National Film Registry 2010

Of the 25 titles named Tuesday to the National Film Registry by James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress, the news coverage has naturally focused on the best known — “All the President’s Men,” “The Exorcist,” “The Empire Strikes Back” — but the list also reflects some significant victories for the avant-garde and documentary contingents, including Lawrence Jordan’s “Our Lady of the Sphere,” Peter Hutton’s “Study of a River,” Mary Ellen Bute’s “Tarantella” and Ed Bland’s unclassifiable “Cry of Jazz.”

Gains for silent film include the Edison experiment “Newark Athlete” (1891), the pre-earthquake tour of San Francisco “A Trip Down Market Street” (1906), a 1913 advocacy film “Preservation of the Sign Language,” and the 1914 William S. Hart Western “The Bargain” — an odd choice for a Hart film, though it does give the forgotten pioneer filmmaker Reginald Barker two titles on the Registry (along with his more interesting “The Italian” of 1915. In the part-talkie department, Paul Fejos’s masterpiece 1928 masterpiece “Lonesome” has been admitted to the inner circle, raising hopes that the fine restoration by George Eastman House (which includes both the sound and color sequences) will finally see the light of day.

Here’s the whole list, with comments from the Library staff:

Airplane! (1980)
“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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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 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.

Grey Gardens (1976)
“Grey Gardens” is an influential cinema verité documentary by Albert and David Maysles that 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.

I Am Joaquin (1969)
“I Am Joaquin” is a 20-minute short film based on an epic poem published by Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales in 1967. Gonzales’ poem weaves together the long tangled roots of his Mexican, Spanish, Indian and American parentage and a past mythology of pre-Columbian cultures. The film is important to the history and culture of Chicanos in America, spotlighting the challenges they have endured because of discrimination. Luis Valdez, often described as the father of Chicano theater, produced and directed “I Am Joaquin” as a project of Teatro Campesino (the Farmworkers Theater), which he founded in 1965 to inform, encourage and entertain Chicano farm workers. Valdez later directed the Chicano-themed “Zoot Suit” in 1981, a retelling of the early 1940s Los Angeles race riots, and “La Bamba” in 1987.

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.

Let There Be Light (1946)
Director John Huston directed three classic war documentaries for the U.S. Army Signal Corps during the period of 1943-46: “Report from the Aleutians,” “Battle of San Pietro” and “Let There Be Light.” “Let There Be Light” was blocked from public distribution by the War Department for 35 years because no effort was made during filming to disguise or mask the identities of combat veterans suffering from various forms of psychological trauma. The film provides important historical documentation of the efforts of psychiatric professionals during World War II to care for emotionally wounded veterans and prepare them to return to civilian life. “Let There Be Light” was filmed by cinematographer Stanley Cortez and its score was composed by Dimitri Tiomkin.

Lonesome (1928)
“Lonesome” is one of the few American feature films directed by the gifted Hungarian-born filmmaker and scientist Paul Fejös (1897-1963). The film has been recognized for its success as both a comic melodrama (about young lovers who become separated during the chaos of a thunderstorm at Coney Island) and for its early use of dialogue and two-color Technicolor. The film was restored by the George Eastman House and has found renewed popularity with repertory and film-festival audiences.

Make Way for Tomorrow (1937)
“Make Way for Tomorrow” is a sensitive, progressive, issue-oriented Depression-era film by director Leo McCarey. It concerns an aged and indigent married couple forced by their self-absorbed children to live separately in order to save money. The final scene, depicting the husband and wife parting company in a train station, counters the belief that late-30s Hollywood films always had happy endings. “Make Way for Tomorrow” deftly explores themes of retirement, poverty, generational dissonance and the nuances of love and regret at the end of a long married life.

Malcolm X (1992)
Director Spike Lee’s biographical film about the life of civil rights leader Malcom X was produced in the classical Hollywood style. Featuring an Oscar-nominated performance by Denzel Washington, the film exemplifies the willingness of the American film industry in the early ‘90s to support the making of mainstream films about earlier generations of social leaders.

McCabe and 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.

Newark Athlete (1891)
Produced May-June 1891, this experimental film was one of the first made in America at the Edison Laboratory in West Orange, N.J. The filmmakers were W.K.L. Dickson and William Heise, both of whom were employed as inventors and engineers in the industrial research facility owned by Thomas Edison. Heise and especially Dickson made important technical contributions during 1891-1893, leading to the invention of the world’s first successful motion picture camera—the Edison Kinetograph—and to the playback device required for viewing early peepshow films—the Edison Kinetoscope.

