Librarian of Congress James H. Billington announced his annual selection of 25 motion pictures to be added to the National Film Registry in December 2004. This group of titles brings the total number of films placed on the registry since its creation in 1988 to 400.
Under the terms of the National Film Preservation Act, each year the Librarian of Congress names 25 "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant motion pictures to the registry. The list is designed to reflect the full breadth and diversity of America's film heritage, thus increasing public awareness of the richness of American cinema and the need for its preservation. In making the announcement, the Librarian said, "Our film heritage is America's living past. It celebrates the creativity and inventiveness of diverse communities and our nation as a whole. By preserving American films, we safeguard a significant element of our cultural history."
This year's selections span the years 1909 to 1993 and encompass films ranging from Hollywood classics to lesser-known, but still vital, works. The films named this year are listed below in alphabetical order:
"Ben-Hur" (1959). One of America cinema's most famous spectacles, this tale of what some have called "Christ and a horse-race" won a still-record 11 Oscars. Stuntman legend Yakima Canutt staged the landmark chariot scene.
"The Blue Bird" (1918). Maurice Tourneur's beautiful expressionist adaptation of Maurice Maeterlink's play remains one of the most aesthetically pleasing films ever made. It is an enchanting, sumptuous and perfectly composed pictorial entrance into a fantasy world, whose lesson is not to overlook the beauty of what is close and familiar.
"A Bronx Morning" (1931). Part documentary and part avant-garde, this renowned city symphony was filmed by Jay Leyda when he was 21 and 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.
"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.
"The Court Jester" (1956). In this delightful adventure parody, 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."
"D.O.A." (1950). This film noir tells the story of a man who has been poisoned and tries to find his killer during his remaining few days. The dialogue is memorable, as in this scene between the victim and a police officer: "I want to report a murder./Sit down. When was this murder committed?/San Francisco, last night./Who was murdered? I was."
"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 Americans who meet on the Gullah South Carolina Sea Island in 1902.
"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."
"Empire" (1964). 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 produce comment, bewilderment and amazement.
"Enter the Dragon" (1973). Martial arts legend Bruce Lee burst onto the American scene with this pulsating action flick, which climaxes with the dazzling "Hall of Mirrors" sequence. Although Lee died unexpectedly shortly before the film's release, "Enter the Dragon" became a huge hit and garnered legendary status for Lee.
"Eraserhead" (1978). A visually stunning portrayal of a man facing fatherhood in a nightmarish industrial world, David Lynch's first feature-length film introduced American audiences to his 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.
"Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers" (1980). Les Blank's hilarious and affectionate homage to "The Stinking Rose" delights slightly wacky devotees; in their minds, garlic is the benevolent dictator of pungent herbs, always enhancing food rather than dominating it. Gastronomic, zestful and memorable, the film often is screened in "AromaRound" with a pot of garlic butter boiling at the back of the theater.
"Going My Way" (1944). This sentimental film favorite features Bing Crosby as a kindhearted Roman Catholic priest whose upbeat, infectious personality, musical gifts and acts of compassion rejuvenate his congregation and leave the community "swinging on a star."
"Jailhouse Rock" (1957). This film showcasing Elvis Presley is in the ultimate rebel mode. The edginess reflected in the movie was toned down in the singer's later film appearances.
"Kannapolis, NC" (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 screening of Hollywood feature films. The surviving footage of the towns and their people often became the sole record of these areas. 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.
"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 labored under until that point.
"The Nutty Professor" (1963). This is considered comic genius Jerry Lewis' greatest film.
"OffOn" (1968). This landmark work from California filmmaker Scott Bartlett is the first avant-garde work to fully marry video with film. The film combines masterful usage of optical printing, superimposed images, color saturation and hand-dying of the filmstrip to make abstractions from natural images.
"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 and Technicolor, and it was twice the length of normal eight-minute cartoons.
"Pups Is Pups" (1930). One of the finest comedy shorts from the Our Gang series, which enchanted audiences from 1922 to 1944. In this film, the gang systematically wreaks havoc at a fancy pet show when they bring in their own pet mice, pigs, goats and toads.
"Schindler's List" (1993). This haunting, dramatic film stars Liam Neeson (as the title character Oskar Schindler), who saves 1,100 Jews from the Nazi death camps but still agonizes over the "one more" he will not be able to rescue.
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" (1954). One of the definitive and memorable 1950s Technicolor musicals, it is particularly renowned for its Michael Kidd-choreographed acrobatic dancing during a barn-raising and countless other jaw-dropping scenes. Effervescent, foot-stomping Americana.
"Swing Time" (1936). This legendary Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire musical features magical dancing set to six wonderful Jerome Kern tunes, including "Never Gonna Dance," "A Fine Romance" and "The Way You Look Tonight."
"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 spoof on Scotland Yard investigations features the adorable animated bug MacGregor.
"Unforgiven" (1992). Clint Eastwood cut his acting teeth starring in the flamboyantly entertaining Sergio Leone spaghetti Westerns, which provided a memorable view of the American West. In this 1992 revisionist Western (a beautiful homage to earlier mature classic Westerns such as "Shane"), Eastwood as director takes us on his own elegiac film reflection on Western mythology, morality, violence and reality versus reputation.
Billington chose this year's selections after evaluating nearly 1,000 titles nominated by the public and conducting intensive discussions with the Library's Motion Picture Division staff and the members of the National Film Preservation Board. The board also advises the Librarian on national film preservation policy.
"The films we choose are not necessarily the ‘best' American films ever made or the most famous, but they are films that continue to have cultural, historical or aesthetic significance—and in many cases represent countless other films also deserving of recognition," Billington said. "The selection of a film, I stress, is not an endorsement of its ideology or content, but rather a recognition of the film's importance to American film and cultural history and to history in general. The Film Registry stands among the finest summations of American cinema's wondrous first century."
This key component of American cultural history, however, remains a legacy with much already lost or in peril. As Billington explained: "In spite of the heroic efforts of archives, the motion picture industry and others, America's film heritage, by any measure, is an endangered species. Fifty percent of the films produced before 1950 and 80 to 90 percent made before 1920 have disappeared forever. Sadly, our enthusiasm for watching films has proved far greater than our commitment to preserving them. And, ominously, more films are lost each year—through the ravages of nitrate deterioration, color-fading and the recently discovered ‘vinegar syndrome,' which threatens the acetate-based [safety] film stock on which the vast majority of motion pictures, past and present, have been reproduced."
For each title named to the registry, the Library of Congress works to ensure that the film is preserved for all time, either through the Library's massive motion picture preservation program or through collaborative ventures with other archives, motion picture studios and independent filmmakers. The Library of Congress contains the largest collections of film and television in the world, from the earliest surviving copyrighted motion picture to the latest feature releases. For more information, consult the National Film Preservation Board Web site at www.loc.gov/film/.