era were static and stage-bound, Mamoulian’s camera reinvigorated the melodramatic plot by prowling relentlessly through sordid backstage life.
The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
John Huston’s brilliant crime drama contains the recipe for a meticulously planned robbery, but the cast of criminal characters features one too many bad apples. Sam Jaffe, as the twisted mastermind, uses cash from corrupt attorney Emmerich (Louis Calhern) to assemble a group of skilled thugs to pull off a jewel heist. All goes as planned — until an alert night watchman and a corrupt cop enter the picture. Marilyn Monroe has a memorable bit part as Emmerich’s “niece.”
Atlantic City (1980)
Aided by a taut script from playwright John Guare, director Louis Malle celebrates his wounded characters even as he mercilessly reveals their dreams for the hopeless illusions they really are. Malle reveals the rich portraits he paints of wasted American lives, through the filter of his European sensibilities. He is exceptionally well served by his cast and his location--a seedy resort town supported, like the principal characters, by memories of glories past. Burt Lancaster, in a masterful performance, plays an aging small-time criminal who hangs around Atlantic City doing odd jobs and taking care of the broken-down moll of the deceased gangster for whom Lou was a gofer. Living in an invented past, Lou identifies with yesteryear’s notorious gangsters and gets involved with sexy would-be croupier (Susan Sarandon) and her drug-dealing estranged husband.
The Augustas (1930s-1950s)
Scott Nixon, a traveling salesman based in Augusta, Ga., was an avid member of the Amateur Cinema League who enjoyed recording his travels on film. In this 16-minute silent film, Nixon documents some 38 streets, storefronts and cities named Augusta in such far-flung locales as Montana and Maine. Arranged with no apparent rhyme or reason, the film strings together brief snapshots of these Augustas, many of which are indicated at pencil-point on a train timetable or roadmap. Nixon photographed his odyssey using both 8mm and 16mm cameras loaded with black-and-white and color film, amassing 26,000 feet of film that now resides at the University of South Carolina. While Nixon’s film does not illuminate the historical or present-day significance of these towns, it binds them together under the umbrella of Americana. Whether intentionally or coincidentally, this amateur auteur seems to juxtapose the name’s lofty origin—‘august,’ meaning great or venerable—with the unspectacular nature of everyday life in small-town America.
The Awful Truth (1937)
Leo McCarey’s largely improvised film is one of the funniest of the screwball comedies, and also one of the most serious at heart. Cary Grant and Irene Dunne are a pair of world-weary socialites who each believe the other has been unfaithful, and consequently enter into a trial divorce. The story began life as a 1922 stage hit and was filmed twice previously. McCarey maintained the basic premise of the play but improved it greatly, adding sophisticated dialogue and encouraging his actors to improvise around anything they thought funny. “The Awful Truth” was in the can in six weeks, and was such a success that Grant and Dunne were teamed again in another comedy, “My Favorite Wife” and in a touching tearjerker, “Penny Serenade.” The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture.
Baby Face (1933)
Smart and sultry Barbara Stanwyck uses her feminine wiles to scale the corporate ladder, amassing male admirers who are only too willing to help a poor working girl. One of the more notorious melodramas of the pre-Code era, a period when the movie industry relaxed its censorship standards, films such as this one led to the imposition of the Production Code in 1934. This relative freedom resulted in a cycle of gritty, audacious films that resonated with Depression-battered audiences.
Back to the Future (1985)
Writer/director Robert Zemeckis explored the possibilities of special effects with the 1985 box-office smash “Back to the Future.” With his writing partner Bob Gale, Zemeckis tells the tale of accidental time-tourist Marty McFly. Stranded in the year 1955, Marty (Michael J. Fox)—with the help of Dr. Emmett Brown (played masterfully over-the-top by Christopher Lloyd)—must not only find a way home, but also teach his father how to become a man, repair the space/time continuum and save his family from being erased from existence. All this, while fighting off the advances of his then-teenaged mother.
The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)
Vincente Minnelli directed this captivating Hollywood story of an ambitious producer (Kirk Douglas)as told in flashback by those whose lives he’s impacted: an actress (Lana Turner), a writer (Dick Powell) and a director (Barry Sullivan). Insightful and liberally sprinkled with characters modeled after various Hollywood royalty from David O. Selznick to Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, witty, with one of Turner’s best performances. Five Oscars include Supporting Actress (Gloria Grahame), Screenplay (Charles Schnee). David Raksin’s score is another asset.
Stark, brutal story based on the Charles Starkweather-Carol Fugate murder spree through the Midwest in 1958, with Martin Sheen as the killer lashing out against a society that ignores his existence and Sissy Spacek as his naive teenage consort. Sheen is forceful and properly weird as the mass murderer, strutting around pretending to be James Dean, while Spacek doesn’t quite understand what he’s all about, but goes along anyway.
Director Terrence Malick neither romanticizes nor condemns his subjects, maintaining a low-key approach to the story that results in a fascinating character study. The film did scant box office business, but it remains one of the most impressive of directorial debuts.
One of Walt Disney’s timeless classics (and his own personal favorite), this animated coming-of-age tale of a wide-eyed fawn’s life in the forest has enchanted generations since its debut nearly 70 years ago. Filled with iconic characters and moments, the film features beautiful images that were the result of extensive nature studies by Disney’s animators. Its realistic characters capture human and animal qualities in the time-honored tradition of folklore and fable, which enhance the movie’s resonating, emotional power. Treasured as one of film’s most heart-rending stories of parental love, “Bambi” also has come to be recognized for its eloquent message of nature conservation.
The Band Wagon (1953)
Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Oscar Levant, Nanette Fabray and Jack Buchanan. star in this sophisticated backstage musical directed by Vincente Minnelli. Astaire plays a washed-up movie star who tries his luck on Broadway, under the direction of maniacal genius Buchanan. Musical highlights include "Dancing in the Dark" and "That’s Entertainment" (by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz) and Astaire’s Mickey Spillane spoof “The Girl Hunt.” (Additional artwork here and here)
The Bank Dick (1940)
Perhaps more than any other film comedian in the early days of movies, W.C. Fields is an acquired taste. His absurdist brand of humor, at once dry and surreal, endures for the simple reason that the movies bear up under repeated viewings; in fact, it’s almost a necessity to watch them over and over, if only to figure out why they’re so funny. In his second-to-last feature, The Bank Dick (which he wrote under the moniker “Mahatma Kane Jeeves”), Fields as unemployed layabout Egbert Souse -- Soosay, if you don’t mind -- replaces drunk movie director A. Pismo Clam on a location shoot in his hometown of Lompoc, California before chance lands him in the job of bank detective -- after which the movie becomes a riff on the comic possibilities of his new-found notoriety. The stellar comic supporting cast includes future Stooge Shemp Howard as the bartender at Fields’ regular haunt, The Black Pussy, and Preston Sturges regular Franklin Pangborn as bank examiner J. Pinkerton Snoopington.
The Bargain (1914)
After beginning his career on the stage (where he originated the role of Messala in “Ben-Hur” in 1899), William S. Hart found his greatest fame as the silent screen’s most popular cowboy. His 1914 “The Bargain,” directed by Reginald Barker, was Hart’s first film and made him a star. The second Hart Western to be named to the National Film Registry, 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.
The Battle of San Pietro (1945)
John Huston’s documentary about the WW II Battle of San Pietro Infine was considered too controversial by the U.S. military to be seen in its original form, and was cut from five reels to its released 33 minute-length. powerful viewing, vivid and gritty. Some 1,100 men died in the battle. scenes of grateful Italian peasants serve as a fascinating ethnographic time capsule. Filmed by Jules Buck. Unlike many other military documentaries, Huston’s cameramen filmed alongside the Army’s 143rd regiment, 36th division infantrymen, placing themselves within feet of mortar and shell fire. The film is unflinching in its realism and was held up from being shown to the public by the United States Army. Huston quickly became unpopular with the Army, not only for the film but also for his response to the accusation that the film was anti-war. Huston responded that if he ever made a pro-war film, he should be shot. Because it showed dead GIs wrapped in mattress covers, some officers tried to prevent troopers in training from seeing it, for fear of morale. General George Marshall came to the film’s defense, stating that because of the film’s gritty realism, it would make a good training film. The depiction of death would inspire them to take their training seriously. Subsequently the film was used for that purpose. Huston was no longer considered a pariah; he was decorated and made an honorary major.
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
The Best Years of Our Lives (1953)
Big Business (1929)
As gifted in their repartee as they were in their physical antics, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were the perfect team for the transition from silent film comedy to sound. Their legendary career spanned from 1921 to 1951 and included more than 100 films. This two-reeler finds the duo attempting to sell Christmas trees in sunny California. Their run-in with an unsatisfied customer (played by James Finlayson) lays the groundwork for a slapstick melee eventually involving a dismantled car, a wrecked house and an exploding cigar. The film was produced by the team’s long-time collaborator, Hal Roach, the king of no-holds-barred comedy.
The Big Heat (1953)
One of the great post-war noir films, “The Big Heat” stars Glenn Ford, Lee Marvin and Gloria Grahame. Set in a fictional American town, the film tells the story of a tough cop (Ford) who takes on a local crime syndicate, exposing tensions within his own corrupt police department as well as insecurities and hypocrisies of domestic life in the 1950s. Filled with atmosphere, fascinating female characters, and a jolting—yet not gratuitous—degree of violence, “The Big Heat,” through its subtly expressive technique and resistance to formulaic denouement, manages to be both stylized and brutally realistic, a signature of its director Fritz Lang.
The Big Parade (1925)
The Big Sleep (1946)
The Big Trail (1930)
This taming of the Oregon Trail saga comes alive thanks to the majestic sweep afforded by the experimental Grandeur wide-screen process developed by the Fox Film Corporation. Audiences marveled at the sheer scope of the panoramic scenes before them and delighted in the beauty of the vast landscapes. Hollywood legend has it that director Raoul Walsh was seeking a male lead for a new Western and asked his friend John Ford for advice. Ford recommended an unknown actor named John Wayne because he “liked the looks of this new kid with a funny walk -- like he owned the world.” When Wayne professed inexperience, Walsh told him to just “sit good on a horse and point.”Wayne’s starring role in “The Big Trail” did not catapult him to stardom, and he languished in low-budget pictures until John Ford cast him in the 1939 classic “Stagecoach.”
The Birth of a Nation (1915)
This landmark of American motion pictures is the story of two families during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Director D.W. Griffith’s depiction of the Ku Klux Klan as heroes stirred controversy that continues to the present day. But the director’s groundbreaking camera technique and narrative style advanced the art of filmmaking by leaps and bounds.
Expanded essay by Dave Kehr
The Black Pirate (1926)
The Black Stallion (1979)
Blacksmith Scene (1893)
Not blacksmiths but employees of the Edison Manufacturing Company, Charles Kayser, John Ott and another unidentified man are likely the first screen actors in history, and “Blacksmith Scene” is thought to be the first film of more than a few feet to be publicly exhibited. The 30-second film was photographed in late April 1893 by Edison’s key employee, W.K.L. Dickson, at the new Edison studio in New Jersey. On May 9, audiences lined up single file at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences to peer through a viewing machine called a kinetoscope where glowed images of a blacksmith and two helpers forging a piece of iron, but only after they’d first passed around a bottle of beer. A Brooklyn newspaper reported the next day, “It shows living subjects portrayed in a manner to excite wonderment.”
Blade Runner (1982)
Blazing Saddles (1974)
This riotously funny, raunchy, no-holds-barred Western spoof by Mel Brooks is universally considered one of the 25 funniest American films of all time. The movie features a civil-rights theme (the man in the white hat turns out to be an African-American who has to defend a bigoted town), and its furiously paced gags and rapid-fire dialogue were scripted by Brooks, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor, Norman Steinberg and Alan Unger.
Bless Their Little Hearts (1984)
Part of the vibrant New Wave of independent African-American filmmakers to emerge in the 1970s and 1980s, Billy Woodberry became a key figure in the movement known as the L.A. Rebellion. Woodberry crafted his UCLA thesis film, "Bless Their Little Hearts," which was theatrically released in 1984. The film features a script and cinematography by Charles Burnett. This 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."
The Blood of Jesus (1941)
Also known as “The Glory Road,” this was among the approximately 500 “race movies” produced between 1915 and 1950 for African-American audiences and featuring all-black casts. In this film, a deeply devout woman (Cathryn Caviness) faces a spiritual crossroads after being accidentally shot, and is forced to choose between heaven and hell. Spencer Williams, who wrote, directed and starred in the film, produced the film in response to a need for spiritually-based films that spoke directly to black audiences. Long thought lost, prints were discovered in a warehouse in Tyler, Texas, in the mid-1980s.
The Blue Bird (1918)
Maurice Tourneur’s beautiful expressionist adaptation of Maurice Maeterlink’s play remains one of the most aesthetically pleasing films. Enchanting, sumptuous, and a perfectly composed pictorial entrance into a fantasy world, which tries to teach us not to overlook the beauty of what is close and familiar.
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Setting filmaking and style trends that linger today, “Bonnie and Clyde” veered from comedy to social commentary to melodrama and caught audiences unaware, especially with its graphic ending. The violence spawned many detractors, but others saw the artistry beyond the blood and it earned not only critical succes which eventually showed at thebox office. Arthur Penn deftly directs David Newman and Robert Benton’s script, aided by the film’s star and producer Warren Beatty, who was always eager to push the envelope. Faye Dunaway captures the Depression-era yearning for glamour and escape from poverty and hopelessness.
Expanded essay by Richard Schickel
Born Yesterday (1950)
Judy Holliday’s sparkling lead performance as not-so-dumb "dumb blonde" Billie Dawn anchors this comedy classic based on Garson Kanin’s play and directed for the screen by George Cukor. Kanin’s satire on corruption in Washington, D.C., adapted for the screen by Albert Mannheimer, is full of charm and wit while subtly addressing issues of class, gender, social standing and American politics. Holliday’s work in the film (a role she had previously played on Broadway) was honored with the Academy Award for Best Actress and has endured as one of the era’s most finely realized comedy performances.
Boys N the Hood (1991)
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"—this simulated autobiography, as in many experimental films, often blurs the lines between reality and illusion, moving in non-linear arcs through the ever-evolving and unpredictable interactions of relationships, time and place. As Paul Schrader notes, "it is probably quite impossible (and useless) to make a distinction between the point at which the film reflects their lives, and the point at which their lives reflect the film." "Brandy in the Wilderness" remains a little-known yet key work of American indie filmmaking.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
Truman Capote’s acclaimed novella—the bitter story of self-invented Manhattan call girl Holly Golightly—arrived on the big screen purged of its risqué dialogue and unhappy ending. George Axelrod’s screenplay excised explicit references to Holly’s livelihood and added an emotionally moving romance, resulting, in Capote’s view, in "a mawkish valentine to New York City." Capote believed that Marilyn Monroe would have been perfect for the film and judged Audrey Hepburn, who landed the lead, "just wrong for the part." Critics and audiences, however, have disagreed. The Los Angeles Times stated, "Miss Hepburn makes the complex Holly a vivid, intriguing figure." Feminist critics in recent times have valued Hepburn’s portrayals of the period as providing a welcome alternative female role model to the dominant sultry siren of the 1950s. Hepburn conveyed intelligent curiosity, exuberant impetuosity, delicacy combined with strength, and authenticity that often emerged behind a knowingly false facade. Critics also have lauded the movie’s director Blake Edwards for his creative visual gags and facility at navigating the film’s abrupt changes in tone. Composer Henry Mancini’s classic "Moon River," featuring lyrics by Johnny Mercer, also received critical acclaim. Mancini considered Hepburn’s wistful rendition of the song on guitar the best he had heard.
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Director James Whale took his success with “Frankenstein,” added humor and thus created a cinematic hybrid that perplexed audiences at first glance but captivated them by picture’s end. Joined eventually by a mate (Elsa Lanchester), the Frankenstein monster (Boris Karloff reprising his role) evolves into a sympathetic character as he gradually becomes more human.
Expanded essay by Richard T. Jameson, examines “Frankenstein” and “Bride of Frankenstein” in a single entry.
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
Broken Blossoms (1919)
A Bronx Morning (1931)
Part documentary and part avant-garde, this renowned city symphony was filmed by Jay Leyda when he was 21. It features sensational and stylish use of European filmmaking styles The images movingly show the resilience of people persevering with style and enthusiasm during the early years of the depression. “A Bronx Morning” won Leyda a scholarship to study with the renowned Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein.
The Buffalo Creek Flood: An Act of Man (1975)
This powerful documentary by the Kentucky-based arts and education center Appalshop represents the finest in regional filmmaking, providing important understanding of the environmental and cultural history of the Appalachian region. The 1972 Buffalo Creek Flood Disaster, caused by the failure of a coal waste dam, killed more than 100 people and left thousands in West Virginia homeless. Local citizens invited Appalshop to come to the area and to film a historical record, fearing that the Pittston Coal Co.’s powerful influence in the state would lead to a whitewash investigation and absolve it of any corporate culpability. Newsweek hailed the film as “a devastating expose of the collusion between state officials and coal executives.”
For his first American film, British director Peter Yates made an inspired decision: shoot a crime drama on location in San Francisco, rather than on the usual streets of L.A. or New York City. The pitched streets and stunning vistas of San Francisco, backed by a superb Lalo Schifrin score, play a central role in this film renowned for its exhilarating 11-minute car chase, arguably the finest in cinema history. Steve McQueen as the cop in the title role romances Jacqueline Bisset and solves a murder case while fighting off the mob and a sleazy district attorney, played by Robert Vaughn.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
One of the most popular American films of all time with critically acclaimed performances by Paul Newman and Robert Redford, directed by George Roy Hill.
The Cameraman (1928)
This film marked the last of Buster Keaton’s silent comedy classics. Here Keaton is an aspiring newsreel cameraman out to win the heart of Marceline Day. A seamless, ingenious blend of comedy and pathos, featuring countless creative sight gags involving battleships, Charles Lindbergh, admirals and hotel doormen.
Carmen Jones (1954)
One of the most beloved of American films, this captivating romantic adventure directed by Michael Curtiz is the story of a world-weary ex-freedom fighter (Humphrey Bogart) who runs a nightclub in Casablanca during the early part of WWII. Despite pressure from the local authorities, led by the wily Capt. Renault (Claude Rains), Rick’s cafe has become a haven for refugees. One of those refugees is Rick’s true love who deserted him when the Nazis invaded Paris (Ingrid Bergman) and her Resistance leader husband (Paul Henreid). How the triangle would resolve itself wasn’t known even to cast members until the last days of filming. Though often lacking logical cohesion, the film’s dialog and the timeliness of world events swirling around Casablanca made the eventual Best Picture winner a favorite with wartime audiences.
Expanded essay by Jay Carr
Castro Street (1966)
This non-narrative 10-minute experimental example of poetic cinema by Bruce Baillie was filmed on the streets of Richmond, California — most notably Castro Street — near the Standard Oil Refinery.
Its bright, primary colors and lateral tracking shots illustrate Baillie’s fascinaton for opposites, as he described, “that are one, both in conflict and harmony, opposing each other and abiding together and requiring each other.” Upon a retrospective of his work,
the “New York Times” wrote that Baillie “makes avant-garde films with the gifts of a painter and the objectives of a sign painter.”
Cat People (1942)
Chan Is Missing (1982)
Considered a seminal work of Asian-America cinema, director Wayne Wang’s film is a tale of two San Francisco cab drivers hunting down the elusive Chan of the title who has absconded with $4,000 of their money. A wry comedy, the film is also a heart-felt travelogue of San Francisco’s Chinatown and an important statement on the Asian-American experience far removed from the “Fu Manchu” and “Charlie Chan” stereotypes of motion pictures past.
The Cheat (1915)
Before he became known as the king of spectacle, Cecil B. DeMille honed his craft on a series of silent melodramas like this story about a woman embezzler (Fannie Ward), her husband (Jack Dean), and the Faustian bargain she enters into with a mysterious Burmese businessman, played by Sessue Hayakawa. Employing some of the silent era’s most potent plot twists and elaborate production design, “The Cheat” has endured thanks to Hayakawa’s performance, a subtle yet menacing mix which made him a cinema star.
The Chechahcos (1924)
The title of this independent, regional film is Inuit for tenderfoot or newcomer
The first feature film produced in Alaska, it is renowned for its spectacular location footage of the lonely and unfathomable Alaskan wilderness, frenzied dogsled pursuits and life-and-death struggles on the glaciers.