Our Lady of the Sphere (1969)
A leading figure in the California Bay Area independent film movement, Lawrence Jordan has crafted more than 40 experimental, animation and dramatic films. Jordan uses “found” graphics to produce his influential animated collages, noting that his goal is to create “unknown worlds and landscapes of the mind.” Inspired by “The Tibetan Book of the Dead,” “Our Lady of the Sphere” is one of Jordan’s best-known works. It is a surrealistic dream-like journey blending baroque images with Victorian-era image cut-outs, iconic space age symbols, various musical themes and noise effects, including animal sounds and buzzers.

The Pink Panther (1964)
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.

Preservation of the Sign Language (1913)
Presented without subtitles, “Preservation” is a two-minute 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.

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.

Study of a River (1996)
Experimental filmmaker Peter Hutton is best known for his thoughtful and beautifully photographed ruminations on the co-existence of urban areas and natural waterways. His most renowned films focused on the Hudson River. “Study of a River” is a meditative examination of the winter cycle of the Hudson River over a two-year period, showing its environment, ships plying its waterways, ice floes, and the interaction of nature and civilization. Some critics have described Hutton’s work as reminiscent of the 19th century artist Thomas Cole and other painters of the Hudson River School.

Tarantella (1940)
“Tarantella” is a five-minute color, avant-garde short film created by Mary Ellen Bute, a pioneer of visual music and electronic art in experimental cinema. With piano accompaniment by Edwin Gershefsky, “Tarantella” features rich reds and blues that Bute uses to signify a lighter mood, while her syncopated spirals, shards, lines and squiggles dance exuberantly to Gershefsky’s modern beat. Bute produced more than a dozen short films between the 1930s and the 1950s and once described herself as a “designer of kinetic abstractions” who sought to “bring to the eyes a combination of visual forms unfolding with the … rhythmic cadences of music.” Bute’s work influenced many other filmmakers working with abstract animation during the ‘30s and ‘40s, and with experimental electronic imagery in the ‘50s.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)
Elia Kazan’s first feature film, based on the novel by Betty Smith, focuses on a theme that he returned to many times during his film career: the struggle of a weak or ill-prepared individual to survive against powerful forces. A timely film, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” was released at the end of World War II, helping to remind post-war audiences of the enduring importance of the American dream.

A Trip Down Market Street (1906)
“A Trip Down Market Street” is a 13-minute “actuality” film recorded by placing a movie camera on the front of a cable car as is proceeds down San Francisco’s Market Street. A fascinating time capsule from over a 100 years ago, the film showcases the details of daily life in a major American city, including the fashions, transportations and architecture of the era. The film was originally thought to have been made in 1905, but historian David Kiehn, who examined contemporary newspapers, weather reports and car license plates recorded in the film, later suggested that “A Trip Down Market Street” was likely filmed just a few days before the devastating earthquake on April 18, 1906.

62 comments to National Film Registry 2010

  • Blake Lucas

    “Farewell to Hideko Takamine. Quite simply my favorite screen actor of all.”

    Be still my heart. This was genuinely piercing to read, even though, as Junko thankfully has told us “her life was long and mostly good.”

    Although I try to resist posting my DEFINING MOMENTS IN MOVIES (aka THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK: MOVIES) entries here even when appropriate (like “Darling Lili” recently), I am going to give in just this one time and hope it’s OK (I’ve noted Jonathan Rosenbaum is posting all of his on his blog over time so hopefully it is). I only gave four of my 36 entries to “Key Persons” and only one other (Robert Mitchum in “The Lusty Men”) was stricly as an actor. I believe my first viewing of this was the first time I ever saw Hideko Takamine by the way.

    ***

    Key Person: Hideko Takamine
    1955 / Floating Clouds – The first look at the heroine
    Japan. Director: Mikio Naruse. Cast: Hideko Takamine. Original title: Ukigumo.
    Why It’s Key: Naruse’s direction and Takamine’s acting show how a simple introductory shot of a character can intimate the beauty and meaning of a whole film.

    The reach of “Floating Clouds” is great, and such is Naruse’s gift of concise expressiveness that it is all intimated within this single brief shot of Yukiko (Takamine), who will be not only a memorably vibrant character within the film but a figure emblematic of the history of Japan as its culture quietly evolves through the years immediately following World War II. After some establishing shots to indicate the end of the war and the repatriation of those who had served in other countries, the first staged shot briefly tracks Yukiko moving with the crowd of others who have come back. It lasts only a few seconds, but we see a young woman autonomous in space, her face and posture revealing of her intention to do all she can to control her own destiny even in the face of difficult times and an implacable world. Through Naruse’s direction, pared to the essential, and Takamine’s superb acting, which has the character fully created in this initial view of her, the idea of a movingly human journey takes hold immediately. It is a journey complete with a complex relationship, never resolved in a conventional sense, with Kengo (Masayuki Mori), the man with whom Yukiko enjoyed a never-forgotten love in French Indochina during the war – a journey of two. But it begins with her, in this moment, in that soulful gaze ahead; out of that seeming simplicity, cinematic sublimity is born.

