Library of Congress adds 25 motion pictures to the National Film Registry
The US Library of Congress has announced its annual selection of 25 influential motion pictures to be placed on the National Film Registry.
Films in the registry are selected for their cultural, historic, or aesthetic importance.
The National Film Preservation Board, founded in 1988 as a distinguished group of film experts, makes the annual selections with input from members of the public.
This year’s selected films date from 120 years ago to 2008 and were made by Hollywood studios, independent filmmakers, documentarians, and even film students.
The selections bring the number of films in the registry to 825.
In the United States, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will host a television special on Friday, December 17, at 8pm Eastern time to screen a selection of the newly inducted films. Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden and TCM host and film historian Jacqueline Stewart, who is chair of the National Film Preservation Board, will discuss the films.
Select titles from 30 years of the National Film Registry are available online in the National Screening Room.
Eight of the 25 films announced as 2021 inductees have ties to UCLA, whether because made by students, faculty members, or alumni, or preserved and restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive, leading UCLA Chancellor Gene Block to make the more than plausible claim: “Their work is a testament to UCLA’s broad impact on cinema culture, from educating generations of inspiring filmmakers to preserving, exhibiting and studying moving images of note.”
This year’s selections, in alphabetical order, are (with descriptions drawn from the NFPB’s announcement):
In her 22-minute collage of artworks, stills, documentary footage, narration, and testimonies, Sylvia Morales presented feminist and proto-feminist icons from the pre-Columbian era to the present who combatted exploitation and cultural stereotypes and fought for national independence, women’s education, and the rights of workers. In 1977 a slide show by UCLA Chicano studies teacher Anna Nieto-Gómez alerted Morales, who had worked at KABC in Los Angeles and was enrolled in UCLA’s film school, to the roles of women in Mexican history. She conducted research with Cynthia Honesto, and hired composer Carmen Moreno to score her film and actress Carmen Zapata to narrate it. She shot documentary footage and recorded voiceovers by activists Dolores Huerta, Alicia Escalante, and Francisca Flores. Chicano launched Morales’s career as a writer and director of acclaimed cable and public television documentary and fiction productions. UCLA has digitally scanned the best surviving film elements and hopes to complete a full restoration.
Cooley High (1975)
NPR has called this “classic of black cinema” a “touchstone for filmmakers like John Singleton and Spike Lee.” Set in Chicago’s Cabrini Green housing project, it begins as a high-school coming-of-age comedy about African American friends but a scuffle at a party shifts the film’s perspective to racial equity before the law. The Library of Congress cited the small-budget film’s “unique sensibilities,” taut direction by Michael Schultz, and “the incredible naturalistic acting styles of its entire cast” which included Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Garrett Morris, and Glynn Turman. It became a major critical and commercial successes and later became the genesis for the successful TV sitcom What’s Happening!!
Before co-founding The Doors in Los Angeles, keyboardist Ray Manzarek attended UCLA’s Film School (where he met fellow film student Jim Morrison). Credited as Raymond D. Manzarek, he created this student film about a jazz musician (Henry Crismonde) and his romance with an art student (played by Manzarek’s then girlfriend and future wife Dorothy Fujikawa). Manzarek once noted: “Film is the art form of the 20th century” and Fujikawa said of Manzarek and Morrison: “They always thought of their songs as cinematic expressions.” Manzarek’s “12-minute, West Coast, cool jazz, cinematic tryst” bears evidence of the influence of the French New Wave, provides a time capsule of mid-1960s LA, and features music by Herbie Mann/The Bill Evans Trio and the Jazz Crusaders. The UCLA Film and Television Archive has digitally restored the film.
Flowers and Trees (1932)
Released during the Great Depression, Disney’s Flowers and Trees presented birds singing and trees awakening, all in spectacular hues. The response to Flowers and Trees, the first three-strip Technicolor film shown to the public, and featuring dazzling hand-drawn animation in vibrant Technicolor, was so overwhelming that Walt Disney decided to make all future Silly Symphony shorts in color. Soon after came features like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
The Flying Ace (1926)
The Norman Film Manufacturing Company of Jacksonville, Florida, although owned by a white man, Richard Norman, produced “race films” for Black audiences. Its films portrayed a world in which whites, and thus racism, was absent and Black relationships accentuated. The Flying Ace is a romance-in-the-skies drama with a cast that includes Kathryn Boyd as a character inspired by Bessie Colman, the first African American woman pilot.