A compelling whodunit reminiscent of Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett, “Chinatown” was among the most renowned films of the ’70s and holds up impeccably today, thanks to a script by Robert Towne and direction by the unconventional Roman Polanski. Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway vascillate between ice cold and red hot and back again in the style of Bogey and Bacall.
Expanded essay by James Verniere
A Christmas Story (1983)
Humorist Jean Shepherd narrates this memoir of growing up in Hammond, Ind., during the 1940s when his greatest ambition was to receive a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. The film is based in part on Shepherd’s 1966 compilation of short stories titled “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash,” which originated on his radio and television programs. Writer-director Bob Clark had long dreamed of making a movie based on Shepherd’s work and his reverence for the material shows through as detail after nostalgic detail rings true with period flavor. Dozens of small but expertly realized moments reflect an astute understanding of human nature. Peter Billingsley—with his cherubic cheeks, oversized glasses and giddy grin—portrays Shepherd as a boy. Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon are his harried-yet-lovable parents.
Chulas Fronteras (1976)
Accomplished documentarian Les Blank directed this complex, insightful look at the Chicano experience as mirrored in the lives and music of the most acclaimed Norteño musicians of the Texas-Mexican border, including Flaco Jimenez and Lydia Mendoza. Much of “Chulas Fronteras” features no dialog, and this lack of narration allows for more focus on the sights and sounds of the local music and culture.
Cicero March (1966)
During the summer of 1966, the Chicago Freedom Movement, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., targeted Chicago in a drive to end de facto segregation in northern cities and ensure better housing, education and job opportunities for African Americans. After violent rioting and a month of demonstrations, 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 on film in this eight-minute, cinema-vérité-styled documentary. Using lightweight, handheld equipment, the Chicago-based Film Group, Inc. filmmakers situated themselves in the midst of confrontations and captured for posterity the viciousness of northern reactions to civil-rights reforms.
Citizen Kane (1941)
Orson Welles’ story of a newspaper tycoon who gains the world but loses his soul has earned the reputation as the “greatest film of all time.” When it debuted, critics applaused it but audiences were lukewarm. Today, the legend that is “Kane” has overshadowed what is a fascinating look at a fascinating character, thanks to the script by Welles and Herman Mankiewicz, and filmed with fascinating style, thanks to innovative cinematography by Gregg Toland.
Expanded essay by Godfrey Cheshire
The City (1939)
City Lights (1931)
Contemporary audiences know director Thomas Ince not for his body of work, but for his infamously mysterious death in 1924 aboard William Randolph Hearst’s yacht. Ince was, in fact, an accomplished and prolific producer-director who made more than 150 films in 1913 alone. In his film “Civilization,” a once hawkish count betrays his war-mongering king by suddenly embracing pacifism and drowning himself as a sacrifice to peace. Furious, the king orders his scientists to resurrect the count, but is instead met by Christ, who now inhabits the count’s body. Christ horrifies the king with graphic visions of war’s carnage, and the repentant monarch vows to devote his life to peace. By 1916, most Americans no longer favored isolationism, however, and audiences sentenced the film to death at the box office.
Clash of the Wolves (1925)
In one of the greatest stories in film history, German shepherd Rin-Tin-Tin (Rinty) was rescued from a German trench during World War I by American soldier Lee Duncan, who trained the dog and took him to Hollywood. Rinty quickly became one of the biggest stars of 1920s Hollywood, reportedly saving Warner Bros. studio from bankruptcy. In “Clash of the Wolves” resourceful Rinty ingeniously rescues the good guys while foiling the crooks.
Expanded essay by Susan Orlean
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Suspense film a creature from the sea to creatures from the sky to Steven Spielberg constructed his follow up to "Jaws" around the iconic image Devil’s Tower National Monument. the quest for extraterrestrial life and UFOs. Also making the film effective and believable is Richard’s Dreyfuss’ Everyman character Roy Neary. The five-tone musical motif used for communication with the aliens has become as memorable as any line of movie dialogue.
Cologne: From the Diary of Ray and Esther (1939)
This fourteen-minute black-and-white silent documentary salutes the “good natured Germans or Hollanders” of Cologne, Minnesota as photographed by local amateur filmmakers Esther and Raymond Dowidat. Cologne, population 350, is located southwest of Minneapolis in the midst of dairy farms. When “examined more closely, the town is really quaint and picturesque” we’re told by Esther’s handwritten “diary” which serve as the film’s narration. It stands out not because its subject matter is particularly unique, but because it exhibits a cinematic sophistication and artistry not usually found in home movies, while capturing a distinct flavor of time and place.
Commandment Keeper Church, Beaufort South Carolina, May 1940 (1940)
This selection of field recordings made by a pioneering ethnographic film team led by anthropologist and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston. This amazing footage is especially worthy of recognition because synchronous sound recordings were made capturing singing, instrumental music, sermons, and religious services among this South Carolina Gullah community. These audio recordings have recently been rediscovered and are being reunited with the film footage.
A Computer Animated Hand (1972)
Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, renowned for its CGI (computer generated image) animated films, created a program for digitally animating a human hand in 1972 as a graduate student project, one of the earliest examples of 3D computer animation. The one-minute film displays the hand turning, opening and closing, pointing at the viewer, and flexing its fingers, ending with a shot that seemingly travels up inside the hand. In creating the film, which was incorporated into the 1976 film “Futureworld,” Catmull worked out concepts that become the foundation for computer graphics that followed.
The Conversation (1974)
A taut thriller in the style of Antonioni’s “Blowup” follows the trail of an audio surveillance expert played by Gene Hackman as he eavesdrops austensibly to catch a couple in an affair, but the plot thickens to reveal greater sins at work.
Expanded essay by Peter Keough
Cool Hand Luke (1967)
Paul Newman, who was nominated for an Oscar, portrays the classic antihero loner Luke: a prisoner on a Southern chain-gang who refuses to give in to the guards’ efforts to break his spirit. As Luke becomes a symbol of hope and resilience to the other inmates, prison captain Strother Martin drawls sadistically, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” George Kennedy received an Oscar as the unofficial leader of the cons who yields first place to Luke.
The Cool World (1963)
In director Shirley Clarke’s stark semi-documentary look at life in the Harlem ghetto, a 15-year-old gang member comes of age amidst drugs, violence and daunting racial prejudice. Eager to buy a gun (a “piece”), the teen struggles to establish his manhood in the only way he believes he can. Based on the novel by Warren Miller and the play by Robert Rossen, Clarke infuses her exposé with jazz music by such greats as Dizzy Gillespie, while minimizing any narrative form. “New York Times” reviewer Bosley Crowther noted, “The players, most with little or no previous experience in films, move with the random impulsiveness of characters caught on the run... the pounding vitality blisters the eyes and claws the senses with its vicious and hideous visual truths.”
Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight (1897)
Independently produced motion picture recordings of famous boxing contests were a leading factor in establishing the commercial success of movies in the late 19th century. Championship boxing matches were the most widely popular sporting contests in America in that era, even though the sport was banned in many states in the 1890s. Soon after Nevada legalized boxing in 1897, the Corbett-Fitzsimmons title fight was held in that state in Carson City on St. Patrick’s Day of that year. The film recorded the introductions of famous personalities in attendance and all 14 of the fight’s three-minute rounds, plus the one-minute breaks between rounds. With a running time of approximately 100 minutes, “The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight” was the longest movie produced at that time. Films of championship matches before 1897 had been unsuccessful because they ended too quickly with knockouts, leaving movie audiences unwilling to pay high-ticket prices to see such short films. “Corbett-Fitzsimmons” was a tremendous commercial success for the producers and contestants James J. Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons (the victor), generating an estimated $750,000 in income during the several years that it remained in distribution. This film also is deserving of a footnote in the technical history of motion pictures. Producers of early boxing films protected their films from piracy by engineering film printers and projectors that could only accept film stock of a proprietary size. The film prints of the fight were manufactured in a unique 63mm format that could only be run on a special projector advertised as “The Veriscope.”
A Corner in Wheat (1909)
The father of the American narrative film, D.W. Griffith pioneered film techniques that continue to influence filmmakers. Ably assisted by his long-time cameraman G.W. “Billy” Bitzer, Griffith produced this 14-minute film decrying greed and its consequences. Griffith was inspired by the work of Frank Norris, a novelist best known for “McTeague” (1899) — later adapted as “Greed” (1925), another Registry film. Griffith discovered a trilogy Norris was writing at the time of his death in 1902. Its theme was wheat: how it’s grown, distributed and consumed. Griffith achieves a surprising sense of movement from a single stationary camera, and by building drama with the the use of intercut images to illustrates comparisons and contrasts.
The Court Jester (1956)
In this delightful adventure parody, famed comedian Danny Kaye plays a peasant leader who restores the rightful heir to the throne of England once he learns that “The pellet with the poison is in the flagon with the dragon (not the chalice from the palace); the vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true.”
Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (1963)
Robert Drew was a pioneer of American cinema-verite (a style of documentary filmmaking that strives to record unfolding events non-intrusively). In 1963, he gathered together a stellar group of filmmakers, including D. A. Pennebaker, Richard Leacock, Gregory Shuker, James Lipscomb, and Patricia Powell, to capture on film the dramatic unfolding of an ideological crisis, one that revealed political decision-making at the highest levels. The result, "Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment," focuses on Gov. George Wallace’s attempt to prevent two African-American students from enrolling in the University of Alabama—his infamous "stand in the schoolhouse door" confrontation—and the response of President John F. Kennedy. The filmmakers observe the crisis evolve by following a number of participants, including Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, Gov. Wallace and the two students, Vivian Malone and James Hood. The film also shows deliberations between the president and his staff that led to a peaceful resolution, a decision by the president to deliver a major address on civil rights and a commitment by Wallace to continue his battle in subsequent national election campaigns. The film has proven to be a uniquely revealing complement to written histories of the period, providing viewers the rare opportunity to witness historical events from an insider’s perspective.
The Crowd (1928)
Cry of Jazz (1959)
“Cry of Jazz” is a 34-minute, black-and-white short subject that is now recognized as an early and influential example of African-American independent filmmaking. Director Ed Bland, with the help of more than 60 volunteer crew members, intercuts scenes of life in Chicago’s black neighborhoods with interviews of interracial artists and intellectuals. “Cry of Jazz” argues that black life in America shares a structural identity with jazz music. With performance clips by the jazz composer, bandleader and pianist Sun Ra and his Arkestra, the film demonstrates the unifying tension between rehearsed and improvised jazz. “Cry of Jazz” is a historic and fascinating film that comments on racism and the appropriation of jazz by those who fail to understand its artistic and cultural origins.
The Cry of the Children (1912)
Recognized as a key work that both reflected and contributed to the pre-World War I child labor reform movement, the two-reel silent melodrama “The Cry of the Children” takes its title and fatalistic, uncompromising tone of hopelessness from the 1842 poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. It was part of a wave of “social problem” films released during the 1910s on such subjects as drugs and alcohol, white slavery, immigrants and women’s suffrage. Some were sensationalist attempts to exploit lurid topics, while others, like this film, were realistic exposés that championed social reform and demanded change. Shot partially in a working textile factory, “The Cry of the Children” was recognized by an influential critic of the time as “The boldest, most timely and most effective appeal for the stamping out of the cruelest of all social abuses.”
A Cure for Pokeritis (1912)
Largely forgotten today, actor John Bunny merits significant historical importance as the American film industry’s earliest comic superstar. A stage actor prior to the start of his film career, Bunny starred in over 150 Vitagraph Company productions from 1910 until his death in 1915. Many of his films (affectionately known as “Bunnygraphs”) were gentle “domestic” comedies, in which he portrayed a henpecked husband alongside co-star Flora Finch. “A Cure for Pokeritis” exemplifies the genre, as Finch conspires with similarly displeased wives to break up their husbands’ weekly poker game. When Bunny died in 1915, a New York Times editorial noted that “Thousands who had never heard him speak…recognized him as the living symbol of wholesome merriment.” The paper presciently commented on the importance of preserving motion pictures and sound recordings for future generations: “His loss will be felt all over the country, and the films, which preserve his humorous personality in action, may in time have a new value. It is a subject worthy of reflection, the value of a perfect record of a departed singer’s voice, of the photographic films perpetuating the drolleries of a comedian who developed such extraordinary capacity for acting before the camera.”
Expanded essay by Steve Massa
The Curse of Quon Gwon (1916-17)
Long thought lost, “The Curse of Quon Gwon,” is the earliest known Chinese-American feature and one of the first films directed by a woman, and was recently restored by the Academy Film Archive. The two surviving reels were brought to the attention of filmmaker Arthur Dong while researching his “Hollywood Chinese” documentary. Its timely rediscovery shows us that the history of ethnic filmmaking in the United States goes back much further than earlier thought.
Czechoslovakia 1968 (1969)
With film smuggled out of state-operated film studios and filmed by private citizens as events unfolded, the United States Information Agency (USIA) fashioned a film that documented 50 years of history and political turmoil in Czechoslovakia from its inception as a nation in 1918 through the bloody Russian invasion in 1968. Robert Fresco, who produced a series of television documentaries for David Wolper’s company, and Dennis Sanders, who had been producing documentaries with his brother Terry since the early 1950s, wrote and directed this 13-minute film which
won the Best Documentary Short Subject Oscar in 1969.
This taut film noir tells in sparkling dialog the story of a man, played by Edmond O’Brien, who has been poisoned and tries to find his killer during his remaining few days. Director Rudolph Maté moves the film off of the backlot and skillfully employs varied exterior locations to give the film a more open and authentic feel.
Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)
Although there were numerous women filmmakers in the early decades of silent cinema, by the 1930s directing in Hollywood had become a male bastion—with one exception. Dorothy Arzner graduated from editing to directing in the late 1920s, often exploring the conflicted roles of women in contemporary society. In “Dance, Girl, Dance,” two women (Lucille Ball and Maureen O’Hara) pursue life in show business from opposite ends of the spectrum: burlesque and ballet. The film is a meditation on the disparity between art and commerce. The dancers strive to preserve their own feminist integrity, while fighting for their place in the spotlight and for the love of male lead Louis Hayward.
Expanded essay by Carrie Rickey
Dances With Wolves (1990)
Directed by its star Kevin Costner, “Dances with Wolves” disproved the contemporary reputation of Westerns as box office poison, and garnered critical success as well as financial, including nabbing the Best Picture Oscar. The story of the developing relationship between a cavalry soldier and a nearby Sioux tribe is told in epic fashion, with sweeping cinematography and a majestic John Barry score. The film achieved one of the more sympathetic cinema portraits of Native American life by celebrating the richness of Lakota Sioux folklore, traditions and language.
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, "Daughter of 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.
Daughter of Shanghai (1937)
B-films during the studio era often resonate decades later because they explore issues and themes not found in higher-budget pictures. Robert Florey, widely acclaimed as the best director working in major studio B-films during this period, crafted an intriguing, taut thriller. Anna May Wong overcame Hollywood’s practice at the time of casting white actors to play Asian roles and became its first, and a leading, Asian-American movie star in the 1920s through the late 1930s. “Daughter of Shanghai” was more truly Wong’s personal vehicle than any of her other films. In the story she uncovers the smuggling of illegal aliens through San Francisco’s Chinatown, cooperating with costar Philip Ahn as the first Asian G-man of the American cinema.
Daughters of the Dust (1991)
This is the first feature-length film by an African-American woman to receive a wide theatrical release. Julie Dash eschews traditional forms of film narrative for a poetic, impressionistic collage of gorgeous colors, music and imagery, in telling the story of three generations of African-American who meet on the Gullah South Carolina Sea Island in 1902. Evocative, emotional look at family, era and place.
David Holzman’s Diary (1968)
A satire on cinema verite, this “fake documentary” was shot in only five days on a $2500 budget. L. M. Kit Carson plays Holzman, a young New York filmmaker who decides to get a handle on his life by putting it all down on celluloid. Written, directed and produced by Jim McBride, later a maintream film and television director, captures the essence of the filmmaker as artist while skewering it with its own devices: grainy black-and-white 16mm film, wobbly handheld camerawork, bizarre angles and lenses. “Diary” led the way to popular mockumentaries like Rob Reiner’s “This is Spinal Tap” and Christopher Guest’s “Waiting for Guffman” and “Best in Show.”
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
Days of Heaven (1978)
Acknowledging the sublime cinematography of Nÿstor Almendros and Haskell Wexler, “Days of Heaven” is often called one of the most beautiful films ever made. is an impressionist painting for the screen. The wheat fields and prairies of the Texas Panhandle—filmed in Alberta—shine and undulate in wind currents and storms, framing the tale of a love triangle (Richard Gere, Brooke Adams and Sam Shepard) fated to end badly. The dialogue is spare, punctuating an elegiac score by Ennio Morricone and haunting narration by Linda Manz, who speaks from a child’s point of view. Following this film (his second after “Badlands”), director Terrence Malick disappeared from public view for 20 years, returning in 1998 with “The Thin Red Line.”
Dead Birds (1964)
One of the most influential ethnographic films of the 1960s, “Dead Birds” is director Robert Gardner’s interpretation of life among a group of Dani natives in Papua, New Guinea. The film focuses on two natives in particular, following them through the events of Dani life, contrasting the peaceful: farming sweet potatoes and raising pigs and the warlike: raids and skirmishes. Gardner wrote, “Wars were the best way they knew to keep a terrible harmony in a life which would be, without the strife they invented, mostly hard and dull.” He described the meaning of the film’s title as “both immediate and allegorical. In the Dani language it refers to the weapons and ornaments recovered in battle. Its other more poetic meaning comes from the Dani belief that people, because they are like birds, must die.”
Errol Morris, the director of such highly acclaimed documentary features as “The Thin Blue Line,” “Fast, Cheap and Out of Control” and “Mr. Death,” is noted to have sat drop-jawed watching "Decasia” and stammering, "This may be the greatest movie ever made." Created from scraps of decades-old decomposing “found film,” “Decasia” hypnotizes and teases with images that fade and transform themselves right before the viewer’s eyes. Culling footage from archives across the country, filmmaker Bill Morrison collected nitrate film stock on the very brink of disappearance and distilled it into a new art form capable of provoking “transports of sublime reverie amid pangs of wistful sorrow,” according to New York Times writer Lawrence Weschler. 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 that Weschler called “ravishingly, achingly beautiful.”
The Deer Hunter (1978)
Four Atlanta professionals (Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Ronnie Cox and Jon Voight) head for a weekend canoe trip — and instead meet up with two of the more memorable villains in film history (Billy McKinney and Herbert Coward) in this gripping Appalachian “Heart of Darkness.” With dazzling visual flair, director John Boorman and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond infuse James Dickey’s novel with scenes of genuine terror and frantic struggles for survival battling river rapids — and in the process create a work rich with fascinating ambiguities about “civilized” values, urban-versus-backwoods culture, nature, and man’s supposed taming of the environment.
Demolishing and Building Up the Star Theatre (1901)
Destry Rides Again (1939)
This ultracheap melodrama by Edgar G. Ulmer has developed cult status as one of the most stylish B pictures ever produced. A hitchhiker (Tom Neal) gets mixed up with a femme fatale (Ann Savage) who involves him in a murder.
Expanded essay by J. Hoberman
Dickson Experimental Sound Film (1894-95)
This film was a very early attempt by W.K.L. Dickson of the Thomas Edison Company to combine film image and sound. It is included on the National Film Preservation Foundation DVD “More Treasures from American Film Archives, 1894-1931.”
Dirty Harry (1971)
Clint Eastwood’s role as rogue police officer Harry Callahan in director Don Siegel’s action-packed, controversial paean to vigilante justice marked a major turning point in Eastwood’s career. A top 10 box-office hit after its release, “Dirty Harry” struck a nerve in the era’s politically polarized atmosphere with those who believed that concern over suspects’ rights had gone too far. While a number of critics characterized the film as “fascistic,” Eastwood countered that Harry, who disregards police procedure and disobeys his superiors, represents “a fantasy character” who “does all the things people would like to do in real life but can’t.” “Dirty Harry,” he stated later, was ahead of its time, putting the “rights of the victim” above those of the accused. The film’s kinesthetic direction and editing laid the aesthetic groundwork for many of the 1970s’ gritty, realistic police dramas.