    ***

    In her honor, this will be my last post for 2010.

    God bless you, Hideko.

  • Oliver_C

    Further to the subject of Ozu’s child actors, I do wonder what became of the Hayashi boys from the glorious ‘Good Morning’ (soon to be released on Blu-ray in the UK). They both have a handful of roles to their name — the younger of the 2, Masahiko Shimazu, was also in Kurosawa’s ‘High and Low’ — but unlike Hideko Takamine (RIP) and Tomio ‘Tokkankozo’ Aoki, didn’t continue into adulthood.

  • Larry Kart

    Sorry — Death List was my source for Lom. Didn’t know it was a trashy site.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Larry –

    I don’t know if it is an inaccurate site – in any event, if it was a mistake, it was an easy one to make.

  • Alex Hicks

    Fredrik Gustafsson,

    AIRPLANE! sure is laughing-out-loud funny, but so is lunch with the right crew of salsemen, many a school yard, and any of a number of early Woody Allen film-making exercises (e.g., BANANAS).

    SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER is a certainly a good — well crafted and entertaining — movie. And it conveys a bit of celluloid early-Disco history to boot. But “key”? By “key” do you mean key as a part of some dialogue between the movies and disco RE the topic of disco? I guess that FEVER is perhaps key in that sense and, thus, in line with the National Film Registry’s mission of helping preserve “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films.” But it hardly seems to me an “aesthetically significant film” in any sense in which it wouldn’t be wildly jumping the queue to artistic recognition.

    For meeting the NFR’s cultural, historical, and aesthetic criteria, something like Blake Edward’s BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S that has some real significance on aethetic criteria as well as cultural and historical ones –see Sam Wasson’S “Audrey Hepburn, ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s,’ and the Dawn of the Modern Woman” on BREAKFAST Re the the latter sort of criteria– seems far more fitting to me.

  • While I have loved Hideko Takamine since my first meeting (When a Woman Ascends the Stair), Setsuko Hara was already well-settled in as my favorite by this point. So Takamine has shared second place (tied with Kinuyo Tanaka) for the past decade.

    While a cute moppet in Ozu’s Tokyo Chorus, she already showed signs of genuine greatness in Shimizu’s Seven Seas (made about a half year later — when she was 7). The first grown-up role I saw her play was in Naruse’s Hideko the Bus Conductor (playing a young women at her first job). While she played many wonderful parts for Naruse (and others), I probably would pick her performance in Lightning (a Hayashi adaptation) as my favorite (albeit with many other films trailing only slightly).

    (I fear Setsuko Hara won’t long outlast Takamine).

  • Lovely remarks, Blake. Incisive and appreciative, as usual – thanks.

    When I sat and watched my first Naruse, it was a beat-up tape copy that belonged to the NYU Cinema Studies video library, in 2003. I sat in one of their little closet-sized viewing rooms and proceeded to get torn apart. (And grateful for the privacy.) The movie was FLOATING CLOUDS.

    The Naruse series of 2005 yielded further revelations, and Dan Sallitt (who has championed Naruse for many years) has been tracking more down through intercontinental-cinephile channels of taping and uploading and sharing. I was most glad to see A WANDERER’S NOTEBOOK, which is a little underrated for its (ahem) more “hokey” sentimentalism but I think it’s lovely. YEARNING of course is very great, as is LIGHTNING, and of course WHEN A WOMAN ASCENDS THE STAIRS. But it was with FLOATING CLOUDS that I felt I’d glimpsed something otherworldly.

    Takamine also worked with Ozu in THE MUNEKATA SISTERS (1950), their second and last film together. And unusual film for them both, and really good, I feel. I wish I could see it again.

  • Michael Dempsey

    The death of Hideko Takamine makes me want to say a few words about one of her relatively unsung films.

    In “Her Lonely Lane” (“Horoki”), she portrays poet/novelist/short story writer Fumiko Hayashi, and the film climaxes Mikio Naruse’s series of Hayashi adaptations — serving as a biopic of and a tribute to a woman with whom he found such an affinity.