Hellbound Train (1930)
This silent allegory depicts traveling evangelists James and Eloyce Gist and is an important and, until recently, an overlooked milestone in Black cinema, the National Film Preservation Board said. The Gists showed it in Black churches accompanied by a sermon and religious music. Filmmaker S. Torriano Berry reassembled more than 100 reels of 16mm film at the Library of Congress to preserve an early example of independent community filmmaking which is, says the NFPB, a fierce and entertaining condemnation of sinfulness with Satan portrayed as a tempting conductor.
Humorist cowboy philosopher Will Rogers, in his third film, enacted the easy-going tramp Jubilo, named after a Civil War song in which enslaved people using stereotypical dialect celebrate their hoped for emancipation, and which became a signature song for Rogers, a multiracial member of the Cherokee nation who often portrayed a comic trickster common in both African American and Native American cultures. Jubilo was distinguished by the uniquely human character Rogers created and the title cards he authored that gave national audiences a taste of the topical remarks he would casually toss off from the stage as he entertained New York audiences with his roping and horseback riding tricks. Reviewers praised Rogers’ “wonderfully natural creation” and “rugged sense of humor,” and a few years later, director Erich von Stroheim commended Rogers’ pictures for their rare character-driven realism. The Museum of Modern Art has preserved the film.
The Long Goodbye (1973)
With lead Elliott Gould, Robert Altman brought Raymond Chandler’s depression-era detective Philip Marlowe into a contemporary Hollywood-infused setting where his moral compass seems anachronistic. With a script by Leigh Brackett, co-author of the screenplay of The Big Sleep, Altman deployed a non-traditional cast, some of whom he encouraged to create their own characters and lines. Shot by then-young cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, and winning him the National Society of Film Critics’ award for best cinematographer, the film employs unsettling camerawork and compositions that utilize the transparent and reflective surfaces common in southern California modernist architecture. Viewers eavesdrop on a corrupt world of trivial pursuits and shocking violence.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Director Peter Jackson kicked off his trilogy of films of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books with this film.
The Murder of Fred Hampton (1971)
A documentary of the final year of Fred Hampton, the 21-year old charismatic leader of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. The first half shows Hampton making speeches, passionately urging armed militancy, as well as non-violent advocacy, to confront poverty, protest police brutality and build coalitions to broaden the message of the party from “Power to the People” to “All power to all people.” During production, Hampton and Mark Clark were killed in a police raid, and the film transitions to an investigation of their deaths and the motives of authorities local and beyond. The New York Times, while admitting the film had flaws and certainly was unabashedly biased, assesses that the footage and TV documentation “constitute a remarkable, if uneven, case history. It is, in sum, an unleavened indictment of Edward V. Hanrahan, the Illinois state’s attorney, the policemen in the raid and the Chicago political establishment.” Restored by the Film & Television Archive, a division of UCLA Library.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Horror maestro Wes Craven’s intense slasher scare fest. Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) is the burn-scarred ghost of a psychopathic child killer, bound upon revenge. Heather Langenkamp stars as Nancy, who figures out who Freddy is and seeks to stop him. Also in the cast: Johnny Depp, John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, and Charles Fleischer. Made for under $2 million, Elm Street became a box office sensation and has inspired numerous sequels, a 2010 remake, a TV series, books, comic books, and videogames, making it one of the most successful film franchises in cinema history. The film established New Line Cinema as a major force in film production as “The House That Freddy Built.”
Pink Flamingos (1972)
Baltimore favorite son John Waters’ delirious fantasia centers on the search for the “filthiest person alive” and succeeds, but not before having a lot of outrageous fun along the way. It stars drag icon Divine, resplendent in a red gown with extreme hair and makeup, brandishing a pistol. This cult classic has been embraced by a generation of filmmakers and is considered a landmark in queer cinema.
