Sunday, January 18, 2009

Nat'l Film Registry gets deep, weird, good

Nat'l Film Registry gets deep, weird, good
Ty Burr
January 6, 2009

Every year the Library of Congress' National Film Preservation Board selects up to 25 movies as part of the National Film Registry, a list of (to quote the press release) "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" works "to be preserved for all time." These aren't necessarily the best American movies but, rather, the most crucial, to the medium, to our history, to our national sense of self.

The 2008 list, announced December 30, brings the registry up to an even 500 titles, and while earlier editions have played it fairly safe ("Casablanca," "Citizen Kane," and "Star Wars" were included in the first batch back in 1989), Librarian of Congress James H. Billington -- the man who picks the final 25 -- has expanded his purview with admirable, even eccentric, originality.

So, yes, the 2008 line-up includes classics of the Hollywood studio era like "The Asphalt Jungle" (1950), "The Invisible Man" (1933), and "Sergeant York" (1941). It tosses bouquets to silents (Keaton's "One Week" and Von Stroheim's "Foolish Wives"), film noir ("The Killers"), and the New Hollywood of the 70s ("Deliverance"). It honors brave, unique souls like Ray Harryhausen ("The 7th Voyage of Sinbad") and Nicholas Ray (the wonderfully nutty Freudian western "Johnny Guitar"). Ahnuld even made it in with "The Terminator." (He said he'd be back.)

Solid citizens all. But what are we to make of "Disneyland Dream," a 1956 half-hour home movie shot by the Barstow family of Wethersfield, CT? "Dream" is an inspired choice in its grainy, unshakeable mid-50s optimism, but it's about as left field as you can get and the list is much the better for it. Or "No Lies," a harrowing 1973 NYU student short that's the granddaddy of today's genre-blurring reality fiction? Or the entirety of the footage that Hollwyood director George Stevens shot as part of the U.S. Army Signal Corps under General Eisenhower during WWII? Or "White Fawn's Devotion," a 1910 short by the pioneering Native American filmmaker James Young Deer?

This is a list. It honors the entirety of the urge to document and/or fictionalize on film and shows where that urge has dovetailed with and crystallized key moments in American popular culture. The National Film Preservation Board has sponsored several DVD collections of fascinating archival material, and video dealer Facets Multi Media has pointers to all the available National Film Registry titles. Is it too much to ask for a compilation of some of the lesser-known titles, so the Barstow family and James Young Deer can fan out across America once again?

The full 2008 list follows:

1) The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
2) Deliverance (1972)
3) Disneyland Dream (1956)
4) A Face in the Crowd (1957)
5) Flower Drum Song (1961)
6) Foolish Wives (1922)
7) Free Radicals (1979)
8) Hallelujah (1929)
9) In Cold Blood (1967)
10) The Invisible Man (1933)
11) Johnny Guitar (1954)
12) The Killers (1946)
13) The March (1964)
14) No Lies (1973)
15) On the Bowery (1957)
16) One Week (1920)
17) The Pawnbroker (1965)
18) The Perils of Pauline (1914)
19) Sergeant York (1941)
20) The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)
21) So’s Your Old Man (1926)
22) George Stevens WW2 Footage (1943-46)
23) The Terminator (1984)
24) Water and Power (1989)
25) White Fawn’s Devotion (1910)

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