At a news conference Dec. 14, 1993, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington announced his selection of 25 films to be added to the National Film Registry for 1993. This is the fifth group of films the Librarian has named to the registry since it was established by Congress in 1988.
The purpose of the list is to recognize American films that are "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant," in the words of the National Film Preservation Act of 1992, which established the registry. The Library of Congress also obtains "best quality" prints of each film for preservation, research and study.
Dr. Billington's selections for the 1993 Registry were made after three levels of review: by the general public; by the National Film Preservation Board and outside experts the board members recommended; and finally by the Librarian, in consultation with the Library's motion picture staff.
When the film preservation act was renewed in 1992, the new legislation gave the Librarian increased authority to name obscure, but historically significant, films that are rarely seen today by the public.
"I have exercised that right freely with this year's list," said Dr. Billington.
It is hoped that the National Film Preservation Act will also serve to increase public awareness of the importance of film preservation. A recent study by the Library of Congress of the current state of American film preservation uncovered some alarming statistics. Among the findings:
- Only 20 percent of the feature films from the 1920s survive. For the 1910s, the figure drops to 10 percent.
- There are "orphan" films from every period that are in the most critical need of preservation and have little commercial value.
- Many "lost" American films can only be found in foreign archives.
- Both old and new films face destruction -- old films from nitrate deterioration, newer films from color fading and "vinegar syndrome," which signals deterioration of safety film.
- Federal funding for film preservation has fallen to half its 1980 level, when adjusted for inflation. But amid these dire statistics, some hope has emerged to salvage what Dr. Billington has called "not so much the art form as the language of the 20th century."
The James Madison Council, the Library's private sector advisory group, has agreed to contribute $100,000 toward the cost of funding a nationwide tour of a group of National Film Registry titles, so people can view these important old films as they were intended to be seen -- on a large screen in a darkened theater.
Recently, the Librarian appointed a special funding committee and four task forces to assist him in planning a national film preservation program (see LC Information Bulletin, Feb. 21, 1994). These groups, composed of representatives from the motion picture industry, archives and the education community, will work over the next five months to develop a framework for a coordinated national film preservation program.
One group, led by Roger Mayer, chairman and chief executive officer of Turner Entertainment, will concentrate of securing funding for a continuing preservation program, particularly for important films not preserved by commercial interests. The other four groups will concentrate on preservation issues, public access and educational use, public- private cooperation and public awareness of film preservation activities.
"Most informed observers understand the enormity of this task," Dr. Billington told his Dec. 14 audience. "In the field of film preservation, various interests compete, funding is scarce, work is duplicated and archives and studios often work at cross purposes."
However, he continued, "We now have an unprecedented opportunity to work together to create a mutually beneficial program. ... We must act now to keep American film from suffering the fate of the great, lost library of Alexandria. Future generations of Americans will not forgive us if we allow the destruction to continue."
Almost everyone can name a list of their favorite movies. Media commentary about the character of Dr. Billington's list has become a regular accompaniment to his annual announcement. Publications such as the Hollywood Reporter called it "an unusually eclectic list." The list recognized such perennial favorites as "It Happened One Night" and "Lassie, Come Home," while also including obscure titles such as "Chulas Fronteras," a documentary about Mexican-Americans, as well as "Shadows" and "Nothing But a Man," two low-budget features dealing with race relations.
Writing in The Washington Times, critic Gary Arnold speculated that "a quota system has evolved, with at least one slot set aside for documentaries, abstraction and ethnic consciousness." Los Angeles Times critic emeritus Charles Champlin said he was happy to see an animated film included (Tex Avery's cartoon "Magical Maestro.") Film critic and historian Richard Schickel called the list "politically correct," but added, "I suppose another way of putting it is 'balanced.'"
If the list is a balancing act, it is one in which everyone can (and does) participate. Some 1,300 films were nominated by the public for the 1993 registry. The public has until March 30 to send in nominations for the next list. However, the Library has requested that the public try to limit suggestions to fewer than 50 titles. One fellow recently sent in 200.
Address nominations to: The National Film Registry, Library of Congress, Washington, DC 20540.
"An American in Paris" (1951)
"The Black Pirate" (1926)
"Blade Runner" (1982)
"Cat People" (1942)
"The Cheat" (1915)
"Chulas Fronteras" (1976)
"Eaux d'Artifice" (1953)
"The Godfather, Part II" (1974)
"His Girl Friday" (1940)
"It Happened One Night" (1934)
"Lassie, Come Home" (1943)
"Magical Maestro" (1952)
"March of Time: Inside Nazi Germany -- 1938" (1938)
"A Night at the Opera" (1935)
"Nothing but a Man" (1964)
"One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
"Point of Order" (1964)
"Sweet Smell of Success" (1957)
"Touch of Evil" (1958)
"Where Are My Children" (1916)
"The Wind" (1928)
"Yankee Doodle Dandy" (1942)