UCLA’s Ethno-Communications Program’s first collective student film had intended to capture the East Los Angeles Chicano Moratorium Against the War in Vietnam, Aug. 29, 1970, but the film turns into a requiem for slain journalist and movement icon, Ruben Salazar. The film shows footage of the march, the brutal police response and resulting chaos interspersed with scenes from a callous and superficial inquest. The original elements for the film disappeared over 40 years ago; the UCLA Film and Television Archive has facilitated a 4k scan of the surviving faded 16mm print for preservation purposes and hopes to turn this provisional work into a full restoration effort.
Image: Still from “Requiem-29” (1970) by David Garcia, which is about a police riot and the death of Los Angeles Times reporter Rubén Salazar at the Chicano National Moratorium in Los Angeles, on Aug. 29, 1970. Image: UCLA Film & Television Archive
Return Of The Jedi (1983) aka Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi
The original “Star Wars” trilogy reached its first apex with this third release in the “a galaxy far, far away” trifecta. Directed by Richard Marquand, from a story by George Lucas, it launched Lucas’s original characters — Luke, Leia, Han Solo, C-3PO, R2-D2 and others — on a series of new adventures, which takes fans from the planet of Tatooine to the deep forests of Endor.
Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (1979)
Very few other stand-up comedy stars had ever taken their sets to the big screen and presented themselves in so full, raw, unadorned, and unedited a way. Pryor’s riotous performance, recorded at the Terrace Theatre in Long Beach, California, is shocking, thought-provoking, proudly un-PC and, undeniably hilarious. With Pryor already a legend in the world of stand-up comedy, this film cemented his status as a comedian’s comedian and one of the most vital voices in the history of American humor.
Recently restored by the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, this 3-minute actuality recording of a circus parade in Indianapolis in 1902 accidentally provides a rare glimpse of a prosperous northern Black community at the turn of the century. African Americans rarely appear in films of that era, and then only in caricature or as mocking distortions through a white lens. This eye-opening gem exemplifies how actuality films can unexpectedly capture time and place — fashions, ceremonies, locations soon to disappear, behavior at large events, and daily routines of life.
In her first major film role, Jennifer Lopez’s performance portrays Selena Quintanilla-Pérez on her way to becoming a major global star. As the first and most successful female Tejana music singer, her popularity in both Mexican and American music and fashion paved the way for many later pop stars, including Lopez. Directed and written by Gregory Nava, Selena is the official autobiographic film authorized by the Quintanilla family. Selena’s father and manager, Abraham Quintanilla, played by Edward James Olmos, served as a producer, and was overtaken with emotion at how accurately the film portrayed events in the death of his deceased daughter. The final montage of the movie features real footage and photos of Selena’s life.
Cicely Tyson and Paul Winfield portray a sharecropper couple during the Great Depression in the rural South. Martin Ritt’s film follows the family’s pre-teen son (played by Kevin Hooks) as he is thrust into becoming the “man of the family.” Critic Stanley Kaufman wrote that Ritt “is one of the most underrated American directors, superbly competent and quietly imaginative,” and this understated brilliance and love for the humanity of ordinary folks is on glorious and moving display in “Sounder.” Taj Mahal acted in the film and composed the score.
Stop Making Sense (1984)
Jonathan Demme captured the seminal New York-born rock/new wave/post-punk band, the Talking Heads, at the height of their powers. In a now-iconic 88-minute concert film, the band led by charismatic frontman David Byrne perform their most famous songs. Nearly as inventive visually as it is sonically, the film tightly focused on the stage, leaving the music and the band members and their theatrics to speak completely for themselves. Leonard Maltin has called this “one of the greatest rock movies ever made.”