Disneyland Dream (1956)
The Barstow family films a memorable home movie of their trip to Disneyland. Robbins and Meg Barstow, along with their children Mary, David and Daniel were among 25 families who won a free trip to the newly opened Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., as part of a "Scotch Brand Cellophane Tape" contest sponsored by 3M. Through vivid color and droll narration ("The landscape was very different from back home in Connecticut"), we see a fantastic historical snapshot of Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Catalina Island, Knott’s Berry Farm, Universal Studios and Disneyland in mid-1956. Home movies have assumed a rapidly increasing importance in American cultural studies as they provide a priceless and authentic record of time and place.
Do the Right Thing (1989)
Spike Lee’s provocative story of one long, hot day in the Bedford-Stuyevesant neighborhood of Brooklyn sparked controversy even before it opened in theaters. A study of race relations that for some in the community seems black and white -- literally -- but more often it’s a gray area of mutual tolerance. Writer-director Lee also stars in the film whose cast includes Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, John Turturo and at least half a dozen other actors who would go on to bigger and better roles.
Expanded essay by David Sterritt
The Docks of New York (1928)
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Director Sidney Lumet balances suspense, violence and humor in Frank Pierson’s Oscar-winning adaptation of a true-life bank robbery turned media circus. Al Pacino is the engaging Sonny, a smart yet self-destructive Brooklyn tough guy whose plan to rob the local bank to pay for his lover’s sex change goes awry. Lumet artfully conducts his talented cast through machinations that twist and turn from the political to the personal, and inevitably lead to a downward spiral played out before an audience of millions.
Dog Star Man (1961-64)
Considered one of the most important figures in 20th-century experimental film Stan Brakhage created “Dog Star Man,” what he described as a cosmological epic, as a series of four films and a prelude.
later reassembled the parts the he called “The Art of Vision.”
Don’t Look Back (1967)
Double Indemnity (1944)
A seductive housewife (Barbara Stanwyck) lures an insurance salesman (Fred MacMurray) into murder while the salesman’s partner (Edward G. Robinson) tries to untangle their web of deception. Billy Wilder directed and Raymond Chandler wrote the script, and the result is snappy dialogue that always suggests far more than the words spoken.
Expanded essay by Matt Zoller Seitz
Dr. Strangelove (1964)
Drums of Winter [Uksuum Cauyai] (1988)
Winner of numerous international awards, this beautiful documentary explores the rare dance language and culture of the Yup’ik Eskimo people in Emmonak, Alaska (part of the Yukon River delta on the Bering Sea). At the heart of their culture are complex potlatch gift-giving ceremonies featuring ceremonial story/dances serving as a bridge between the human and unseen spiritual worlds. At the center of the dance was the drum, serving as the cadence of the universe. The fabric of the community is woven together through giving: “Our spirits live by giving, things we give will return in larger amounts, because the wilderness has enough for all.”
Duck Amuck (1953)
Duck and Cover (1951)
This landmark civil defense film was seen by millions of schoolchildren in the 1950s. As explained by Bert the Turtle, to survive an atomic attack you must “duck and cover.”
Duck Soup (1933)
A combination of musical mayhem and political satire finds the Marx Brothers at the center of war between tiny Freedonia and its neighbor Sylvania. The reliably clueless Margaret Dumont is there to bear the brunt of Groucho’s wisecracks. Famous for the scene in which Chico and Harpo impersonate an unwitting Groucho in front of a mirror.
Expanded essay by William Wolf
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Early Abstractions #1-5, 7, 10 (1939-56)
Harry Smith made his mark in many fields. He was a painter, archivist and compiler of the landmark “Anthology of American Music” (which helped stimulate a folk and blues revival). Smith also was a groundbreaking avant-garde filmmaker whose revolutionary animation challenged traditional concepts of cinema. His films used batik, collage and optical printing to create a tumult of shapes and images that integrates chaos with control. Consisting of seven films made over a 17-year span, “Early Abstractions” is a lovely, ever-moving collage of abstraction, color and imagery.
Easy Rider (1969)
This low-budget film of alienated youth struck a game-changing blow to Hollywood when every studio tried to duplicate its success. Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda wrote the screeplay and Hopper directed the story of two bikers in search of "the real America." Occasionally banal and dated, the film’s cinematogrphy, pop music score and breakout performance by Jack Nicholson render it a fascinating time capsule.
Expanded essay by William Wolf
Eaux d’Artifice (1992)
El Mariachi (1992)
Directed, edited, co-produced, and written in two weeks by Robert Rodriguez for $7,000 while a film student at the University of Texas, "El Mariachi” proved a favorite on the film festival circuit. After Columbia Pictures picked it up for distribution, the film helped usher in the independent movie boom of the early 1990s. “El Mariachi” is an energetic, highly entertaining tale of an itinerant musician, portrayed by co-producer and Rodriguez crony Carlos Gallardo, who arrives at a Mexican border town during a drug war and is mistaken for a hit man who recently escaped from prison. The story, as film historian Charles Ramirez Berg has suggested, plays with expectations common to two popular exploitation genres—the narcotraficante film, a Mexican police genre, and the transnational warrior-action film, itself rooted in Hollywood Westerns. Rodriguez’s success derived from invigorating these genres with creative variants despite the constraints of a shoestring budget. Rodriguez has gone on to direct films for major studios, becoming, in Berg’s estimation, "arguably the most successful Latino director ever to work in Hollywood."
Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB (1967)
This 15-minute film, produced by George Lucas while a student at the University of Southern California, won the 1968 United States National Student Film Festival drama award and inspired Warner Bros. studio to sign Lucas to produce the expanded feature length “THX 1138” under the tutelage of Francis Ford Coppola. This film has evoked comparisons to George Orwell’s "1984" and impressed audiences with its technical inventiveness and cautionary view of a future filled with security cameras and omnipresent scrutiny.
Ella Cinders (1926)
With her trendsetting Dutch bob haircut 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 or Joan Crawford. In “Ella Cinders,” Ella (Colleen Moore) wins a beauty contest sponsored by a movie magazine and is awarded a studio contract. New York Times reviewer Mordaunt Hall observed that the film was “filled with those wild incidents which are seldom heard of in ordinary society,” and noted “Miss Moore is energetic and vivacious.” The film is an archetype of 1920s comedy, featuring a star whose air of emancipation inspired her generation.
The Emperor Jones (1933)
Controversial since the day of its release in 1964, Andy Warhol’s grueling, eight-hour, one-shot stationary camera take of the Empire State Building shakes the conventions of cinema by redefining concepts of perception, action and cinematic time. The film features a continuous presence broken into separate pieces of time by 100-foot rolls of film and light flashes. Hailed as a masterpiece by some and a vapid exercise by others, “Empire” continues to elicit critical analysis.
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
The much anticipated continuation of the “Star Wars” saga, Irvin Kershner’s 1980 sequel sustained the action-adventure and storytelling success of its predecessor and helped lay the foundation for one of the most commercially successful film series in American cinematic history.
The Endless Summer (1966)
Bruce Brown’s droll documentary of two surfers and their around-the-world quest for the Perfect Wave that made millions despite unenthusiastic prospective distributors. Brown was repeatedly rejected by Hollywood distributors wary of limited mainstream appeal. In the depths of winter, Brown booked the film for two weeks in Wichita, Kansas where audiences lined up in the snow and sold out multiple screenings. With distributors still not convinced, Brown repeated his experiment in New York City where the film an successfully for a year, and finally earned the respect of a distributor. From a budget of $50,000, the film grossed $20 million in its national debut.
Enter the Dragon (1973)
Bruce Lee burst onto the American scene in this martial arts extravaganza with its dazzling “Hall of Mirrors” climax. Film lore has it that during one fight scene, Lee performed a flying kick so fast that the camera operator was unable to capture it at the standard 24 frames a second, forcing him to shoot in slow motion to make sure the stunt looked authentic and not as if it had been faked. Although Lee unexpectedly died shortly before the film was released, “Enter the Dragon” became a huge hit and Lee became a pop culture legend.
Expanded essay by Michael Sragow
A visually stunning portrayal of a man facing fatherhood in a nightmarish industrial world, this film introduced American audiences to David Lynch’s unique, surrealistic style of sparse dialogue, unsettling characters, horrific imagery and a paradoxically abstract narrative. “Eraserhead” secured Lynch’s place as a hero for fans craving unorthodox filmmaking.
Expanded essay by David Sterritt
The Evidence of the Film (1913)
From 1910 to 1918, Edwin Thanhouser’s New Rochelle, New York-based company was a prolific film studio producing more than 1,000 shorts of various genres. Though few of his movies survive, one that has is this short mystery in which a delivery boy is falsely accused of stealing $20,000. All hope seems lost until the boy’s sister, who works as a film editor, uncovers celluloid evidence to free him -- a plot device that anticipates security cameras and eyewitness home videos by decades. Thanhouser, who co-directed with Lawrence Marston, demonstrates a command of visual storytelling that rivals D.W. Griffith’s.
The Exiles (1961)
Released nearly 48 years ago, “The Exiles” remains one of the few non-stereotypical films that honestly depict Native Americans. With the perspective of a true outsider, filmmaker Kent MacKenzie captures the raw essence of a group of 20-something Native Americans who left reservation life in the 1950s to live among the decayed Victorian mansions of Los Angeles’ Bunker Hill district. MacKenzie’s day-in-the-life narrative pieces together interviews that allow the people in his film to tell their own stories without ascribing artificial sentimentality.
The Exorcist (1973)
“The Exorcist” is one of the most successful and influential horror films of all time. Its influence, both stylistically and in narrative, continues to be seen in many movies of the 21st century. The film’s success, both commercially and cinematically, provides a rare example of a popular novel being ably adapted for the big screen.
The Exploits of Elaine (1914)
A Face in the Crowd (1957)
Before Andy Griffith became a television legend playing a likable small-town sheriff, he portrayed a completely different type of celebrity in this dark look at the way sudden fame and power can corrupt. In his film debut, Griffith plays a rural drunk, drifter and country singer who becomes an overnight success when a radio station employee (Patricia Neal) puts him on the air. Behind the scenes, he turns into a power-hungry monster who must be exposed. This film is based on the short story "The Arkansas Traveler" by Budd Schulberg, who also wrote the script for director Elia Kazan.
Writer-director John Cassavetes described “Faces,” considered by many to be his first mature work, as "a barrage of attack on contemporary middle-class America." The film depicts a married couple, "safe in their suburban home, narrow in their thinking," he wrote, who experience a break up that "releases them from the conformity of their existence, forces them into a different context, when all barriers are down." An example of cinematic excess, "Faces" places its viewers inside intense lengthy scenes to allow them to discover within its relentless confrontations emotions and relations of power between men and women that rarely emerge in more conventionally structured films. In provoking remarkable performances by Lynn Carlin, John Marley and Gena Rowlands, Cassavetes has created a style of independent filmmaking that has inspired filmmakers around the world.
Fake Fruit Factory (1986)
The Fall of the House of Usher (1928)
An expressive, sympathetic look at the everyday lives of young Mexican women who create ornamental papier măché fruits and vegetables, "Fake Fruit Factory" exemplifies filmmaker Chick Strand’s unique style that deftly blends documentary, avant-garde and ethnographic techniques. After studying anthropology and ethnographic film at the University of California, Strand, who helped noted independent filmmaker Bruce Baillie create the independent film distribution cooperative Canyon Cinema, taught filmmaking for 24 years at Occidental College. She developed a collagist process to create her films, shooting footage of people she encountered over several decades of annual summer stays in Mexico and then editing together individual films. In "Fake Fruit Factory," Strand employs a moving camera at close range to create colorfully vivid images often verging on abstraction, while her soundtrack picks up snatches of conversation to evoke, in her words, "the spirit of the people." "I want to know," Strand wrote, "really what it is like to be a breathing, talking, moving, emotional, relating individual in the society."
This film is the Coen Brothers’ original black comic spin on murder, propelled by Frances McDormand’s “you-betcha,” pregnant police chief and William Macy’s clammy loser. The droll deadpan humor delights in frame after frame.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
Among the best teen comedies, this 1980s cultural icon combines a sympathetic treatment of adolescence with hilarious performances. Directed by Amy Heckerling, the film was based on a script by 22-year old Rolling Stone writer (and later film director) Cameron Crowe, who spent nine months undercover as a student at Redondo Beach’s Ridgemont High School. The cast contains an appealing mix of soon-to-be-famous young talent (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold) confronting their raging hormones as they hang out at the mall and endure jobs in fast-food restaurants. Most memorable is Sean Penn as the spaced-out surfer dude Jeff Spicoli.
Fatty’s Tintype Tangle (1915)
Film Portrait (1970)
“Film Porgrait” is a full-length autobiographical work directed by, and about, the life of Minnesota filmmaker and artist Jerome Hill. Throughout his life an avid student and creator of music, Hill began to compose all of the scores for his films in the late ’60s. Hill died shortly after the completion of this film, and the work is often described as his memoir.
Five Easy Pieces (1970)
Flash Gordon Serial (1936)
Flesh and the Devil (1927)
One of the last silent film classics, “Flesh and the Devil” is the first on-screen pairing of silent superstars John Gilbert and Greta Garbo. It is a masterpiece of American romanticism from director Clarence Brown, who directed Garbo in seven classic films, and Garbo’s favorite cinematographer, William Daniels. In “Flesh and the Devil,” Garbo plays a seductress who sacrifices love for comfort and material luxury. The blistering chemistry between Garbo and Gilbert reflected their torrid, real-life affair at the time.
Flower Drum Song (1961)
This film version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical marked the first Hollywood studio film featuring performances by a mostly Asian cast, a break from past practice of casting white actors made up to appear Asian. Starring prominent Asian-American actors Nancy Kwan and James Shigeta, this milestone film presented an enduring three-dimensional portrait of Asian America as well as a welcomed, non-cliched portrait of Chinatown beyond the usual exotic tourist façades.
Foolish Wives (1922)
Director Erich von Stroheim’s third feature, staged with costly and elaborate sets of Monte Carlo, tells the story of a criminal who passes himself off as a Russian count in order to seduce women of society and steal their money. This brilliant and, at the time, controversial film fully established von Stroheim’s reputation within the industry as a challenging and difficult-to-manage creative genius.
Footlight Parade (1933)
Forbidden Planet (1956)
Directed by Fred M. Wilcox, MGM’s "Forbidden Planet" is one of the seminal science-fiction films of the 1950s, a genre that found itself revitalized and empowered after World War II and within America’s newly created post-nuclear age. Loosely based upon William Shakespeare’s "The Tempest," "Forbidden Planet" is both sci-fi saga and allegory, a timely parable about the dangers of unlimited power and unrestrained technology. Since its production, the movie has proved inspirational to generations of speculative fiction visionaries, including Gene Roddenberry. Along with its literary influence, highly influential special effects and visual style, the film also pushed the boundaries of cinematic science fiction. For the first time, all action happened intergalatically (not on Earth) and humans are depicted as space travelers, regularly jetting off to the far reaches of the cosmos. Additionally, "Forbidden Planet" is remembered for its innovative score—or lack thereof. No music exists on the film’s soundtrack; instead, all ambient sounds are "electronic tonalities" created by Louis and Bebe Barren. Walter Pidgeon, Leslie Nielsen, Anne Francis and, in his debut, Robbie the Robot make up the film’s cast.
Force of Evil (1948)
The Forgotten Frontier (1931)
Forrest Gump (1994)
As "Forrest Gump," Tom Hanks portrays an earnest, guileless "everyman" whose open-heartedness and sense of the unexpected unwittingly draws him into some of the most iconic events of the 1960s and 1970s. A smash hit, "Forrest Gump" has been honored for its technological innovations (the digital insertion of Gump seamlessly into vintage archival footage), its resonance within the culture that has elevated Gump (and what he represents in terms of American innocence) to the status of folk hero, and its attempt to engage both playfully and seriously with contentious aspects of the era’s traumatic history. The film received six Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921)
Fox Movietone News: Jenkins Orphanage Band (1928)
Newsreel footage of the renowned African American touring musical group of Charleston, S.C. The Jenkins Orphanage Band of Charleston has been recognized as one of the country’s important jazz “incubators.” This Fox Movietone News film is the earliest extant sound recording of the band and shows close ups of the of the youthful musicians comprising the brass and percussion ensemble playing their instruments as they perform on a local sidewalk. Young boys and girls dance in front of the band.
Frank Film (1973)
This animated short features two soundtracks: on one, Frank narrates an autobiography, on the other, he reads off a list of words beginning with the letter “f.” Tying the two soundtracks together and influencing their subject matter is the animated collage of photos collected from magazines — all arranged by theme and each theme merging into the next. The brainchild of Frank and Caroline Mouris, with soundtrack by Tony Schwartz, the film won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 1974.
This early sound chiller may be the definitive film of its genre from the studio that became known for the genre: Universal. Superior to “Dracula,” made less than a year previously, it illustrates how quickly Hollywood mastered the art of sound. Influenced by German Expressionism, director James Whale applies a unique twist to Mary Shelley’s original tragedy of a doctor (Colin Clive) obsessed with restoring life, and the creature (Boris Karloff) he unleashes. Makeup designed by Jack Pierce was revolutionary.
Expanded essay by Richard T. Jameson, examines “Frankenstein” and “Bride of Frankenstein” in a single entry.
Free Radicals (1979)
Born in New Zealand, avant-garde filmmaker Len Lye moved to the United States and became a naturalized citizen in 1950. For his four-minute work "Free Radicals" (begun in 1958 and completed in 1979), Lye made scratches directly into the film stock. These scratches became "figures of motion" that appear in the finished film as horizontal and vertical lines and shapes dancing to the music of the Bagirmi tribe in Africa.
The French Connection (1971)
This maverick cop thriller reinvented car chases and the way to film New York City (cinematography by Owen Roizman). It features gripping action scenes and a career-making performance by Gene Hackman, who plays the intense, bend-the-rules-when-necessary cop Popeye Doyle, and direction by William Friedkin.
The Freshman (1925)
From Here to Eternity (1953)
From Stump to Ship (1930)
Alfred Ames, the president of the Machias Lumber Company in Washington County, Maine, purchased a 16 mm moving picture camera in 1929 and with the help of a friend, Dr. Howard Kane, meticulously recorded the labor of woodsmen and horses. They created this 30-minute silent film to document his workers in all facets of the lumber industry from sawing down trees to running logs down rivers. Ames not only documented his family business, but he also created a cinematic record of the lumber industry.
From the Manger to the Cross (1912)
The Front Page (1931)
The Front Page" is a historically significant early sound movie that successfully demonstrates the rapid progress achieved by Hollywood filmmakers in all creative professions after realizing the capabilities of sound technology to invent new film narratives. The film is based on one of the best screenplays of the 1930s by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. It was directed by Lewis Milestone and featured great performances by Pat O’Brien, Adolphe Menjou, Mary Brian, Edward Everett Horton, Walter Catlett, Mae Clark, Slim Summerville, Matt Moore and Frank McHugh.
Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers (1980)
Les Blank’s hilarious and affectionate homage to “The Stinking Rose” delights slightly wacky devotees or alliumophiles. In their mind, garlic is the benevolent dictator of pungent herbs, always enhancing food rather than dominating it. The rallying cry is “Fight Mouthwash, Eat Garlic.” Gastronomic, zestful, tasty and memorable, the film often is screened in “AromaRound” with a pot of garlic butter boiling at the back of the theater.
The General (1927)
George Stevens’ World War II Footage (1943-46)
Having already directed classics such as "Swing Time," "Gunga Din" and "Woman of the Year," director George Stevens joined the U.S. Army Signal Corps and headed a motion picture unit under Gen. Eisenhower from 1943-46. He shot many hours of footage chronicling D-Day, including rare extant color film of the European war front; the liberation of Paris; American and Soviet forces meeting at the Elbe River; and horrific scenes from the Duben labor camp, thought to be a sub-camp of Buchenwald; and the Dachau concentration camp. The footage has become an essential visual record of World War II and a staple of documentary films.
Gerald McBoing-Boing (1951)
Gertie the Dinosaur (1914)
This monumental event" film is from the era when Hollywood made truly "big" pictures. George Stevens Jr. and a memorable cast (Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean) bring Edna Ferber’s epic sprawling novel of the Texas plains to life with panoramic visual style and memorable small touches. More than three hours long, it was one of the top films of the 1950s and a breathtaking example of the American film as spectacle.
