Librarian of Congress James H. Billington announced his annual selection of 25 motion pictures to be added to the National Film Registry in December 2005. This group of titles brings the total number of films placed on the registry since its creation by Congress in 1988 to 425.
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, "By preserving American films, we safeguard a significant element of American creativity and our cultural history for the enjoyment and education of future generations."
This year's selections span the years 1906 to 1995 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:
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.
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 exposé of the collusion between state officials and coal executives."
"The Cameraman" (1928)
This film sadly marked the last of Buster Keaton's sublime comedy classics. Here Keaton is an aspiring newsreel cameraman out to win the heart of Marceline Day. It is a seamless, ingenious blend of comedy and pathos, featuring countless creative sight gags involving battleships, Charles Lindbergh, admirals and hotel doormen.
"Commandment Keeper Church, Beaufort,
South Carolina, May 1940" (1940)
A set of field recordings made by a pioneering ethnographic film team led by acclaimed author (and innovative anthropologist-folklorist) Zora Neale Hurston, Jane Belo and others. 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.
"Cool Hand Luke" (1967)
Paul Newman in a classic loner, antihero role of the chain-gang prisoner who refuses to give in to the attempts of guards to crack him: "What we've got here is a failure to communicate." The legendary egg-eating scene is certain to raise cholesterol levels in any viewer.
at Ridgemont High" (1982)
One of the finest teen comedies of recent decades, this 1980s cultural film icon combines a tender, compassionate 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) spending serious time at the mall and working in fast-food restaurants. Most memorable is Sean Penn, who steals the show as the spaced-out, ultimate surfer dude Jeff Spicoli.
"The French Connection"
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.
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.
Renowned experimental film by Ralph Steiner, who later served as cameraman director or both 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.
"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.
"Hoop Dreams" (1994)
This groundbreaking, multiyear account of two inner-city Chicago kids trying to win college basketball scholarships provides an intimate and comprehensive look at the life and limited options of lower-class black families in America.
"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 De Niro, Dennis Hopper, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard and James Cameron.
"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 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 one of the first Hollywood films to treat African-American characters in a dignified fashion by casting them in richly developed roles.
"Jeffries-Johnson World's Championship Boxing Contest" (1910)
This early motion picture features the July 4 heavyweight title fight between champion Jack Johnson and former champion James J. Jeffries.
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.
"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.
and Dad" (1944)
The most successful sex-hygiene 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."
"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.
"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.
"A Raisin in the Sun" (1961)
The cast of this model film adaptation of Lorraine Hansbury's classic play about a black lower middle class family is a veritable who's who of the civil rights era: Sidney Poitier, Claudia McNeil and Ruby Dee.
Rocky Horror Picture Show" (1975)
The ultimate "midnight movie," "Rocky Horror" revolutionized prevailing notions of audience participation during film screenings. Words to remember: "It's astounding, time is fleeting, madness takes its toll."
Francisco Earthquake and Fire, April 18, 1906" (1906)
This documentary landmark features film footage depicting one of the most horrific American natural disasters.
"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.
"A Time for Burning"
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 "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.
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.
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 distinguished members and alternates of his advisory group, the National Film Preservation Board.
"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," Billington explained.
"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 ‘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/.