Strangers on a Train (1951)
Wildly imitated but never topped, Hitchcock’s 1951 classic depicts two men who, meeting on a train, hatch a plan to “swap” murders, each killing someone the other knows while providing the other an air-tight alibi. Farley Granger thinks the whole plan a joke while Robert Walker subsequently commits a murder and demands Granger keep his part of the deal. This thriller contains strong supporting performances by Marion Lorne, Ruth Roman and Patricia Hitchcock and, of course, by the Master of Suspense’s signature, extraordinary visuals: from a tense tennis match to a wild, out-of-control merry-go-round finale, with a monogrammed cigarette lighter serving as one of Hitchcock’s trademark “MacGuffins.”
After his monster hit Finding Nemo (2003), director Andrew Stanton created an incredible blend of animation, science fiction, ecological cautionary tale, and a charming robot love story for Pixar Animation Studios. Pixar used skillful animation, imaginative set design, and little dialogue to craft a lovable, lonely trash-collecting robot, “WALL•E” (standing for Waste Allocation Load Lifter: Earth Class) and his Eve who transcend their “mechanics” to tell a universal story of friendship and love. M-O (Microbe Obliterator), a truly obsessed neat freak cleaning robot ever on the search for “foreign contaminants,” provides comic relief. The film won the Oscar in 2009 for Outstanding Animated Feature.
The Watermelon Woman (1996)
In her first feature film, Cheryl Dunye, one of the most important of African American queer and lesbian directors stars as Cheryl, a 20-something lesbian struggling to make a documentary about Fae Richards, a beautiful and elusive 1930s actress popularly known as The Watermelon Woman. The title of the film is a nod to Melvin Van Peebles’ 1970 The Watermelon Man. Dunye explores the erasure of Black women from film history while exploring her own identity as a Black lesbian seeking love and validation. The film was a new queer cinema landmark. Of why she became a filmmaker, Dunye, during a 2018 interview at Indiana University, recalls attending a screening of “She’s Gotta Have It” in Philadelphia and the follow-up Q&A with director Spike Lee. Many in the audience planned to slam Lee over his controversial sexualized female protagonist. Lee answered that it was his film and he will represent the characters as he wishes, and he noted that if you wanted to change how African American women are represented, go make your own film. The UCLA Film and Television Archive, a division of UCLA Library, restored the film.
Two of classic cinema’s greatest grand dames set aside their long-running feud to make Robert Aldrich’s 1962 horror dark comedy which delves into the redundant worlds of fading film stardom and the macabre. Baby Jane (Bette Davis) and her disabled sister Blanche (Joan Crawford) live tattered lives as aged stars in a decaying mansion, loathing one another as Jane torments Blanche. The film remains vivid and often terrifying. Baby Jane ignited — for better or worse — the “psycho-biddy” subgenre: films featuring older female stars as grand ghouls.
Who Killed Vincent Chin? (1987)
In 1982, two white auto workers beat to death Vincent Chin, a 27-year old Chinese American in Detroit. The city was a cauldron of racism against Asian Americans amid the decline of the U.S. auto industry. At a time when Americans were increasingly buying Japanese cars, the two men who killed Chin likely assumed he was Japanese. Although found guilty of manslaughter, they received probated sentences and served no jail time. Christine Choy and Renee Tajima-Peña’s Academy Award-nominated documentary examines the miscarriage of justice and the ways that irresponsible media coverage can increase the risk of violence against ethnic minority communities. The film’s addressed one of the first civil rights cases involving an Asian American and mobilized many Asian Americans around civil rights issues. The Academy Film Archive and The Film Foundation restored the film.
The Wobblies (1979)
With the slogan “Solidarity! All for One and One for All!”, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) formed in Chicago in 1905 to organize unskilled workers. This documentary about “the Wobblies” tells the story of workers in factories, sawmills, wheat fields, forests, mines and on the docks organizing to demand better wages, healthcare, overtime pay, and safer working conditions. Filmmakers Deborah Shaffer and Stewart Bird weave history, archival film footage, interviews with former workers (now in their 80s and 90s), cartoons, original art, and classic Wobbly songs (many written by Joe Hill) to pay tribute to the legacy of the Wobblie rebels who paved the way and risked their lives for rights we still have today. The Museum of Modern Art restored the film.
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