With the end of World War II came a dark edge in the American psyche and a change in the films it produced. Film noir defined the 1940s and "Gilda" defined the Hollywood glamorization of film noir—long on sex appeal but short on substance. Director Charles Vidor capitalizes on the voyeuristic and sadomasochistic angles of film noir—and who better to fetishize than Rita Hayworth, poured into a strapless black satin evening gown and elbow-length gloves, sashaying to "Put the Blame on Mame." George Macready and Glenn Ford round out the tempestuous triangle, but "Gilda" was and, more than 65 years later, still is all about Hayworth.
Glimpse of the Garden (1957)
Marie Menken’s surprisingly joyful and simple film rates among the more accessible works of avant-garde filmmakers. The beautifully lyrical “Glimpse of the Garden” is a serendipitous visual tour of a flower garden set to a soundtrack of bird songs and calls.
The Godfather (1972)
Adapted from Mario Puzo’s bestselling novel, “The Godfather” became a landmark film of the 1970s and now ranks in the highest echelons of filmmaking. Director Francis Ford Coppola
Expanded essay for “The Godfather” and “Godfather Part II” by Michael Sragow
The Godfather Part II (1974)
Both sequel and prequel to “The Godfather,” Part II fleshes out the back story of the Corleone origins in Sicily with Robert De Niro portraying the young Don Vito, then moves forward as Don Michael (Al Pacino) wrestles with the changing identity of organized crime in the second half of the 20th century.
Expanded essay for “The Godfather” and “Godfather Part II” by Michael Sragow
Going My Way (1944)
This sentimental film favorite features Bing Crosby as a kindhearted Catholic priest whose upbeat, infectious personality, musical gifts, and acts of compassion rejuvenate his congregation. Crosby croons the popular “Swinging on a Star.”
Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)
Arguably the definitive Depression-era musical, rife with visually stunning Busby Berkeley productions, ranging from the escapist, kaleidoscopic, neon-violin-playing chorines of “The Shadow Waltz” to the powerful social statement of “My Forgotten Man,” a stirring paean to World War I veterans unemployed by the Depression.
The Gold Rush (1925)
Gone With the Wind (1939)
The Graduate (1967)
“The Graduate’s” coming-of-age story at times feels dated, but the character of Mrs. Robinson—deftly portrayed by Anne Bancroft—seems timeless. In hindsight, the film doesn’t capture the ‘60s as well as the edgier “Easy Rider,” but director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Buck Henry, aided by Dustin Hoffman as the clueless Benjamin, manage to concoct a funny and satirical look at a certain slice of Americana and the generation gap that pervaded the era.
Expanded essay by Jami Bernard
Grand Hotel (1932)
Dubbed “The Lion Tamer” for his skill in dealing with temperamental Hollywood stars, director Edmund Goulding ("Dark Victory," "Razor’s Edge," and "Nightmare Alley") earned that moniker many times over in “Grand Hotel.” This film put much of the MGM star factory—Greta Garbo, Wallace Beery, John and Lionel Barrymore, Joan Crawford—into a single film with multiple plots, arguably the first use of the all-star formula later seen in "Airport," "Dinner at Eight," and "The Towering Inferno." Crawford is reported to have told the Barrymores: "All right, boys, but don’t forget that the American public would rather have one look at my back than watch both your faces for an hour." In this film Garbo uttered the line, "I want to be alone."
The Grapes of Wrath (1939)
Gallery of images from production of “The Grapes of Wrath”
The Great Dictator (1940)
The Great Train Robbery (1903)
Grey Gardens (1975)
An influential cinema verité documentary by Albert and David Maysles, “Grey Gardens” has provided inspiration for creative works on the stage and in film. Through its close and sometimes disturbing look at the eccentric lives of "Big Edie" and "Little Edie" Beale, two women (cousins of former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy) living in East Hampton, N.Y., the film documents a complex and difficult mother-daughter relationship and a vanished era of decayed gentility.
Groundhog Day (1993)
“Groundhog Day” is a clever comedy with a philosophical edge to boot. Bill Murray plays a smug, arrogant weatherman caught in a personal time-warp, who is continuously forced to relive the Punxsutawney, Penn., annual Groundhog Day event. At first Murray revels at being able to act dishonorably without consequences, but he soon grows weary of having to wake up every morning to Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” and facing the same day again and again. The deft, innovative script creatively keeps rearranging and building on each day’s events, while at the same time moving Murray’s character into self-growth, redemption and personal rebirth. Andie MacDowell’s character tells him, “I like to see a man of advancing years throwing caution to the wind. It’s inspiring in a way.” Murray’s character knowingly replies, “My years are not advancing as fast as you might think.”
Growing Up Female (1971)
Among the first films to emerge from the women’s liberation movement, “Growing Up Female” is a documentary portrait of America on the brink of profound change in its attitudes toward women. Filmed in spring 1970 by Ohio college students Julia Reichert and Jim Klein, “Growing Up Female” focuses on six girls and women aged 4 to 34 and the home, school, work and advertising environments that have impacted their identities. Through open-ended interviews and lyrical documentation of their surroundings, the film strived, in Reichert’s words, to “give women a new lens through which to see their own lives.” Widely distributed to libraries, universities, churches and youth groups, the film launched a cooperative of female filmmakers that bypassed traditional distribution mechanisms to get its message communicated.
Gun Crazy (1949)
This quintessential “B movie” dramatizes the criminal escapades of a Bonnie-and-Clyde-like couple on the run. Appreciation for this low-budget film noir has grown since its release thanks to its bold, stylized look and an objectivity that approaches cinema verite. Directed by one-tine editor Joseph H. Lewis, the film stars John Dall and Peggy Cummins.
Expanded essay by Richard T. Jameson,
Gunga Din (1939)
Renowned experimental film by Ralph Steiner, who later served as cameraman and/or director on documentary classics such as "The City" and "The Plow that Broke the Plains." H2O is a cinematic tone poem to water in all its forms, using lovely images and editing techniques of movement, shading and texture to produce striking visual effects.
The all-black-cast film "Hallelujah" was a surprising gamble by normally conservative MGM, allowed chiefly because director King Vidor deferred his salary and MGM had proved slow to convert from silent to sound films. Vidor had to shoot silent film of the mass-river-baptism and swamp-murder Tennessee location scenes. He then painstakingly synchronized the dialogue and music. Around themes of religion, sensuality and family stability, Vidor molded a tale of a cotton sharecropper that begins with him losing his year’s earnings, his brother and his freedom and follows him through the temptations of a dancehall girl (Nina Mae McKinney). The passionate conviction of the melodrama and the resourceful technical experiments make "Hallelujah" among the very first indisputable masterpieces of the sound era.
John Carpenter’s first commercially successful film not only became his most famous work, but it also ushered in the dawn of the slasher film. However, “Halloween,” unlike many later films of that genre, creates a chilling tension with minimal blood and gore. The setting is Halloween night, and homicidal maniac Michael Myers has escaped from his mental institution and is hunting teenagers in his hometown of Haddonfield, Ill. Although the numerous imitations and elements of the genre are now considered a cliché, Carpenter’s style of point-of-view shots, tense editing and haunting piano score make “Halloween” uniquely artistic, frightening and a horror film keystone.
Hands Up! (1926)
As a comic actor, Raymond Griffith was worlds away from the frantic, rubber-faced funnymen who stereotypically appeared in silent films. An easy elegance was his stock-in-trade. When he performed a gag, Griffith executed it with understatement and panache. In the Civil War saga “Hands Up,” Griffith is not only an amusingly intrepid Confederate spy, but also an endearing romantic figure with two young women vying for his attention.
Expanded essay by Steve Massa
Harlan County, U.S.A. (1976)
Harold and Maude (1972)
The Heiress (1949)
Hell’s Hinges (1916)
Heroes All (1920)
The Red Cross Bureau of Pictures produced more than 100 films, including “Heroes All,” from 1917-1921, which are invaluable historical and visual records of the era with footage from World War I and its aftermath. “Heroes All” examines returning wounded WWI veterans and their treatment at Walter Reed Hospital, along with visits to iconic Washington, D.C., landmarks. Several Red Cross cinematographers achieved notable film careers, including Ernest Schoedsack and A. Farciot Edouart.
Hester Street (1975)
Joan Micklin Silver’s first feature-length film, “Hester Street,” was an adaption of preeminent Yiddish author Abraham Cahan’s 1896 well-received first novel “Yekl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto.” In the 1975 film, the writer-director brought to the screen a portrait of Eastern European Jewish life in America that historians have praised for its accuracy of detail and sensitivity to the challenges immigrants faced during their acculturation process. Shot in black-and-white and partly in Yiddish with English subtitles, the independent production, financed with money raised by the filmmaker’s husband, was shunned by Hollywood until it established a reputation at the Cannes Film Festival and in European markets. "Hester Street" focuses on stresses that occur when a "greenhorn" wife, played by Carol Kane (nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal), and her young son arrive in New York to join her Americanized husband. Silver, one of the first women directors of American features to emerge during the women’s liberation movement, shifted the story’s emphasis from the husband, as in the novel, to the wife. Historian Joyce Antler has written admiringly, "In indicating the hardships experienced by women and their resiliency, as well as the deep strains assimilation posed to masculinity, ‘Hester Street’ touches on a fundamental cultural challenge confronting immigrants."
High Noon (1952)
High School (1969)
Hindenburg Disaster Newsreel Footage (1937)
His Girl Friday (1940)
The Hitch-Hiker (1953)
The Hole (1963)
With "The Hole," legendary animators John and Faith Hubley created an "observation," as the opening title credits state, 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. Earlier in his career, while he worked as an animator in the Disney studios, John Hubley viewed a highly stylized Russian animated film—brought to his attention by Frank Lloyd Wright—that radically influenced his ideas about the possibilities of animation. With his new vision realized in this film, the Hubleys ominously, yet humorously, commented on the fears of nuclear devastation ever-present in cold war American culture during the year that the Cuban Missile crisis unfolded.
Hoop Dreams (1994)
This groundbreaking, multiyear account of two inner-city Chicago kids trying to win college basketball scholarships provides an intimate and comprehensive account of the life and limited options of lower-class black families in America.
The Hospital (1971)
Hot Dogs for Gauguin (1972)
This hilarious New York University student film (with a cast including Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman in her film debut) was written and directed by Martin Brest who later went on to direct “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Midnight Run,” and “Scent of a Woman.” In the film, DeVito plays a down-on-his-luck photographer determined to capture visual magic and fame. He concocts an intricate plot to blow up the Statue of Liberty and sets his camera to record the exact moment of its destruction.
Hours for Jerome: Parts 1 and 2 (1980-82)
Nathaniel Dorsky shot the footage for what would become his silent tone poem, “Hours for Jerome,” between 1966 and 1970. He edited that footage over a two-year period. The film’s title evokes the liturgical “Book of Hours,” a medieval series of devotional prayers recited at eight-hour intervals throughout the day. Dorsky’s personal devotional loosely records the daily events of the filmmaker and his partner as an arrangement of images, energies and illuminations. The camera intimately surveys the surroundings, from the pastoral to the cosmopolitan, as fragments of light revolve around the four seasons. “Part 1” presents spring through summer and “Part 2” looks at fall and winter—a full year in 45 minutes. Named filmmaker of the decade in 2010 by Film Comment magazine, Dorsky creates his works to be projected at silent speed, between 17 and 20 frames per second instead of the usual 24 frames per second for sound film. Projecting his films at sound film speed, he writes, “is to strip them of their ability to open the heart and speak properly to their audience. Not only is the specific use of time violated, but the flickering threshold of cinema’s illusion—a major player in these works—is obscured.”
The House I Live In (1945)
This short film, which earned an honorary Academy Award for director Mervyn LeRoy in 1946, exhorts the message of religious tolerance and post-war hopefulness. Frank Sinatra, then the idol of teenage bobby-soxers, takes a break from a recording session and finds a group of children bullying one boy because he’s Jewish. Sinatra reminds them that Americans may worship in many different ways but they still remain Americans. The film ends with Sinatra performing the title song, penned by Abel Meeropol, best known for the song “Strange Fruit” which denounced the horror of lynchings.
The House in the Middle (1954)
House of Usher (1960)
The talents of Vincent Price, writer Richard Matheson, director Roger Corman and the legacy of Edgar Allan Poe combined in the first of American International Pictures’ series of films that dominated horror on the screen in the 1960s. Despite shooting schedules that rarely ran more than three weeks or budgets over $500,000, the series offered elegant, literary adaptations, luminous decor and color photography that established a new standard for screen horror. As a director and producer, Corman’s films helped launch the careers of a galaxy of Hollywood talent including Jack Nicholson, Robert DeNiro, Dennis Hopper, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard and James Cameron.
How Green Was My Valley (1941)
How the West Was Won (1962)
The Hunters (1957)
This ethnographic film documents the efforts of four !Kung men (also known as Ju/’hoansi or Bushmen) to hunt a giraffe in the Kalahari Desert of Namibia. The footage was shot by John Marshall during a Smithsonian-Harvard Peabody sponsored expedition in 1952–53. In addition to the giraffe hunt, the film shows other aspects of !Kung life, including family relationships, socializing and storytelling and gathering plant foods. The film won a Robert J. Flaherty Award for best documentary from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in 1958.
The Hustler (1961)
I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932)
I Am Joaquin (1969)
I, an Actress (1977)
Underground filmmaker George Kuchar and his twin brother Mike began making 8mm films as 12-year-old kids in the Bronx, often on their family’s apartment rooftop. Before his death in 2011, George created over 200 outlandish low-budget films filled with absurdist melodrama, crazed dialogue and plots, and affection for Hollywood film conventions and genres. A professor at the San Francisco Art Institute, Kuchar documented his directing techniques in the hilarious "I, an Actress" as he encourages an acting student to embellish a melodramatic monologue with increasingly excessive gestures and emotions. Like most of Kuchar’s films, "I, an Actress" embodies a "camp" sensibility, defined by the cultural critic Susan Sontag as deriving from an aesthetics that valorizes not beauty but "love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration." Filmmaker John Waters has cited the Kuchars as "my first inspiration" and credited them with giving him "the self-confidence to believe in my own tawdry vision."
Imitation of Life (1934)
This is one of American cinema’s most famous examples of the "woman’s picture," melodramas which focused on the emotions, problems and concerns of women. This John Stahl film adaptation of Fannie Hurst’s novel has an innovative theme involving a white widow (Claudette Colbert) who starts a business partnership with her African-American maid (Louise Beavers). It is arguably the first Hollywood studio film to treat African-American characters in a dignified fashion by casting them in richly developed roles, not merely as comics or entertainers.
The Immigrant (1917)
In a Lonely Place (1950)
Director Nicholas Ray scathing Hollywood satire, "In a Lonely Place," may well rate that honor. Screenwriter Humphrey Bogart, brilliant at his craft yet prone to living with his fists, undergoes scrutiny as a murder suspect while romancing insouciant starlet Gloria Grahame. Their tempestuous on-screen romance mirrors the real-life deteriorating marriage of Grahame and director Ray, who divorced shortly after the film was completed. With jaded passion and paranoid force of character, Bogart perfectly plays the talented but psychologically unstable artist who will not accept his society, proving it with periodic violent, self-destructive confrontations. The film’s cynical, fatalistic script marries film-noir themes and doomed romance: "I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me."
In Cold Blood (1967)
In 1959 two men brutally murdered four members of a Holcomb, Kan., family. Truman Capote reported on the infamous incident, first in a series of New Yorker articles and later in his non-fiction novel, "In Cold Blood." With an unsparing neo-realism, director Richard Brooks adapted Capote’s novel, focusing on the motivations, backgrounds, and relationship of the killers, society’s failure to spot potential murderers, and their eventual execution on death row. Filmed in striking black-and-white documentary style by cinematographer Conrad Hall, the film starred then-unknown actors Robert Blake and Scott Wilson, both of whom bore a close physical resemblance to the real-life murderers. Blake, in particular, provides a sensational, multi-layered portrayal. The chilling ending depicts Blake climbing to the gallows to be hanged as we hear his heartbeat slowly come to a stop as the screen fades to black.
In the Heat of the Night (1967)
In the Land of the Head Hunters (1914)
In the Street (1948)
This lyrical, slice-of-life documentary (by Helen Levitt, James Agee and Janice Loeb) about East Harlem is one of several outstanding children’s documentaries (“The Quiet One” and “Louisiana Story,” among others) produced immediately after World War II. The filmmakers captured the energy-filled streets as part theater, part battleground and part playground. In their everyday lives and actions, people project an image of human existence against the turmoil of the street.
The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)
This sci-fi classic about a man who starts to shrink after being exposed to a strange cloud while on vacation is notable for its intelligent script and imaginative special effects. Jack Arnold’s sparse direction and Richard Matheson’s poignant script allow the tension to build naturally in a world where a house cat and common spider become the ultimate threat to existence and leave an indelible mark on the audience’s consciousness.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
This influential and chilling science fiction tale about small-town residents who are being replaced by alien “pods” features a McCarthy-era subtext as adapted by Daniel Mainwaring from Jack Finney’s novel.
Expanded essay by Robert Sklar
The Invisible Man (1933)
Universal released many classic horror films during the 1930s and director James Whale crafted some of the greatest from that famous cycle: "Frankenstein," "Bride of Frankenstein," "The Old Dark House" and "The Invisible Man." Whale brought a dazzling stylishness to what were essentially low-budget horror films and, in the case of "The Invisible Man," produced sophisticated special effects, aided by John P. Fulton. As in his discovery of Boris Karloff to play "Frankenstein," Whale made another inspirational choice in picking British-born Claude Rains, in his American film debut, to portray H.G. Wells’ tormented scientist Jack Griffin. In the film, after discovering a drug which provides the secret to invisibility, Rains becomes an insane maniac and goes on a power-hungry murder spree, but later makes a deathbed confession to his fiancée: "I meddled in things that man must leave alone."
The Iron Horse (1924)
John Ford’s epic Western "The Iron Horse" established his reputation as one of Hollywood’s most accomplished directors. Intended by Fox studios to rival Paramount’s 1923 epic "The Covered Wagon," Ford’s film employed more than 5,000 extras, advertised authenticity in its attention to realistic detail, and provided him with the opportunity to create iconic visual images of the Old West, inspired by such master painters as Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell. A tale of national unity achieved after the Civil War through the construction of the transcontinental railroad, "The Iron Horse" celebrated the contributions of Irish, Italian and Chinese immigrants although the number of immigrants allowed to enter the country legally was severely restricted at the time of its production. A classic silent film, "The Iron Horse" introduced to American and world audiences a reverential, elegiac mythology that has influenced many subsequent Westerns.
It Happened One Night (1934)
It’s a Gift (1934)
The popularity and influence of W.C. Fields continues with each succeeding generation, distinguishing him as one of the greatest American comedians of the 20th century. “It’s a Gift” has survived a perilous preservation history and is the third Fields film to be named to the National Film Registry. The film’s extended comic sequence featuring Baby LeRoy, and depicting Fields’ travails while trying to sleep on the open-air back porch of a rooming house, was adapted from one of his most successful live theatrical sketches.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
The Italian (1915)
Jailhouse Rock (1955)
Showcasing Elvis Presley as the ultimate rebel, “Jailhouse Rock” possesses an edginess that would be toned down considerably in the singer’s later movies. The now-iconic title dance number is both ridiculous and infectious.
Jam Session (1942)
Jammin’ the Blues (1944)
Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1959)
The Jazz Singer (1927)
Jeffries-Johnson World’s Championship Boxing Contest (1910)
A signal moment in American race relations, this recording of the July 4 heavyweight title fight between champion Jack Johnson and former champion James J. Jeffries became the most widely discussed and written-about motion picture made before 1915’s “The Birth of a Nation.”
Bette Davis won her second Academy Award for this William Wyler-directed classic. Cast to perfection as a tempestuous southern belle, Davis’ head-strong heroine must eventually learn self-sacrifice in order to save the man she loves. Despite its melodramatic underpinnings, the film endures because of Davis’ flawless performance and for its examination of both the American South and women’s societal roles. The movie co-stars Henry Fonda and Fay Bainter, who also won an Oscar for her work.