    But Naruse’s idea of a tribute is an unflinching examination of Hayashi’s bitter life and personal mistakes. The addition of the wide screen to the black-and-white cinematography of the director’s other Hayashi films gives “Her Lonely Lane” (also known in English as “A Wanderer’s Notebook” and “Drifting”) a more expansive feeling. The images take in more, seem (deliberately) less constricted — though this film, like its predecessors, remains resolutely downbeat.

    But thanks in large part to Hideko Takamine (her sublime acting here, along with her uniquely sorrowful-seeming beauty on the screen, equals what she accomplished for “Floating Clouds”, “Yearning”, and “When A Woman Ascends The Stairs”), “Her Lonely Lane” achieves incandescent catharsis. It’s a shame that it isn’t as well-known and accessible as some other Naruse films have become outside Japan (Criterion/Eclipse will release his five surviving silents in March).

    As Takamine plays her, frequently employing a frown that also hints at a can-you-believe-this dark smile, Hayashi often appears to take something like masochistic delight in her tribulations. (This jibes with a comment I once received from a young Japanese actress, who said she found a lot of intentional humor in many Naruse pictures that might be inaccessible to those who don’t know Japanese life.) In “Her Lonely Lane”, Takamine sometimes makes Hayashi a wry observer of her own suffering, which centers on the endless grind of scraping up enough money to live and write, while coping with the mostly feckless men in her life.

    At other times, the wild, uninhibited dark humor that Takamine discovers is surely evident even to non-Japanese viewers, especially when Hayashi is working in fleabag restaurants as a waitress/geisha/near-prostitute catering not only to members of her milieu’s downtrodden literary set but also hoods who view her and other women as just screwable pieces of meat. In one lively episode, she boldly harangues an abusive gangster while the other women desperately try to shut her up lest she drive this free-spending clod away for good.

    At still other times, Takamine’s Hayashi joins in the group’s drinking and singing, pouring her impacted frustrations and blocked desires into arias of twisted celebration, as if daring life to finish her off once and for all. But amid this turmoil, she constantly devotes herself to writing, believing it to be the sole valuable element of her existence.

    “Her Lonely Lane” emerges as a chronicle of an artist’s uphill battle to discover if she really is an artist and to find a way of making this matter to a largely indifferent world. The film’s dark, lustrous imagery affirms the value of this quest even as it also suggests that it won’t bring lasting satisfaction. In this way, the film foreshadows today’s rampantly commercial worldwide culture.

    It was pleasing to find Junko reporting that Hideko Takamine had a long and mostly good life. So it’s not really a shock that she has finally experienced what everyone must experience. Even so, her departure, however mitigated by the work she left behind, is a sad occasion. No list, whether long or short, of the finest actors in film history can be considered valid unless it includes her name.

  • Michael D — I’d like to second your praise for Wanderer’s Notebook (called Her Lonely Lane in the US, for some reason). Some Naruse fans have expressed reservations as to this — but I was won over by this immediately.

    And I agree with the observation that many Naruse films have a fair amount of humor — albeit sometimes the humor is very bleak — viz. portions of Floating Clouds. And Takamine did a great job of bringing out the flashes of humor in Naruse’s films.

  • Alex, I forgot to answer. I agree that BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S should be included, I thought it was. With regards to SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, it seems you’ve provided reason enough for it to be included. But the term “aesthetically significant film” is very loose. I’m pretty sure many films on the registry aren’t really “aesthetically significant”, but have many other important qualities, as have FEVER.

    AIRPLANE! is perhaps a more questionable choice, but it was influential, and it is still very much among us, talked about, re-released and commented upon, and it captured something when it came out, both in film culture and culture at large, even if it isn’t “aesthetically significant”.

  • AIRPLANE! is arguably the only “spoof” film to which cinephiles will give the time of day – it has survived the utter pulverization of its genre across 30 years of corruption and incompetence. It’s kind of shoddily made and the actors look terrible but its redemption of countless old radio, TV, and vaudeville routines – thanks to a completely engaged cast and sharp timing – is frequently miraculous. Perhaps it’s not much “cinema” but I’ll give it “significance.”

  • Eric Saucier

    I just wanted to get the word out,
    That I found some very rare behind the scenes footage of Audrey Hepburn
    in the movie “My Fair Lady”The footage includes the opening scenes
    of the movie, ect.ect.ect;
    It was shot by my father who was an extra in the movie, using a pireted
    bell & howell home movie camera and it will be auctioned off at Julians Auction House in the last weekend of March of 2013.
    the story behind the footage as well as stills from the footage can be seen here
    http://www.eccentricneworleans.com/rare_film_footage.htm