Johnny Guitar (1954)
Often described as the one of the stranger, kinkier Westerns of all time, Nicholas Ray’s film-noiresque "Johnny Guitar" possesses enough symbolism to keep a psychiatrist occupied for years and was a favorite film of French New Wave directors. "Johnny Guitar," filmed in the Trucolor process, also rates significance as one of a few Westerns featuring women as the main stars (Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge). Crawford is the owner of a gambling saloon in an isolated town waiting for the train lines to arrive so she can get rich; McCambridge plays her nemesis. Upon its release, Variety and The Hollywood Reporter panned "Johnny Guitar," but the film’s reputation has soared over time.
Judgment at Nuremburg (1961)
Selecting as its focus the "Justices Trial" of the post-World War II Nuremberg war crimes tribunal, rather than the more publicized trials of major Nazi war criminals, "Judgment at Nuremberg" broadened its scope beyond the condemnation of German perpetrators to interrogate the concept of justice within any modern society. Conceived by screenwriter Abby Mann during the period of McCarthyism, the film argues passionately that those responsible for administering justice also have the duty to 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. “Judgment at Nuremberg” startled audiences by including in the midst of its narrative seven minutes of film footage documenting concentration camp victims, thus using motion-picture evidence to make its point both in the courtroom and in movie theaters. Mann and actor Maximilian Schell received Academy Awards and the film boasted fine performances from its all-star cast.
The Jungle (1967)
With the guidance of Temple University social worker Harold Haskins, a group of African-American teenage boys in Philadelphia made this hybrid documentary/dramatization of their lives in the 12th and Oxford Street gang. Shot in an original and natural style, this 22-minute film was recognized with festival awards, but was never theatrically released. In 1968, Churchill Films distributed the film in 16mm for the educational market. The production led several of the gang members to earn high school diplomas and college degrees.
Kannapolis, N.C. (1941)
This example of a “town portrait” was chosen to honor itinerant filmmakers who made films of ordinary people on typical days during the 1930s and 1940s. They showcased this footage (in return for a portion of the receipts) at local cinemas prior to the Hollywood feature films. The surviving footage of the towns and its people often became the sole record of these cultural enclaves. H. Lee Waters, who made movies in 117 towns across North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee, filmed all of Kannapolis’ separate communities, slyly making sure to include lots of shots of children to attract the entire family to the theaters.
The Kid (1921)
Charles Chaplin’s first full-length feature, the silent classic “The Kid,” is an artful melding of touching drama, social commentary and inventive comedy. The tale of a foundling (Jackie Coogan, soon to be a major child star) taken in by the Little Tramp, “The Kid,” represents a high point in Chaplin’s evolving cinematic style, proving he could sustain his artistry beyond the length of his usual short subjects and could deftly elicit a variety of emotions from his audiences by skillfully blending slapstick and pathos.
The Kidnappers Foil (1930s-1950s)
For three decades, Dallas native Melton Barker and his company traveled through the southern and central sections of the United States filming local children acting, singing and dancing in two-reel narrative films, all of which Barker titled “The Kidnappers Foil.” Barker recognized that many people enjoyed seeing themselves, their children and their communities on film. Since home movies were an expensive hobby, he developed a business to provide them. Other itinerant filmmakers produced similar fare, but Barker appears to have been the most prolific. Enlisting local movie theaters and newspapers to sponsor and promote the productions, Barker auditioned children and offered “acting lessons” to the most promising for a fee of a few dollars. He then assembled 50 to 75 would-be Shirley Temples and Jackie Coopers, ages 3 to 12, to act out the melodramatic story: a young girl is kidnapped from her birthday party and eventually rescued by a search party of local kids. After the “rescue,” the relieved townsfolk would celebrate with a party where the budding stars showcased their musical talents. A few weeks after filming, the town would screen the 15- to 20-minute picture to the delight of the local audience. Most prints of these films no longer exist, although some have been discovered in vintage movie houses or local historical societies. The Texas Archive of the Moving Image holds a collection of these itinerant films and hosts Internet resources for those who appeared in them as children.
Killer of Sheep (1977)
The Killers (1946)
Director Robert Siodmak took the original Ernest Hemingway short story as the film’s opening point and developed it with an elaborate series of flashbacks, creating a classic example of film noir. Two killers shatter a small town’s quiet before an insurance investigator (Edmond O’Brien) digs up crime, betrayal, and a glamorous woman (Ava Gardner) behind an ex-fighter’s death (Burt Lancaster’s electrifying film debut).
King Kong (1933)
King of Jazz (1930)
A sparkling example of a musical in the earliest days of two-color Technicolor, "The King of Jazz" is a fanciful revue of short skits, sight gags and musical numbers, all with orchestra leader Paul Whiteman—the self-proclaimed "King of Jazz" — 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 for children to scantily-clad leggy dancers and contortionists for the male audience to the crooning of heartthrob Bing Crosby in his earliest screen appearance. "King of Jazz" also featured an opulent production number of George Gershwin’s "Rhapsody in Blue."
King: A Filmed Record ... Montgomery to Memphis (1970)
The Kiss (1896)
Video clip from the Library of Congress American Memory Collection
Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
Knute Rockne, All American (1940)
The Lady Eve (1941)
Lady Helen’s Escapade (1909)
This sprightly short comedy stars actress Florence Lawrence (“The Biograph Girl”) who became the first true star in American cinema through a combination of natural charm and canny publicity. She was the first actor or actress to receive billing in film credits, a break from the anonymity that actors and actresses had worked in until that point.
Lady Windermere’s Fan (1925)
The Land Beyond the Sunset (1912)
Lassie Come Home (1943)
The Last Command (1928)
This film is Josef von Sternberg’s powerful drama of exiled Russian general Emil Jannings, who is reduced to the scraps of “extra” roles in Hollywood. Jannings’ Academy Award-winning performance towers over the screen, showcasing emotions ranging from his forceful leadership as a tsarist general, to incredulous dismay at the loss of his beloved country and his lover who helped him escape. Shaken out of his stupor when cast in a film about the Russian Revolution, Jannings summons his thunderous charisma in one final bid to somehow win the war for Mother Russia. The ending, considered one of cinema’s most memorable, remains heart-wrenching.
The Last of the Mohicans (1920)
The Last Picture Show (1971)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Based on the exploits of T. E. Lawrence of Arabia during World War I, this renowned classic may play fast and loose with history and
psychology, but its remarkable beauty is breathtaking. David Lean crafts this film, one of his many epics, with sweeping wide shots that capture the desolation of the desert, and Peter O’Toole plays Lawrence larger than life, albeit with little historical accuracy.
Expanded essay by Michael Wilmington
The Lead Shoes (1949)
“The Lead Shoes” is a dreamlike trance showing the unconscious acts of a disturbed mind through a distorted lens and other abstract visual techniques (such as reverse and stop motion). Sidney Peterson, considered the father of San Francisco avant-garde cinema, said of this film, “Narrative succumbs to the comic devices of inconsequence and illogic.”
A League of Their Own (1992)
Director Penny Marshall used the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (1943-1954) as a backdrop for this heartfelt comedy-drama. “A League of Their Own,” featuring an ensemble cast that includes Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell, not only illuminates this fascinating, under-reported aspect of American sports history, but also effectively examines women’s changing roles during wartime. Rich with period detail and equally complex performances—especially Davis as a team ringer and Hanks as the down-on-his-luck coach—Marshall and her company delivered an enjoyably nostalgic film about women’s choices and solidarity during World War II that was both funny and feminist.
The Learning Tree (1969)
Let There Be Light (1946)
Let’s All Go to the Lobby (1957)
Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948)
The Life and Death of 9413: a Hollywood Extra (1927)
The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter (1980)
The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
Little Caesar (1930)
Little Fugitive (1953)
Little Miss Marker (1934)
Little Nemo (1911)
This short subject, a mix of live action and animation, was adapted from Winsor McCay’s famed 1905 comic strip “Little Nemo in Slumberland.” Its fluidity, graphics and story-telling was light years beyond other films made during that time. A seminal figure in both animation and comic art, McCay profoundly influenced many generations of future animators, including Walt Disney.
The Living Desert (1953)
The Lost Weekend (1945)
A landmark social-problem film, "The Lost Weekend" provided audiences of 1945 with an uncompromising look at the devastating effects of alcoholism. Directed by Billy Wilder and co-written by Wilder and Charles Brackett, the film melded an expressionistic film-noir style with documentary realism to immerse viewers in the harrowing experiences of an aspiring New York writer willing to do almost anything for a drink. Despite opposition from his studio, the Hays Office and the liquor industry, Wilder created a film ranked as one of the best of the decade that won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Direction, Screenplay and Actor (Ray Milland), and established him as one of America’s leading filmmakers.
The Lost World (1925)
Louisiana Story (1948)
Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938)
Love Me Tonight (1932)
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.
Mabel’s Blunder (1914)
Mabel Normand, who wrote, directed and starred in “Mabel’s Blunder,” was the most successful of the early silent screen comediennes. The film tells the tale of a young woman who is secretly engaged to the boss’ son. When a new employee catches the young man’s eye, a jealous Mabel dresses up as a chauffeur to spy on them, which leads to a series of mistaken identities. The film showcases Normand’s spontaneous and intuitive playfulness and her ability to be both romantically appealing and boisterously funny.
Magical Maestro (1952)
The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
The Magnificent Seven (1961)
The popularity of this Western, based on Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” (1954), has continued to grow since its release due in part to its role as a springboard for several young actors on the verge of successful careers: Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn and Horst Buchholz. The film also gave a new twist to the career of Yul Brynner. Brynner bought the rights to Kurosawa’s original story and hand-picked John Sturges as its director. Sturges had earned a reputation as a solid director of Westerns such as “Bad Day at Black Rock” (1955) and “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” (1957). Transporting the action from Japan to Mexico, where it was filmed on location, the story portrays a gang of paid gunslingers hired by farmers to rout the bandits pillaging their town. Contributing to the film’s popular appeal through the decades is Elmer Bernstein’s vibrant score, which would go on to become the theme music for Marlboro cigarette commercials from 1962 until cigarette advertising on television was banned in 1971.
Make Way for Tomorrow (1937)
The Making of an American (1920)
Produced by the state of Connecticut, this silent short is a sincere, dramatically effective public education film aimed at persuading immigrants to learn English. The drama’s protagonist is an Italian laborer who attends night school and with his newly acquired English skills obtains a better job. The film’s intertitles address the audience in English, Italian and Polish.
Malcolm X (1992)
Maltese Falcon (1941)
In his directorial debut, John Huston also penned this fast-paced yarn about San Francisco Detective Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) trying to unravel a mysterious plot involving a shady cast of characters (Mary Astor, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet) in search of a fabled valuable relic.
Expanded essay by Richard T. Jameson
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
John Ford, a filmmaker since 1914, already had given the movie-going public such classics as “The Iron Horse,” “Stagecoach,” “My Darling Clementine," “Fort Apache,” “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon,” and “The Searchers.” Ford’s last great Western, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” makes explicit everything that was implicit in the genre which Ford himself shaped so heavily. By clearly showing that the conquest of the west meant the triumph of civilization (embodied in Jimmy Stewart) over wild innocence (John Wayne) and evil (Lee Marvin), this elegiac film serves as a film coda for Ford and also meditates on what was lost as progress and statehood marched across the West. The film’s concluding aphorism has entered the American lexicon: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
March of Time: Inside Nazi Germany (1938)
The March (1964)
George Stevens Jr., who headed the United States Information Agency (USIA) Motion Picture Service unit from 1962-67, brought in several young talented documentary filmmakers such as Charles Guggenheim, Carroll Ballard, Kent McKenzie, Leo Seltzer, Terry Sanders, Bruce Herschensohn, and James Blue, who directed "The March." This period ushered in the "Golden Era" of USIA films. Examining the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington from the ground-level and focusing on the idealistic passion, joy and synergy of the crowds, Blue’s documentary lets us see the event take shape from the planning stage — with sound checks and worries about whether people will attend — to the arrival of enormous crowds on parades of trains and buses. It culminates in Martin Luther King’s electrifying "I Have a Dream" speech. These USIA films were rarely seen in America because, fearing propaganda, the 1948 Smith-Mundt Act mandated that no USIA film could be shown domestically without a special act of Congress. These films are being rediscovered because a 1990 act of Congress (P.L. 101-246) authorized domestic screening 12 years after release.
Marian Anderson: the Lincoln Memorial Concert (1939)
When Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. refused to allow African American contralto Marian Anderson to perform in its whites-only venue in early 1939, a chain of events led to one of the most celebrated live musical performances in American history: the venue was the Lincoln Memorial and the date Easter Sunday, 1939. An estimated 75,000 people gathered to hear Anderson perform selections including gooseflesh-inducing renditions of “America” and “Ave Maria.” The event was broadcast live nationally by the NBC blue radio network, and covered, in part, by several news services. The Registry entry consists of excerpts from a Hearst newsreel story titled “Nation’s Capital Gets a Lesson in Tolerance.”
The Mark of Zorro (1940)
Under Rouben Mamoulian’s inventive direction, Tyrone Power plays Don Diego, son of a 19th-century Los Angeles governor who has been unseated by a mercenary despot and his sadistic captain, portrayed by Basil Rathbone. Convincingly foppish by day, Don Diego conceals his heroic alter-ego to avenge his father and the terrorized citizenry, carving his signature "Z" with his trusty sword as he goes. Mamoulian cleverly cuts in and out of scenes to heighten the drama and action as the film crescendos to a thrilling duel between Rathbone and Power.
Martha Graham Early Dance Films
("Heretic," 1931; "Frontier," 1936; "Lamentation," 1943; "Appalachian Spring," 1944)
Universally acknowledged as the preeminent figure in the development of modern dance and one of the most important artists of the 20th century, Martha Graham formed her own dance company in 1926. It became the longest continuously operating school of dance in America. With her company’s creation, Graham codified her revolutionary new dance language soon to be dubbed the "Graham Technique." Her innovations would go on to influence generations of future dancers and choreographers, including Twyla Tharp and Merce Cunningham. This quartet of films, all silent and all starring Graham herself, document four of the artist’s most important early works. They are "Heretic," with Graham as an outcast denounced by Puritans; "Frontier," a solo piece celebrating western expansion and the American spirit; "Lamentation," a solo piece about death and mourning; and "Appalachian Spring," 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 all of his many classic films, "Mary Poppins" is based upon a book by P.L. Travers. With Travers’ original tale as a framework, screenwriters Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi, with the aid of songwriters the Sherman Brothers (Richard M. and Robert B.), fashioned an original movie musical about a most unusual nanny. Weaving together a witty script, an inventive visual style and a slate of classic songs (including "A Spoonful of Sugar" and "Chim Chim Cher-ee"), "Mary Poppins" is a film that has enchanted generations. Equal parts innocent fun and savvy sophistication, the artistic and commercial success of the film solidified Disney’s knack for big-screen, non-cartoon storytelling and invention. With its seamless integration of animation and live action, the film prefigured thousands of later digital and CGI-aided effects. The cast, headed by Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, also includes Jane Darwell, Glynis Johns and Ed Wynn, "Mary Poppins" has remained a "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" achievement.
Master Hands (1936)
Matrimony’s Speed Limit (1913)
Pioneering woman filmmaker Alice Guy Blache’s deft, ironic short film of a man financially compelled to marry by noon, thanks to some sneaky encouragement from the woman in his life.
The Matrix (1999)
A visionary and complex film, the science-fiction epic "The Matrix" employed state-of-the-art special effects, production design and computer-generated animation to tell a story—steeped in mythological, literary, and philosophical references—about a revolt against a conspiratorial regime. The film’s visual style, drawing on the work of Hong Kong action film directors and Japanese anime films, altered science fiction filmmaking practices with its innovative digital techniques designed to enhance action sequences. Directors Andy and Lana Wachowski and visual effects supervisor John Gaeta (who received an Academy Award for his efforts) expertly exploited a digitally enhanced simulation of variable-speed cinematography to gain ultimate control over time and movement within images. The film’s myriad special effects, however, do not undermine its fundamentally traditional, if paranoid, story of man against machine.
McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
“McCabe and Mrs. Miller” is an aesthetically acclaimed film that demonstrates why the Western genre, especially when reinvented by acclaimed Robert Altman, endured in the 20th century as a useful model for critically examining the realities of contemporary American culture. The film’s credits include notable cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond and a music score by Leonard Cohen, as well as performances by Warren Beatty and Julie Christy.
Mean Streets (1973)
Medium Cool (1969)
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
Melody Ranch (1940)
Memphis Belle (1944)
Men and Dust (1940)
Produced and directed by Lee Dick—a woman pioneer in the field of documentary filmmaking—and written and shot by her husband Sheldon, this labor advocacy film is about diseases plaguing miners in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Sponsored by the Tri-State Survey Committee, "Men and Dust" is a stylistically innovative documentary and a valuable ecological record of landscapes radically transformed by extractive industry.
Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)
Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1983)
Possibly the most famous of music videos, the 13-minute “Thriller” caused such a buzz that it was also released theatrically in 35mm. As a follow-up to his smash 1982 album and single, Michael Jackson revolutionized the music industry with this lavish and expensive production. Filmmaker John Landis (“Animal House” and “The Blues Brothers”) directed and co-wrote the video.
The Middleton Family at the New York World’s Fair (1939)
Produced by Westinghouse for the 1939 World’s Fair, this industrial film is a striking hour-long time capsule that documents that historic event within a moralistic narrative. Shot in Technicolor, the film follows a fictional Indiana family of five (mom, dad, son, daughter and grandma) as they venture from grandma’s quaint house in Long Island to the fair’s popular pavilions. The whole family enjoys the gleaming sights, especially the futuristic technologies located in the Westinghouse Pavilion (including something called "television"). While the entire family is affected by the visit, none are changed so much as daughter Babs (played by a young Marjorie Lord), who eventually sours on her foreign-born, anti-capitalistic boyfriend in favor of a hometown electrical engineer who works at the fair. Both charming and heavy-handed, “The Middleton Family” provides latter-day audiences with a vibrant documentary record of the fair’s technological achievements and the heartland values of the age.
Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche and John Barrymore light up the screen in this Mitchell Leisen romantic comedy. Liesen is often described as a "studio contract" director—a craftsman with no particular aesthetic vision or social agenda who is efficient, consistent, controlled, with occasional flashes of panache. Leisen’s strength lay in his timing. He claimed he established the pace of a scene by varying the tone and cadence of his voice as he called "ready…right…action!" This technique served to give the actors a proper "beat" for the individual shot. In addition to Leisen’s timing, "Midnight" also boasts a screenplay by the dynamic duo of Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett. Hilarity ensues when penniless showgirl Colbert impersonates a Hungarian countess, aided by the aristocratic Barrymore, until, despite her best efforts, she falls for a lowly taxi driver (Ameche) —all this amidst a Continental sumptuousness abundant in Paramount pictures of that era. The staggering number of exceptional films released in 1939 has caused this little gem to be overlooked. However, in its day, the New York Times called "Midnight" "one of the liveliest, gayest, wittiest and naughtiest comedies of a long hard season." Reportedly unhappy with Leisen’s script changes, Wilder found the motivation to assert more creative control by becoming a director himself.
Midnight Cowboy (1969)
Mighty Like a Moose (1926)
Actor/director/screenwriter Charley Chase is underappreciated in the arena of early comedy shorts. Chase began his film career in the teens, working for Mack Sennett with the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Fatty Arbuckle. Moving on to the Hal Roach Studios, Chase starred in his own series of shorts. “Mighty Like a Moose,” directed by Leo McCarey, is considered to be among his best. A title card at the beginning tells us this is “a story of homely people—a wife with a face that would stop a clock—and her husband with a face that would start it again.” Unbeknownst to each other Mr. and Mrs. Moose have surgery on the same day to correct his buckteeth and her big nose. They meet on the street later, but don’t recognize each other; they flirt and arrange to meet later at a party. A side-splitting series of sight gags follows.
Mildred Pierce (1945)
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The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944)
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Beloved, timeless fantasy classic of a man who goes to court to prove he is Santa Claus and keep the holiday from becoming too commercial.
Miss Lulu Bett (1922)
Modern Times (1936)
Mom and Dad (1944)
The most successful sex-hygiene exploitation film of all time, a low budget but relentlessly promoted, socially significant film, which finished as the third highest grossing film during the 1940s. Time magazine dryly noted that Mom and Dad "left only the livestock unaware of the chance to learn the facts of life."
Motion Painting No. 1 (1947)
A Movie (1958)
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
Engaging slice of Americana by director Frank Capra stars Jimmy Stewart as a junior senator disheartened by the corruption he finds in Washington. Bolstered by support from Jean Arthur and Thomas Mitchell, Stewart’s Mr. Smith fights back on behalf of his home state constituents.
Expanded essay by Robert Sklar
Mrs. Miniver (1942)
This remarkably touching wartime melodrama pictorializes the classic British stiff upper lip and the courage of a middle-class English family (headed by Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon) amid the chaos of air raids and family loss. The film’s iconic tribute to the sacrifices on the home front, as movingly directed by William Wyler, did much to rally America’s support for its British allies. “Mrs. Miniver” won six Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress.
Multiple Sidosis (1970)
The Muppet Movie (1979)
Muppet creators Jim Henson and Frank Oz immersed their characters into a well-crafted combination of musical comedy and fantasy adventure. Kermit the Frog leads TV series regulars Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Ralph and Animal on a road trip to Hollywood where they encounter numerous characters played by such actors as Steve Martin, Mel Brooks and Charles Durning.
The Music Box (1932)
The Music Man (1962)
A touchstone film in the “Small Town America” film genre, this adaptation of Meredith Willson’s dramatic paean to Iowa and the Midwest is Americana at its finest. Con-man extraordinaire Harold Hill (Robert Preston) brings his revolutionary “think system” to the sleepy little town of River City, Iowa, and his charismatic magnetism to the attention of librarian Shirley Jones.
My Darling Clementine (1946)
My Man Godfrey (1936)
The Naked City (1948)
The opening credits reveal this is a different kind of movie; not filmed on a Hollywood back lot but on actual locations in New York City. Winning Oscars for best photography and editing and nominated for best writing (Malvin Wald), this cutting-edge, gritty crime procedural introduced a new style of film-making. "The Naked City" offers up slices of several stories, building and dove-tailing into a logical, heart-pounding resolution. Based on six months of interviews with the NYPD and using three-dimensional characters, it changed the way police were portrayed and crimes solved. Another unique aspect of Mark Hellinger’s production and Jules Dassin’s direction was to hire local radio and theater actors new to film – it launched several character-acting careers.
The Naked Spur (1953)
Nanook of the North (1922)
Robert Altman directed this funny and poignant series of vignettes following more than 20 characters gathered at a Nashville political rally. Stars include Henry Gibson, Ronee Blakley, Karen Black, Lily Tomlin and Keith Carradine.
Expanded essay by David Sterritt
National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)
National Velvet (1944)
Enduring family film classic with Elizabeth Taylor as a young girl whose wild ambition is to have her horse run in the Grand National Steeplechase.
Naughty Marietta (1935)
A singing romance and cinema’s first pairing of the electrifying singing duo Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, who captivated audiences with songs such as “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life.”
Navajo Film Themselves [aka Through Navajo Eyes] (1966)
The Negro Soldier (1944)
Produced by Frank Capra’s renowned World War II U.S. Army filming unit, "The Negro Soldier" showcased the contributions of blacks to American society and their heroism in the nation’s wars, portraying them in a dignified, realistic, and far less stereotypical manner than they had been depicted in previous Hollywood films. Considered by film historian Thomas Cripps as "a watershed in the use of film to promote racial tolerance," "The Negro Soldier" was produced in reaction to instances of discrimination against African-Americans stationed in the South. Written by Carlton Moss, a young black writer for radio and the Federal Theatre Project, directed by Stuart Heisler, and scored by Dmitri Tiomkin, the film highlights the role of the church in the black community and charts the progress of a black soldier through basic training and officer’s candidate school before he enters into combat. It became mandatory viewing for all soldiers in American replacement centers from spring 1944 until the war’s end.
Newark Athlete (1891) Video clip from the Library of Congress American Memory Collection
Nicholas Brothers Family Home Movies (1930s-1940s)
Fayard and Harold Nicholas, renowned for their innovative and exuberant dance routines, began in vaudeville in the late 1920s before headlining at the Cotton Club in Harlem, starring on Broadway and performing in Hollywood films. Fred Astaire is reported to have called their dance sequence in "Stormy Weather" (1943) the greatest movie musical number he had ever seen. Their home movies capture a golden age of show business—with extraordinary footage of Broadway, Harlem and Hollywood—and also document the middle-class African-American life of that era, images made rare by the considerable cost of home-movie equipment during the Great Depression. Highlights include the only footage shot inside the Cotton Club, the only footage of famous Broadway shows like "Babes in Arms," home movies of an all African-American regiment during World War II, films of street life in Harlem in the 1930s, and the family’s cross-country tour in 1934.
A Night at the Opera (1935)
The Night of the Hunter (1955)
This dark allegory of good versus evil defies conventional genre definition with its occasionally outrageous dark humor, bucolic settings contrasted with gothic images, and an unsettling child’s-eye perspective. A deranged preacher (Robert Mitchum) terrorizes two children in possession of stolen loot and eventually coming up against a saintly protector of runaway and abandoned children (Lillian Gish).
Expanded essay by Peter Rainer
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
No Lies (1973)
Done in faux cinéma vérité style, Mitchell Block’s 16-minute New York University student film begins on a note of insouciant amateurism and then convincingly moves into darker, deeper waters. Opening with a scene of a girl getting ready for a date, the camera-wielding protagonist adroitly orchestrates a mood shift from goofiness to raw pain as an interviewer tears down the girl’s emotional defenses after being raped. One of the first films to deal with the way rape victims are treated when they seek professional help for sexual assault, "No Lies" still possesses a searing resonance and has been widely viewed by nurses, therapists and police officers.
Norma Rae (1979)
Highlighted by Sally Field’s Oscar-winning performance, "Norma Rae" is the tale of an unlikely activist. A poorly-educated single mother, Norma Rae Webster works at a Southern textile mill where her attempt to improve working conditions through unionization, though undermined by her factory bosses, ultimately succeeds after her courageous stand on the factory floor wins the support of her co-workers. The film is less a polemical pro-union statement than a treatise about maturation, personal willpower, fairness and the empowerment of women. Directed by Martin Ritt, "Norma Rae" was based on the real-life efforts of Crystal Lee Sutton to unionize the J. P. Stevens Mills in Roanoke Rapids, N.C., which finally agreed to allow union representation one year after the film’s release.
North by Northwest (1959)
This avant-garde classic by Hollis Framptonis considered eloquent and evocative in its exploration of memory and family.
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. “Notes on the Port of St. Francis” is the natural progression of Stauffacher’s appreciation for the abstract synthesis of film and place. Impressionistic and evocative, the film is shaped by the director’s organization of iconic imagery, such as seascapes and city scenes, and by the juxtaposition of these visuals and the soundtrack featuring Vincent Price narrating excerpts from Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1882 essay on San Francisco.
Expanded essay by Scott MacDonald
Nothing But a Man (1964)
Arguably Alfred Hitchcock’s best black-and-white American film, this is an excellent example of woman’s gothic. In the film, a woman (played by Ingrid Bergman) marries a Nazi killer (played by Claude Rains), although she is in love with an American spy (played by Cary Grant) who recruits her for the assignment. Rife with classic Hitchcock brilliance, featuring the crane shot and cross-cutting during the party sequence, “Notorious” is also a resonant cultural document of romantic alienation. Cary Grant is at his most attractive, letting his dark side fuel his bitter cynicism.
Now, Voyager (1942)
The film’s title comes from Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass:" "The untold want, by life and land ne’er granted/Now, Voyager, sail thou forth, to seek and find." A resonant woman’s picture, "Now, Voyager" features Bette Davis as a dowdy spinster terrorized by her possessive mother and on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Psychiatrist Claude Rains cures Davis and suggests a cruise, where she falls in love with married Paul Henreid. The impossible romance does not depress Davis but rather transforms her into a confident, independent woman. Davis’ final words electrify one of the most famous endings in romantic cinema: "Oh Jerry, don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars."
The Nutty Professor (1963)
Considered comic Jerry Lewis’ greatest film as actor and director, this is a twist on the classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story in which a nerdy professor concocts a formula to become more popular and turns himself into a narcissistic womanizer.
This landmark work from California filmmaker Scott Bartlett is the first avant-garde title to fully marry video with film. The film combines masterful usage of optical printing, superimposing images, color saturation and hand-dying of the film strip, making abstractions from natural images.
The publicity campaign said it all: "A motion picture as big as all outdoors." In this beloved musical, an idealized vision of a turn-of-the-century small town, chicks and ducks and geese scurry right across the wide screen. The literalized film treatment appeared a dozen years after the Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway premiere. The film eliminated two songs and substituted breathtaking Technicolor vistas and stereo sound for theatrical innovation. Set shortly before Oklahoma statehood, the movie features such Western-film staples as the cowman/farmer feud (subject of a memorable song sung by Gordon MacRae). As choreographer Agnes de Mille noted: "It’s different, but I find it very beautiful to look at."
On the Bowery (1957)
On the Bowery" is Lionel Rogosin’s acclaimed, unrelenting docudrama about the infamous New York City zone known as the Bowery. The film focuses on three of its alcoholic skid row denizens and their marginal existence amid the gin mills, missions and flop houses. Bosley Crowther in The New York Times wrote that "this is a dismal exposition to be charging people money to see." Rogosin and his small crew spent months on the Bowery observing and talking with residents. They crafted the film as a "synthesis" of Bowery life, and it remains a wrenching portrait of hopelessness, despair and broken dreams. The film’s writer, Mark Sufrin, wrote in an issue of Sight and Sound magazine: "Very few, once they hit the Bowery, ever leave, are reclaimed, or rehabilitated…I had escaped that frightening place. They still remain."
On the Waterfront (1954)
Director Elia Kazan took Budd Schulberg’s hard-hitting script and crafted it into a commentary on loyalty and justice in an almost documentarylike depiction of the lives of New York City dock workers and the union thugs who control them. Supreme acting by Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger is most often of the direct, in-your face variety, though offset by more nuanced scenes with Eva Marie Saint and Karl Malden. Known primarily at the time as conductor for the New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein earned his only Academy Award nomination for one of his first film scores – a composition that accents the film’s fever pitch and enfolds its tender moments.
Expanded essay by Robert Sklar
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
Disdained as “Spaghetti Westerns” when they first appeared in American movie theaters, the best of these films, such as “Once Upon a Time in the West,” are now recognized as among the greatest achievements of the Western movie genre. Director Sergio Leone’s operatic visual homage to the American Western legend is a chilling tale of vengeance set against the backdrop of the coming of the railroad. Ennio Morricone’s magnificent score (especially the elegiac “Jill’s Theme”) is likewise recognized for its brilliance.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
One Froggy Evening (1956)
A cartoon on every short list of the greatest animation, this classic Chuck Jones creation features crooning amphibian Michigan J. Frog, who drives his owner insane by singing only in private, but never in public.
One Survivor Remembers (1995)
In this Academy Award-winning documentary short film by Kary Antholis, Holocaust survivor Gerda Weissmann Klein recounts her six-year ordeal as a victim of Nazi cruelty. At age 16, her comfortable life was shattered by the Nazi invasion of Poland. She and her family were sent to concentration and slave labor camps. She alone survived. Mixing footage shot in contemporary Europe at key locations of Klein’s story with interviews and personal photographs, "One Survivor Remembers" explores the effects that her experience had on the rest of her life. It is told with a simple yet powerful eloquence that "approaches poetry," the Chicago Tribune observed.
One Week (1920)
"One Week" is the first publicly released two-reel short film starring Buster Keaton. One of Keaton’s finest films and one of the greatest short comedies produced during the 1920s, the film, as critic Walter Kerr noted, shows Keaton as "a garden at the moment of blooming." Considered astonishingly creative even by contemporary standards, "One Week" is rife with hilarious comic, often surrealist, sequences chronicling the ill-fated attempts of a newlywed couple to assemble their new home.
Our Day (1938)
Wallace Kelly of Lebanon, Kentucky, made this exquisitely crafted amateur film at home in 1938. "Our Day" is a smart, entertaining day-in-the-life portrait of the Kelly household, shown in both idealized and comic ways. This silent 16mm home movie uses creative editing, lighting and camera techniques comparable to what professionals were doing in Hollywood. His amateur cast was made up of his mother, wife, brother and pet terrier. "Our Day" also contains exceptional images of small-town Southern life, ones that counter the stereotype of impoverished people eking out a living during the Depression. The 12-minute film documents a modern home inhabited by adults with sophisticated interests (the piano, literature, croquet) and simple ones (gardening, knitting, home cooking). Kelly, a newspaperman, was also an accomplished photographer, painter, and writer. He began shooting film in 1929 and continued until the 1950s.
Our Lady of the Sphere (1969)
Out of the Past (1947)
This classic example of 1940s film noir features some of the genre’s best dialog. Daniel Manwaring, under the pseudonym Geoffrey Homes, smartly adapted his novel “Build My Gallows High,” and the stars Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer breathe life and larceny into his characters Jeff and Kathie. Double-dealing never looked so sexy.
Expanded essay by Stephanie Zacharek
The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)
In the 1930s, a number of Protestant groups, concerned about the perceived meretricious effects of Hollywood films, began producing non-theatrical motion pictures to spread the gospel of Jesus. "Parable" followed a filmmaking tradition that has not very often been recognized in general accounts of American film history. One of the most acclaimed and controversial films in this tradition, "Parable" debuted at the New York World’s Fair in May 1964 as the main attraction of the Protestant and Orthodox Center. Without aid of dialogue or subtitles, the film relies on music and an allegorical story that represents the "Circus as the World," in the words of Rolf Forsberg, who wrote and co-directed the film with Tom Rook for the Protestant Council of New York. "Parable" depicts Jesus as an enigmatic, chalk-white, skull-capped circus clown who takes on the sufferings of oppressed workers, including women and minorities. The film generated controversy even before its initial screening. The fair’s president Robert Moses sought to have it withdrawn. Other fair organizers resigned with one exclaiming, "No one is going to make a clown out of my Jesus." A disgruntled minister threatened to riddle the screen with shotgun holes if the film was shown. Undaunted, viewers voted overwhelmingly to keep the film running, and it became one of the fair’s most popular attractions. Newsweek proclaimed it "very probably the best film at the fair" and Time described it as "an art film that got religion." The Fellini- and Bergman-inspired film received the 1966 Religious Film Award of the National Catholic Theatre Conference, along with honors at the 1966 Cannes, Venice and Edinburgh film festivals. It subsequently became a popular choice for screenings in both liberal and conservative churches.
Pass the Gravy (1928)
Paths of Glory (1957)
The Pawnbrocker (1965)
“The Pawnbroker” was the first Hollywood film to depict in a realistic, psychologically probing manner the trauma of a Holocaust survivor, a subject previously taboo because of the fear of poor box office or offending delicate sensitivities. Rod Steiger’s astounding performance – as he tries to repress his memories of the anguish, physical and emotional shame of being an internment-camp inmate — also serves a perfect allegory for American film’s own struggles to represent this major tragedy of 20th century history.
Expanded essay by Annette Insdorf
The Pearl (1948)
Director Randal Kleiser (Grease") crafted this renowned, extremely moving student film while at the University of Southern California. Members of a family visit their blind, dying grandmother Peege at a nursing home, but leave in despair at her condition. Remaining behind, the grandson recounts memories to Peege and manages to connect emotionally with the lonely woman and bring a smile to her face.
The Perils of Pauline (1914)
The Perils of Pauline" was among the first American movie serials. Produced in 20 episodes, in a groundbreaking long-form motion-picture narrative structure, the series starred Pearl White as a young and wealthy heiress whose ingenuity, self-reliance and pluck enable her to regularly outwit a guardian intent on stealing her fortune. The film became an international hit and spawned a succession of elaborate American adventure serial productions that persisted until the advent of regularly scheduled television programs in the 1950s. Although now regarded as a satirical cliché of the movie industry, Perils of Pauline" in its day inspired a generation of women on the verge of gaining the right to vote in America by showing actress Pearl White performing her own stunts and overcoming a persistent male enemy.
Peter Pan (1924)
The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
Pillow Talk (1959)
The first film to co-star Doris Day and Rock Hudson, "Pillow Talk" remains one of the screen’s most definitive, influential and timeless romantic comedies. Sweet and sophisticated, it is a time capsule of 1950s America. Two single New Yorkers develop an anonymous, antagonistic relationship by sharing a telephone “party line.” Both romance and complications ensue when they finally meet in person. The film is a perfect showcase for its two charismatic stars, especially the effervescent Day who demonstrates why she was both America’s Sweetheart and one of cinema’s finest comediennes.
The Pink Panther (1963)
This comic masterpiece by Blake Edwards introduced both the animated Pink Panther character in the film’s opening-and-closing credit sequences, and actor Peter Sellers in his most renowned comic role as the inept Inspector Clouseau. The influence of the great comics of the silent era on Edwards and Sellers is apparent throughout the film, which is recognized for its enduring popularity. The musical score composed by Henry Mancini is also memorable.
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A Place in the Sun (1952)
Planet of the Apes (1968)
The Plow That Broke the Plains (1936)
Point of Order (1964)
Poor Little Rich Girl (1917)
Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor (1936)
Wildly popular during the 1930s, Popeye’s impact was matched only by Mickey Mouse, his chief rival for cartoon supremacy. This classic by renowned animators Max and Dave Fleischer features lush three-dimensional sets, Technicolor, and was twice the length of normal eight-minute cartoons.
Porgy and Bess (1959)
Composer George Gershwin considered his masterpiece "Porgy and Bess" to be a "folk opera." Gershwin’s score reflected traditional songs he encountered in visits to Charleston, S.C., and in Gullah revival meetings he attended on nearby James Island. Controversy has stalked the production history of the opera that Gershwin created with DuBose Heyward, who had written the original novel and play (with his wife Dorothy) and penned lyrics with Gershwin’s brother Ira. The lavish film version was produced in the late 1950s as the civil rights movement gained momentum and a number of African-American actors turned down roles they considered demeaning. Harry Belafonte, who refused the part of Porgy, explained, "in this period of our social development, I doubt that it is healthy to expose certain images of the Negro. In a period of calm, perhaps this picture could be viewed historically." Dissension also resulted when producer Samuel Goldwyn dismissed Rouben Mamoulian, who had directed the play and musical on Broadway, and replaced him with Otto Preminger. Produced in Todd-AO, a state-of-the-art widescreen and stereophonic sound recording process, with an all-star cast that included Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge, Sammy Davis, Jr., Pearl Bailey and Diahann Carroll, "Porgy and Bess," now considered an "overlooked American masterpiece" by one contemporary scholar, rarely has been screened in the ensuing years.
Porky in Wackyland (1938)
The Power of the Press (1928)
Dexterous newspaper yarn features Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as a reporter investigating a murder. When he discovers rampant political chicanery afoot, what’s a clever young Capra hero to do? Expose the corruption, of course, and set his hometown right.
Powers of Ten (1978)
Precious Images (1986)
Produced by Chuck Workman to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Directors Guild of America, this dizzying compilation celebrates the first eight decades of American cinema to dazzling effect. Workman, best known for his Academy Awards broadcast montages, rolls out nearly 500 clips from films dating back to1903 in the space of seven short minutes to create one of the most influential and widely shown short films in history.
Preservation of the Sign Language (1913)
Presented without subtitles, "Preservation" is a short, one-reel 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. Deafened by scarlet fever at the age of eight, Veditz was one of the first to make motion-picture recordings of American Sign Language. Taking care to sign precisely and in large gestures for the cameras, Veditz chose fiery biblical passages to give his speech emotional impact. In some of his films, Veditz used finger spelling so his gestures could be translated directly into English in venues where interpreters were present. On behalf of the NAD, Veditz made this film specifically to record sign language for posterity at a time when oralists (those who promoted lip reading and speech in lieu of sign language) were gaining momentum in the education of the hearing-impaired. The film conveys one of the ways that deaf Americans debated the issues of their language and public understanding during the era of World War I.
President McKinley Inauguration Footage (1901)
Produced by Robert Drew, shot by Richard Leacock and Albert Maysles, and edited by D. A. Pennebaker, “Primary” charted new territory in documentary film making. Using lighter, more mobile cameras and sound equipment, the filmmakers achieved greater intimacy with their subjects, following on their heels as the candidates wound through packed crowds and hovering like gnats to capture their more private moments. Modern political and news reporting owes much to the audacity of this film’s invasive technique.
Princess Nicotine; or The Smoke Fairy (1909)
This tale of a tormented smoker, in which fairies bedevil a man’s attempt to light his pipe, was the most celebrated special effects film of its day.
Trick films were a specialty of the New York-based Vitagraph Company, then America’s leading film producer, and many were inspired by Georges Méliès’s pioneering French fantasies.
Director J. Stuart Blackton used double exposure, stop-motion animation and parlor tricks that literally relied on smoke and mirrors to create his fantasy tour de force.
The Prisoner of Zenda (1937)
The Producers (1968)
Suspensefull thriller by Alfred Hitchcock shocked audiences when it was released, and still manages to terrify viewers more than 50 years later. The film boosted the career of Anthony Perkins as the creepy Norman Bates, but subsequently stereotyped him as the damaged outsider. Portraying the doomed Marion Crane, Janet Leigh fared better, though she was constantly overshadowed by her role in the film and her experience with Hitchcock. The Bernard Herrmann score, rich with discordant strings, is spine-tinglingly unforgettable.
Expanded essay by Charles Taylor
The Public Enemy (1931)
Pull My Daisy (1959)
This adroit parody of the beat generation was written by the man who invented the ‘50s zeitgeist: Jack Kerouac. Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie’s nonsense comedy blends improvisation and careful construction so well that more than a few serious commentators took the film for pure slice-of-life naturalism—and were properly offended.
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 stands as a milestone in the evolution of independent cinema in the United States, 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, “Pulp Fiction” is a beautifully composed tour-de-force, combining narrative elements of hardboiled crime novels and film noir with the bright widescreen visuals of Sergio Leone. The impact is profound and unforgettable.
Expanded essay by Jami Bernard
Punch Drunks (1934)
Pups Is Pups (1930)
“Pups is Pups” expertly combines slapstick, verbal humor and pathos in one neat, entertaining package. In this the 100th entry in the “Our Gang” series of short subjects, and the 12th talking installment, the little rascals systematically wreack havoc at a fancy pet show when they bring in their own menagerie of mice, pigs, goats and toads. This was the first “Our Gang” comedy to utilize the jazzy background music of LeRoy Shield for which the Hal Roach Studio, and most notably Laurel and Hardy, became known.
Quasi at the Quackadero (1975)
Sally Cruikshank’s wildly imaginative tale of odd creatures visiting a psychedelic amusement park careens creatively from strange to truly wacky scenes. It became a favorite of the Midnight Movie circuit in the 1970s. Influenced by the animation produced by the Fleischer Studios and the Van Beuren Studios, as well as the early work of Bob Clampett, Cruikshank spent more than two years working on the 10-minute “Quasi.” She later created animation sequences for “Sesame Street,” the 1986 film “Ruthless People” and the “Cartoon Land” sequence in the 1983 film “Twilight Zone: The Movie.”
The Quiet Man (1952)
Never one to shy away from sentiment, director John Ford infused “The Quiet Man” with unadulterated adulation of his Irish heritage and the grandeur of the Emerald Isle. Red hair ablaze against 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), the burly town bully Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen) and the put-upon but patient Widow Tillane (Mildred Natwick) are the most vivid. Beautifully photographed in rich, saturated Technicolor by Winton C. Hoch, with picturesque art direction by Frank Hotaling, “The Quiet Man” has become a perennial St. Patrick’s Day television favorite.
Expanded essay by Scott Allen Nollen
Raging Bull (1980)
Hard hitting is the character, hard hitting is the film. Martin Scorsese painted a visceral portrait of prizefighter Jake LaMotta, and Robert DeNiro fleshed out that portrait, literally and figuratively. DeNiro famously gained 60 lbs. for the role of LaMotta, donned a prosthetic nose and walked away with an Academy Award. Equally award worthy is Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing of cinematographer Michael Chapman’s footage.
Expanded essay by Jami Bernard
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
A Raisin in the Sun (1961)
Model film adaptation of Lorraine Hansbury’s classic play about a black lower middle class family. The legendary cast is a veritable who’s who of the civil rights era: Sidney Poitier, Claudia McNeil and Ruby Dee.
Rear Window (1954)
Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
This portrait of youthful alienation spoke to a whole generation and remains wrenchingly powerful, despite some dated elements. The yearning for self-esteem, the parental conflict, the comfort found in friendships, all beautifully orchestrated by director Nicholas Ray, screenwriter Stewart Stern, and a fine cast. This was James Dean’s defining performance and an impressive showing for Sal Mineo.
Expanded essay by Jay Carr
The Red Book (1994)
Renowned experimental filmmaker and theater/installation artist Janie Geiser’s work is known for its ambiguity, explorations of memory and emotional states and exceptional design. She describes “The Red Book” as “an elliptical, pictographic animated film that uses flat, painted figures and collage elements in both two and three dimensional settings to explore the realms of memory, language and identity from the point of view of a woman amnesiac.”
Red Dust (1932)
This steamy pre-Production Code melodrama stars virile, tough guy Clark Gable as a Far East plantation owner who proves no match for Jean Harlow’s saucy incandescence. Her earthy, breathless dialogue (“You can check the wings and halo at the desk”) serves to turn up the heat. The movie’s well-remembered humor, star chemistry and atmosphere owe much to underrated director Victor Fleming, who managed to inspire a superior performance from Harlow, who was coping with the suicide of her husband during the filming of “Red Dust.”
Red River (1948)
Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania (1971-72)
Jonas Mekas’ “Reminiscences” is an elegiac diary film of a trip that he took back to his birthplace of Semeniskiai, Lithuania. In addition to his own exceptional body of avant-garde films, Mekas also is a legendary member of that community through his work as spokesperson, archivist and theoretician of the avant-garde movement. Often called the godfather of American experimental cinema, his writings in “Film Culture” and “The Village Voice” helped spur public interest. His founding of the Film-Makers Cooperative and the Anthology Film Archives also made avant-garde films more accessible and aided their preservation.
Republic Steel Strike Riot Newsreel Footage (1937)
[still photograph of newsreel cameraman testifying to Congressional committee]
Return of the Secaucus 7 (1980)
The Revenge of Pancho Villa (1930-1936)
The compilation ?lm created by itinerant exhibitor Félix Padilla combines the cinematic traditions of the United States and Mexico to construct a biographical ?lm about the regional hero and revolutionary general Francisco “Pancho” Villa. Using footage primarly from American silent features and newsreels – augmented by still photos and footage he shot himself – Padilla produced and exhibited the film in the El Paso-Juárez border region in the 1930s.
Ride the High Country (1962)
The Right Stuff (1983)
At three hours and 13 minutes, Philip Kaufman’s adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s novel is an epic right out of the Golden Age of Hollywood, but thanks to its assortment of characters and human drama, it rarely drags. Director/screenwriter Kaufman ambitiously attempts to boldly go where few epics had gone before as he recounts the nascent Space Age. He takes elements of the traditional Western, mashes them up with sophisticated satire and peppers the concoction with the occasional subversive joke. As a result, Kaufman (inspired by Wolfe) creates his own history, debunking a few myths as he creates new ones. At its heart, “The Right 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.
Rip Van Winkle (1896)
The River (1938)
This stirring tale of a million-to-one-shot underdog has become part of the American psyche. According to legend, Sylvester Stallone, then a down-on-his-luck actor, hurriedly wrote a brilliant script after watching the Muhammad Ali/Chuck Wepner fight. Stallone shopped the script to studios, who loved the plot but not Stallone’s take-it-or-leave-it demand that he star in the film. Eventually, Stallone and United Artists crafted a deal, and the film became a top-grossing cultural sensation in 1976. One of the truly iconic moments in American cinema is when Stallone runs up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art to the strains of Bill Conti’s pulsating score.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
The ultimate midnight movie, “Rocky Horror" revolutionized prevailing notions of audience participation during film screenings.
Roger & Me (1989)
After decades of product ascendancy, American automakers began facing stiff commercial and design challenges in the late 1970s and 1980s from foreign automakers, especially the Japanese. Michael Moore’s controversial documentary chronicles the human toll and hemorrhaging of jobs caused by these upheavals, in this case the firing of 30,000 autoworkers by General Motors in Moore’s hometown of Flint, Michigan. As a narrative structure, Moore uses a comic device sometimes found in political campaign commercials, weaving a message around trying to find the person responsible for a wrong, in this case General Motors Chairman Roger Smith. “Roger & Me" is take-no-prisoners, advocacy documentary filmmaking, and Moore makes no apologies for his brazen, in-your-face style—he would argue the situation demands it. The themes of unfairness, inequality and the unrealized attainment of the American Dream resonate to this day, while the consequences of ferocious auto-sector competition continue, playing a key long-term role in the city of Detroit’s recent filing for bankruptcy protection.
Roman Holiday (1953)
Rose Hobart (1936)
Safety Last! (1923)
Salt of the Earth (1954)
Samsara: Death and Rebirth in Cambodia (1990)
International relief worker Ellen Bruno’s master’s thesis at Stanford University, “Samsara," documents the struggle of the Cambodian people to rebuild a shattered society in the aftermath of Pol Pot’s killing fields. “Samsara" is a Sanskrit term that literally means “circle" or “wheel," and is commonly translated as “cycle of existence." Bruno fleshes out this concept by using ancient Buddhist teachings and folklore to provide a context for Cambodia’s struggle. Described as poetic, heartbreaking and evocative, the film brings a humanistic perspective to the political chaos of Southeast Asia with a deliberate, reflective and sometimes dreamlike pace as it intertwines the mundane realities of daily life with the spiritual beliefs of the Khmer people. One reviewer reflected, "The meditative pacing, the rhythm of bells and chimes, the luxuriant green landscape, the otherworldly response to horrific recent history—I was transported not just to a faraway place but to an altered consciousness."
Saturday Night Fever (1977)
Produced long after the heyday of classic Hollywood musicals, this cinematic cultural touchstone incorporated set-piece music and dance numbers into a story of dramatic realism. With its success, "Saturday Night Fever" proved that the American movie musical could be reinvented. The film’s soundtrack, featuring hits by the Bee Gees and others, sold millions of copies and gave musical life to a movie significant for much more than just its celebration of the mid-70s disco phenomenon.
Schindler’s List (1993)
Expanded essay by Jay Carr
Scratch and Crow (1995)
Helen Hill’s student film was made at the California Institute of the Arts. Consistent with the short films she made from age 11 until her death at 36, this animated short work is filled with vivid color and a light sense of humor. It is also a poetic and spiritual homage to animals and the human soul.
The Searchers (1956)
Seargent York (19411)
Gary Cooper, in one of his favorite roles, won his first Oscar for his dead-on portrayal of Tennessee pacifist Sgt. Alvin York who, in an Argonne Forest World War I battle, single-handedly captured more than 130 German soldiers. A stirring bit of Americana, which appeared six months before America entered World War II as a nation and inspired Americans through the later conflict, “Sergeant York” contains three main segments all masterfully directed by Howard Hawks: York’s life in Tennessee, the war scenes, and post-war scenes in New York City where his newfound fame briefly tempts York not to return to his Tennessee home.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)
Seventh Heaven (1927)
The Sex Life of the Polyp (1928)
Humorist Robert Benchley’s career was both varied and distinguished: essayist, member of the Algonquin Round Table, writer for “Vanity Fair” and “The New Yorker,” actor in Hollywood features (“Foreign Correspondent”) and several dozen short comedy subjects. “The Sex Life of the Polyp,” Benchley’s second short (following “The Treasurer’s Report”) features him as a daft doctor giving a droll but earnest lecture on polyp reproductive habits to a women’s club.
Expanded essay by Steve Massa
sex, lies and videotape (1989)
Steven Soderbergh explores the messy personal relationships of four friends with an insinuatingly low-key style that creates a super-precise psychoanalysis of human impulses and inhibitions. This landmark film launched an independent film renaissance.
Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
She Done Him Wrong (1933)
Sherlock, Jr. (1924)
Shermans March (1986)
Shock Corridor (1963)
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
Show Boat (1936)
Show People (1928)
The classic silent comedy, in which a young girl from Georgia goes to Hollywood to become an actresss, showcased Marion Davies’ deft touch for light comedy. Gently skewering the industry that created it, “Show People” features cameos from some of the biggest stars of the era — including Davies as herself.
In his career, Julien Bryan, founder of the International Film Foundation, managed to amass a historical treasure trove of footage from foreign lands. On his way back from filming in Europe in 1939, Bryan became stranded in Warsaw during the German bombardment and blitzkrieg, where he managed to shoot and smuggle out an astonishing record of events in Warsaw. As the only neutral-country cameraman left in Warsaw when the Germans arrived, Bryan’s footage is a unique, horrifying record of the dreadful brutality of war. One such scene shows German planes strafing Polish women as they dug potatoes for their hungry families.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Jodie Foster, Sir Anthony Hopkins and director Jonathan Demme won accolades for this chilling thriller based upon a book by Thomas Harris. Foster plays rookie FBI agent Clarice Starling who must tap into the disturbed mind of imprisoned cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter in order to aid her search for a murderer and torturer still at large. A film whose violence is as much psychological as graphic, “Silence of the Lambs”—winner of Academy Awards for Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Adapted Screenplay—has been celebrated for its superb lead performances, its blending of crime and horror genres, and its taut direction that brought to the screen one of film’s greatest villains and some of its most memorable imagery.
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Sky High (1922)
Along with "Sex, Lies, and Videotape" (1989), "Slacker" is widely regarded as a touchstone in the blossoming of American independent cinema during the 1990s. A free-floating narrative, the film follows a colorful and engaging assortment of characters in Austin, Texas, throughout the course of a single day as they ruminate on UFOs, Scooby Doo, Leon Czolgosz and many other things. Shot on 16mm film with a budget of $23,000, director Richard Linklater dispensed with a structured plot in favor of interconnected vignettes. This resulted in a film of considerable quirky charm that has influenced a whole generation of independent filmmakers. "Slacker" was eventually picked up by a major distributor and earned more than $1 million at the box office.
Snow White (1933)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Additional images from the Library of Congress Prints & Photograph Online Catalog.
So’s Your Old Man (1926)
While W.C. Fields’ talents are better suited for sound films — where his verbal jabs and asides still delight and astound — Fields also starred in some memorable silent films. Fields began his career as a vaudevillian juggler and that humor and dexterity shines through in “So’s Your Old Man.” The craziness is aided immeasurably through the deft comic touches of director Gregory LaCava. In the film, Fields plays inventor Samuel Bisbee, who is considered a vulgarian by the town’s elite. His road to financial success takes many hilarious detours including a disastrous demo for potential investors, a bungled suicide attempt, a foray into his classic “golf game” routine and an inspired pantomime to a Spanish princess.
Expanded essay by Steve Massa
Some Like It Hot (1959)
The Son of the Sheik (1926)
Rudolph Valentino, who died at the age of 31 shortly after the film’s release, inflamed female hearts for a final time in this slightly tongue-in-cheek adventure-romance. The son of an Arabian sheik (Valentino) falls in love with a dancer (Vilma Banky) whose father (George Fawcett) and his cronies are thieves. When the young sheik is mistakenly led to believe the girl seduced him as a front for her father’s gang, he feels betrayed, and kidnaps her in revenge.
Sons of the Desert (1933)
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, along with comedian Charley Chase, star in this riotous comedy of fraternity and marital mishaps. Directed by veteran comedy director William A. Seiter for Hal Roach Studios, "Sons of the Desert" successfully incorporated into a feature-length film many of the comedic techniques that had made Laurel & Hardy such masters of short-subject humor. The film was ranked among the top 10 box-office hits after its release. Film scholars and fans consider it to be the duo’s finest feature film.
The Sound of Music (1965)
The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973)
When “The Spook Who Sat by the Door” was restored for DVD release in 2004, the New York Times called it “a story of black insurrection too strong for 1973. “Based on a controversial best-selling 1969 novel by Sam Greenlee and with a subtly effective score by jazz legend Herbie Hancock, the film presents the story of a black man hired to integrate the CIA who uses his counter-revolutionary training to spark a black nationalist revolution in America’s urban streets. Financed mostly by individual African-American investors, some commentators lambasted the film for its sanctioning of violence and distributor United Artists pulled the movie from theaters after a successful three-week run. Others appreciated its significance. Washington Post journalist Adrienne Manns, a former spokesperson in the black student movement, argued that the film "lends humanity to persons who are usually portrayed as vicious, savage, sub-humans – the street gangs, the young people who have in many cities terrorized the communities they live in." New York Times reviewer Vincent Canby commented, "The rage it projects is real." Ivan Dixon, the film’s director known for his roles in "Hogan’s Heroes" and as the lead in "Nothing But a Man" (1964), believed that the film did not offer "a real solution" to racial injustice, but projected instead "a fantasy that everybody felt, every black male particularly."
St. Louis Blues (1929)
A two-reeler made both for “race theater” distribution and RKO’s experiments with early recording of musical shorts in its theater chains, “St. Louis Blues” features the only film recording of Bessie Smith, “Queen of the Blues,” backed by an outstanding cast of African-American artists. According to film historian Donald Bogle, the film “was marred by its white director’s overstatement, but it was distinguished by Bessie Smith’s extraordinary ability to express black pain. … Haughty, husky, hungry, earthy, confident, and supremely committed to her music, Bessie Smith is magnificently larger than life here, a true dark diva, who lives up to her legend as one of America’s great original artists.”
Monument Valley on the Arizona-Utah border was one of director John Ford's favorite locations for filming the western films that would come to define his career. With “Stagecoach,” Ford forged a model for Westerns (and film drama as a whole) that would last well into the 21st century. A cast of outstanding performers including Claire Trevor, Thomas Mitchell in an Academy Award-winninger turn, and John Wayne in the role that would jetison him to stardom, portray passengers traveling across dangerous Indian territory by stage. Groundbreaking stunt work by Yakima Canutt contribute to action sequences that inspired countless filmmakers.
Expanded essay by Scott Allen Nollen
Stand and Deliver (1988)
Based on a true story, “Stand and Deliver” stars Edward James Olmos in an Oscar-nominated performance as crusading educator Jaime Escalante. A math teacher in East Los Angeles, Escalante inspired his underprivileged students to undertake an intensive program in calculus, achieve high test scores, and improve their sense of self-worth. Co-produced by Olmos and directed by Cuban-born Ramón Menéndez, “Stand and Deliver” became one of the most popular of a new wave of narrative feature films produced in the 1980s by Latino filmmakers. The film celebrates in a direct, approachable, and impactful way, values of self-betterment through hard work and power through knowledge.
A Star Is Born (1954)
Star Wars (1977)
Stark Love (1927)
A maverick production in both design and concept, “Stark Love” is a beautifully photographed mix of lyrical anthropology and action melodrama from director Karl Brown. “Man is absolute ruler. Woman is working slave.” Such are the rigid attitudes framing this tale of a country boy’s beliefs about chivalry that lead him to try to escape a brutal father with the girl he loves. “Stark Love,” cast exclusively with amateur actors and filmed entirely in the Great Smoky Mountains, is an illuminating portrayal of the Appalachian people.
Steamboat Willie (1928)
The Sting (1973)
This classic Newman and Redford con-game crime caper, which also sparked a national resurgence of interest in Scott Joplin’s ragtime music used for the score ("The Entertainer," among other tunes), is a brilliant, evocative re-creation of Depression-era Chicago.
Stormy Weather (1943)
The Story of G.I. Joe (1945)
William Wellman’s gritty portrayal of the realities of war was based on the newspaper columns of war correspondent Ernie Pyle, played with understated realism by Burgess Meredith. In the film, Pyle follows a small group of ordinary infantrymen from North Africa into Italy, and his observations reflect the full gamut of human emotion that war invokes while trying to make sense of the inhuman randomness of war’s destruction.
Expanded essay by Amy Dunkleberger
Stranger Than Paradise (1984)
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
The Strong Man (1926)
A vaudevillian for much of his professional life, Harry Langdon was discovered and brought to Hollywood by Mack Sennett in the early 1920s but languished until 1925, when director Harry Edwards and then-gagman Frank Capra developed three features and several shorts for him. Their great success added Langdon to the fraternity of “The Four Silent Clowns” along with Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. “The Strong Man” predated by five years Chaplin’s “City Lights” with its story of a timid man in love with a blind woman.
A Study in Reds (1932)
This polished amateur film by Miriam Bennett spoofs women’s clubs and the Soviet menace in the 1930s. While listening to a tedious lecture on the Soviet threat, Wisconsin Dells’ Tuesday Club members fall asleep and find themselves laboring in an all-women collective in Russia under the unflinching eye of the Soviet special police.
Study of a River (1996-1997)
Sullivan’s Travels (1941)
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
Swing Time (1936)
The sixth of the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musicals features dance numbers set to six Jerome Kern tunes including “Never Gonna Dance,” “A Fine Romance,” and “The Way You Look Tonight.”
“Swing Time” is considered by many critics to be the duo’s best film, thanks not only to the Jerome Kern score, but to the direction of the well-respected and perfectionist George Stevens, adept in helming any genre. Astaire, a painstaking craftsman in his own right, preplanned even the slightest gesture in his dances. Rogers was a performer, not a creator, but was willing to rehearse until her feet bled -- and did.
The T.A.M.I. Show (1964)
This legendary film (the initials stand for “Teen Age Music International”) is quite possibly the greatest rock and rhythm-and-blues concert on film. Considered wildly campy with screaming girls and “Shindig”-style go-go dancers, the film captures all the live immediacy of an astonishing line-up in an era when films commonly matched records to lip-syncing. A who’s who of musicians creates magic onstage, from the Rolling Stones running onstage and plugging in their guitars to the show-stopping cape routine of James Brown.
Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapse (1940)
The Tall T (1957)
Tarzan and His Mate (1934)
A rather steamy pre-Production Code Tarzan film, generally considered the finest in the series, has Tarzan and Jane battling poachers and living a carefree life in the jungle.
Taxi Driver (1976)
The Tell-Tale Heart (1953)
The Ten Commandments (1956)
The Terminator (1984)
In 1984, few expected much from the upcoming film "The Terminator." Director James Cameron, a protégé of legendary independent filmmaker Roger Corman, had made only two films previously: the modest sci-fi short "Xenogenesis" in 1978 and "Piranha Part Two: The Spawning" in 1981. However, "The Terminator" became one of the sleeper hits of 1984, blending an ingenious, thoughtful script — clearly influenced by the works of sci-fi legend Harlan Ellison — and relentless, non-stop action moved along by an outstanding synthesizer and early techno soundtrack. Most notable was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s star-making performance as the mass-killing cyborg with a laconic sense of humor ("I’ll be back"). Low-budget, but made with heart, verve, imagination, and superb Stan Winston special effects, "The Terminator" remains among the finest science-fiction films in many decades.
Tess of the Storm Country (1914)
This is the feature film that made Canadian-born Mary Pickford, Hollywood’s first movie superstar, a national icon and an international celebrity. The film is often credited with launching what was known as the “cult of Mary Pickford” in the early 20th century and was essential in shaping the actress’ on-screen persona as a working-class heroine. The picture was so successful that it spawned a number of knockoffs and several remakes, including one by Pickford herself in 1922. The movie’s director, Edwin S. Porter, was a former cameraman of Thomas Edison who worked with Pickford on five of her earliest features. He is best known for two innovative silent shorts from 1903, “The Life of an American Fireman” and “The Great Train Robbery.”
Theodore Case Sound Test: Gus Visser and His Singing Duck (1925)
There It Is (1928)
One of the increasingly famous Charley Bowers surrealist shorts, this film combines live action with stop-motion object animation in settings where the usual rules do not apply. This “Scotland Yard investigates Haunted House” spoof features the adorable animated bug MacGregor.
They Call It Pro Football (1966)
Before "They Call It Pro Football" premiered, football films were little more than highlight reels set to the oom-pah of a marching band. In 1964, National Football League commissioner Pete Rozelle agreed to the formation of NFL Films. With a background in public relations, he recognized that the success of the league depended on its image on television, which required creating a mystique. "They Call It Pro Football," the first feature of NFL Films, looked at the game "in dramaturgical terms," capturing the struggle, not merely the outcome, of games played on the field. Written and produced by Steve Sabol, directed by John Hentz and featuring the commanding cadence of narrator John Facenda and the music of Sam Spence, the film presented football on an epic scale and in a way rarely seen by the spectator. Telephoto lenses brought close-ups of players’ faces into viewers’ living rooms. Slow motion revealed surprising intricacy and grace. Sweeping ground-to-sky shots imparted a "heroic angle." Coaches and players wearing microphones let the audience in on strategy and emotion. "They Call It Pro Football" established a mold for subsequent productions by NFL Films and has well earned its characterization as the "Citizen Kane" of sports movies.
The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
The acrobatic and occasionally balletic moves Douglas Fairbanks performed in his films took audiences breath away. Many decades removed from the silent film era, Fairbanks still delights, and never so imaginatively as in this awe-inspiring Arabian Nights spectacular. Audiences were awed not only by Fairbanks’ athleticism (and his beguiling joie de vivre) but looked on in wonder as William Cameron Menzies’ sets drew them in to an exotic adventure.
Expanded essay by Joe Morgenstern
The Thin Man (1934)
The Thing from Another World (1951)
Think of Me First as a Person (1960-75)
“Think of Me First as a Person” is an astonishing discovery from the Center for Home Movies and its annual Home Movie Day, where once a year people in cities across the nation bring their home movies to screen. This loving portrait by a father of his son with Down syndrome represents the creativity and craftsmanship of the American amateur filmmaker.
This Is Cinerama (1952)
This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
The Three Little Pigs (1933)
Voted among the best cartoons of all time in a 1990s animators’ poll, “The Three Little Pigs” was one of a series of Silly Symphony shorts on which Walt Disney practiced and refined his art on the way to his first Technicolor masterpiece: “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Wildly popular, this film pushed the envelope in "personality animation"— each of the three pigs had a different personality—and the title tune “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” became a Depression-era anthem.
Possibly the most famous music video of all time, “Thriller” caused such a buzz that it was also released theatrically in 35mm. As a follow-up to his smash 1982 album and single, Michael Jackson revolutionized the music industry with this lavish and expensive production. Acclaimed filmmaker John Landis (“Animal House” and “Blues Brothers”) directed and co-wrote the video.
A Time for Burning (1966)
Hailed by Fred Friendly as "the best civil rights film ever made," this documentary by Bill Jersey chronicles the ultimately unsuccessful attempts of a Nebraska Lutheran minister to integrate his church. Contains some of the best observational "fly on the wall" footage ever filmed, filled with incisive scenes showing people struggling with their prejudices, anger, disillusionment, changing social times and hopes for the future.
A Time Out of War (1954)
Easily in the pantheon of best student films ever produced, “A Time Out of War” managed to beat the odds and win the Oscar for best short film. Two Union soldiers and one Confederate soldier declare a temporary truce in this sensitive, elegantly unhurried film that helped put student filmmaking on the cultural map.
The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)
Told largely with revealing news clips and archival footage interspersed with personal reminiscences, "The Times of Harvey Milk," directed by Rob Epstein, vividly recounts the life of San Francisco’s first openly gay elected city official. The film, which received an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, traces Harvey Milk’s ascent from Bay Area businessman to political prominence as city supervisor and his 1978 assassination, which also claimed the life of San Francisco mayor George Moscone. While illuminating the effect that Milk had on those who knew him, the film also documents the nascent gay rights movement of the 1970s. The film, with its moving and incisive portrait of a city, a culture and a struggle—as well as Harvey Milk’s indomitable spirit—resonates profoundly as a historical document of a grassroots movement gaining political power through democratic means.
Tin Toy (1988)
This innovative short cartoon and precursor to the blockbuster feature “Toy Story” won an Oscar and helped Pixar Studios revolutionize American animation. Written and directed by John Lasseter, the film depicts a destructive baby’s playtime from a frightened tin toy’s point of view. Despite a clunky foray into human characters, this is one of Pixar’s best short subjects.
To Be or Not to Be (1942)
To Fly! (1976)
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Tol’able David (1921)
Henry King 50-year career in Hollywood, reputation for capturing the values, culture, history, personality, and character of the nation. His nostalgia was honest, and often bittersweet. In "Tol’able David," King tells a coming-of-age story about a youth who must overcome savage, bullying neighbors as he takes on his first job delivering mail in rural Virginia. "Tol’able David" was studied by Russian filmmakers of the 1920s. They were inspired by King’s memorable conjunctions of shots that evoked personalities and emotions without a need for explanatory titles. "Tol’able David" remains a powerful drama and is also known for its craftsmanship, which was tremendously influential on subsequent filmmaking.
Tom, Tom, the Piper’s Son (1969-1971)
Ken Jacobs’ landmark avant-garde film reverently re-photographs an early cinema short of the fairy tale song to explore the parameters of film art. A "structuralist film" masterpiece, Jacobs uses techniques ranging from slow and studied examinations of individual paper print images to probing experiments in manipulation of motion and light.
Top Hat (1935)
The fourth pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and the first with a screenplay written specifically for them, “Top Hat” is the quintessential Astaire-Rogers musical, complete with a contrived story of mistaken identity, romance, dapper outfits, art deco sets, plenty of dazzling dance numbers and an array of wonderful songs, including perhaps the most famous Astaire-Rogers duet, “Cheek to Cheek.” This effervescent musical proved the perfect tonic for Depression-era audiences, even if it was merely a reworking of the dance team’s earlier “The Gay Divorcee.”
Expanded essay by Carrie Rickey
Touch of Evil (1958)
Toy Story (1995)
This film changed animation’s face and delivery system as the first full-length animated feature to be created entirely by artists using computer tools and technology. Andy’s current toys have to learn to live with his new favorite playmate, "to infinity and beyond," galactic superhero Buzz Lightyear.
Traffic in Souls (1913)
This sensational exposé of “white slavery” (forced prostitution) captivated the country upon its 1913 release and presaged the Hollywood narrative film. At six reels, its length was nearly unheard of at the time, save for a few biblical epics. Although arguably an exploitation film, the film’s riveting sociology is gripping in its portrayals of methods used to entrap working women and immigrants. “Traffic in Souls” holds up well today because of its verve and location shooting.
Trance and Dance in Bali (1936-39)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)
A Trip Down Market Street (1906)
Trouble in Paradise (1932)
Tulips Shall Grow (1942)
Twelve O’Clock High (1949)
Twentieth Century (1934)
A satire on the theatrical milieu and its oversized egos, "Twentieth Century" marked the first of director Howard Hawks’ frenetic comedies that had leading actors of the day "make damn fools of themselves." In Hawks’ words, the genre became affectionately known as "screwball comedy." Hawks had writers Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, who penned the original play, craft dialogue scenes in which lines overlapped as in ordinary conversations, but still remained understandable, a style he continued in later films. This sophisticated farce about the tempestuous romance of an egocentric impresario and the star he creates did not fare well on its release, but has come to be recognized as one of the era’s finest film comedies, one that gave John Barrymore his last great film role and Carole Lombard her first.
Two-Color Kodachrome Test Shots No. III (1922)
Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)
In the late 1960s, following the success of such youth-oriented fare as “Easy Rider,” Hollywood executives greenlighted a spate of innovative, low-budget films by young filmmakers influenced by European directors like Robert Bresson and Michelangelo Antonioni. One such film was the minimalist “Two-Lane Blacktop,” which follows two “gearhads” (singer-songwriter James Taylor and Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson) in their souped-up ’55 Chevy as they’re challenged to a cross-country race by a middle-aged driver (Warren Oates) in a Pontiac GTO. The leisurely pace set by director Monte Hellman and screenwriter Rudolph Wurlitzer bathes audiences in spare landscapes and car culture rituals that engender a myth of freedom promised by life on the road.
Expanded essay by Sam Adams
Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1914)
Harriet Beecher Stowe published her great anti-slavery novel in 1852. Adapted for the stage in 1853, it was continuously performed in the U.S. well into the 20th century. "Uncle Tom’s Cabin" was frequently adapted to movies after 1900, but always with white actors in the lead roles until this version, said to be the first feature-length American film that starred a black actor. Sam Lucas—actor, musician, singer and songwriter—had become famous in the 19th century for his performances in vaudeville and minstrel shows produced by Charles Frohman. In 1878, Frohman achieved a breakthrough in American theatrical history when he staged a production of "Uncle Tom’s Cabin," featuring Lucas in the lead role. Thirty-six years later, Lucas was lured out of retirement by the World Producing Corp. to recreate his historic role on film and, in the process, set an important milestone in American movie history.
Under Western Stars (1938)
"Under Western Stars" turned Roy Rogers into a movie star. In the film, Rogers plays a populist cowboy/congressman elected to champion for small ranchers’ water rights during the Dust Bowl. He and his golden palomino Trigger appeared in nearly 100 films and a long-running television series. Known as "King of the Cowboys," the popular Rogers had an enormous impact on American audiences. Rogers was perceived as the almost perfect embodiment of what a cowboy should be in appearance, values, good manners and chivalrous behavior.
Verbena Tragica (1939)
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. The smiles of Loos’ "virtuous vamp"—as embodied by Talmadge—lead to havoc in the office, but are not life-threatening, as were the hypnotizing stares of Theda Bara’s iconic caricature that defined an earlier era. 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."
War of the Worlds (1953)
Released at the height of cold-war hysteria, producer George Pal’s lavishly-designed take on H. G. Wells’ 1898 novel of alien invasion was provocatively transplanted from Victorian England to a mid-20th-century Southern California small town in this 1953 film version. Capitalizing on the apocalyptic paranoia of the atomic age, Barré Lyndon’s screenplay wryly replaces Wells’ original commentary on the British class system with religious metaphor. Directed by Byron Haskin, formerly a special effects cameraman, the critically and commercially successful film chronicles an apparent meteor crash discovered by a local scientist (Gene Barry) that turns out to be a Martian spacecraft. Gordon Jennings, who died shortly before the film’s release, avoided stereotypical flying saucer-style creations in his Academy Award-winning special effects described by reviewers as soul-chilling, hackle-raising and not for the faint of heart.
Water and Power (1989)
Winner of a Sundance Grand Jury prize, Pat O’Neill’s influential experimental work is in his own words "a landscape film that became animated by the beginnings of human stories." In this "city symphony," O’Neill juxtaposes images of downtown Los Angeles with scenes from the Owens Valley, Los Angeles’ source of water. This was a brilliant examination of water in all its forms and the one-sided sharing of energy between the two places, representing nature and civilization.
The Wedding March (1928)
West Side Story (1961)
Westinghouse Works 1904 (1904)
What’s Opera, Doc? (1957)
Where Are My Children? (1916)
White Fawn’s Devotion (1910)
James Young Deer is now recognized as the first documented movie director of Native American ancestry. Born in Dakota City, Neb., as a member of the Winnebago Indian tribe, James Young Deer (aka: J. Younger Johnston) began his show-business career in circus and Wild West shows in the 1890s. When Pathé Frères of France established its American studio in 1910, in part to produce more authentically American-style Western films, Young Deer was hired as a director and scenario writer. Frequently in collaboration with his wife, actress Princess Red Wing (aka: Lillian St. Cyr), also of Winnebago ancestry, Young Deer is believed to have written and directed more than 100 movies for Pathé from 1910-1913. Many details of Young Deer’s life and movie career remain undocumented and fewer than 10 of his films have been discovered and preserved by U.S. film archives.
White Heat (1949)
This pulsating gangster film was directed by Raoul Walsh and stars James Cagney as a mother-obsessed, psychopathic gangster exiting the world with the legendary “Made it, Ma. Top of the world” ending. One of the toughest and most brilliant crime films ever made, “White Heat” marked a breakthrough in the explicitly psychological depiction of screen bad guys.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
Edward Albee’s 1962 stage triumph made a successful transfer to the screen in this adaption written by Ernest Lehman. The story of two warring couples and their alcohol-soaked evening of anger and exposed resentments stunned audiences with its frank, code-busting language and depictions of middle-class malaise-cum-rage. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton—who were both Academy Award nominees 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. “Woolf’s” claustrophobic staging and stark black-and-white cinematography, created by Haskell Wexler, echoed its characters’ rawness and emotionalism. Mike Nichols began his auspicious screen directing career with this film, in which he was already examining the absurdities and brutality of modern life, themes that would become two of his career hallmarks.
Why Man Creates (1968)
Why We Fight (1942-1945)
Under the auspices of the Office of War Information’s Bureau of Motion Pictures, Frank Capra directed a series of seven government training and propaganda films under the unifying title “Why We Fight.” The films were narrated by Walter Huston, and most of the footage came from newsreels, studio libraries, government footage and from British and Russian sources. Capra and his crew had very few tools of the trade available to them: No actors, no dialog, no lighting, no sets. The one tool they did have was editing and the strength of “Why We Fight” lies in its editing. The seven titles in the series are “Prelude to War,”“The Nazis Strike,” “Divide and Conquer,” “The Battle of Britain,” “The Battle of Russia,” “The Battle of China” and “War Comes to America.”
Wild and Woolly (1917)
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, criss-crossing the country risking life, limb and incarceration while hopping freight trains. William Wellman’s “Wild Boys of the Road” portrays these young adults as determined kids matching wits and strength in numbers with railroad detectives as they shuttle from city to city unable to find 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.
The Wild Bunch (1969)
Viewed as hyper violent at the time of its release, this film seems almost tame by modern standards. Aging desperadoes out for a final payday learn too late and at too high a cost that they have become obsolete. Peckinpah’s direction, brilliant performances by the entire cast, beautiful cinematography and most especially landmark editing make it a true American classic.
Expanded essay by Michael Wilmington
Wild River (1961)
Elia Kazan directed this story of a Tennessee Valley Authority official (Montgomery Clift) who goes up against an elderly townswoman bent on protecting her water rights at the expense of her community, and the romance that evolves between a local woman (Lee Remick) and the TVA official.
Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957)
The Wind (1928)
The Wishing Ring; An Idyll of Old England (1914)
Director Maurice Tourneur, called by film historian Kevin Brownlow "one of the men who introduced visual beauty to the American screen," arrived in America in 1914. Previously, he worked as an artist (assisting sculptor Auguste Rodin and painter Pierre Puvis de Chavannes), actor and innovative director in French theater and cinema. Tourneur’s third American film, "The Wishing Ring," was once believed lost until Brownlow located a 16mm print of the film in northern England. The print subsequently was copied to 35mm by the Library of Congress as part of an effort funded by the National Endowment for the Arts to preserve America’s film heritage. At the time of its initial release, the film was admired for its light and pleasing cross-class romantic story, its fresh performances and the authenticity of its "Old England" settings—although it was shot in New Jersey. Historians of silent cinema have lionized the film since its rediscovery. William K. Everson praised its "incredible sophistication of camerawork, lighting, and editing." Richard Koszarski deemed it "an extraordinary film – probably the high point of American cinema up to that time."
Within Our Gates (1920)
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
A genuine American classic, the film is based on L. Frank Baum’s story of a little girl from Kansas who dreams of a better life somewhere “Over the Rainbow” and discovers a magical world of mysterious creatures. Outstanding performances — particularly by Judy Garland — fanciful sets and an unforgettable score by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg combine to create cinema perfection
Expanded essay by Peter Keough
Woman of the Year (1942)
A Woman Under the Influence (1974)
The Women (1939)
Probably no movie in history has combined more leading Hollywood ladies (Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Mary Boland, Paulette Goddard, Joan Fontaine) without, as advertising noted, “a man in sight.” Yet “It’s all about men.” Based on the hit play by Clare Boothe Luce, “The Women” explores the new options open to women with the possibility of divorce, following several intertwining paths to the courts in Reno. The characters learn of the various affairs and entanglements of their husbands with others, and are forced to decide between “freedom” and surrendering pride for love. “See them with their hair down, and their claws out!” promised MGM, and delivered. George Cukor secured his reputation as a women’s director with this movie.
Wuthering Heights (1939)
William Wyler directed Laurence Olivier in the role of Heathcliff and Merle Oberon as Cathy in this abbreviated adaptation of Emily Brontë’s her first and only published novel. Producer Samuel Goldwyn always claimed credit for the film, reportedly once saying: “I made “Wuthering Heights;” Wyler only directed it.” Gregg Toland’s deep-focus cinematography deftly creates the moody, ethereal atmosphere of haunted love in a film acclaimed as one of cinema’s great romances.
Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
Young Frankenstein (1974)
Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)
Zapruder Film (1963)
Note: This page is a work-in-progress. Please forward corrections, additions or deletions to Donna Ross at email@example.com.