25 Films Chosen for National Film Registry
United States Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden has announced the annual selection of 25 influential motion pictures to be inducted into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. Inducted films are selected for their cultural, historic, or aesthetic importance.
The 2022 selections date back 124 years in filmmaking to an 1898 film of the “Mardi Gras Carnival” parade in New Orleans. The film was long thought to be lost but was recently discovered in a museum in the Netherlands. The most recent film now added to the registry is 2011’s Pariah, directed by Dee Rees.
The selections bring the number of films in the registry to 850, many of which are among the 1.7 million films in the Library’s collections.
Turner Classic Movies will host a television special Tuesday, Dec. 27, starting at 8 p.m. ET to screen a selection of motion pictures named to the registry this year. Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden will discuss the films with TCM host, film historian and Academy Museum of Motion Pictures Director and President Jacqueline Stewart, who is chair of the National Film Preservation Board.
“I am especially proud of the way the Registry has amplified its recognition of diverse filmmakers, experiences, and a wide range of filmmaking traditions in recent years,” Stewart said in a press release.
Select titles from 30 years of the National Film Registry are freely available online in the National Screening Room. Online conversations about the selections are on Twitter and Instagram at @librarycongress and #NatFilmRegistry.
Some selections are more popular than significant in the history of film. This year the Library of Congress received public requests to consider 6,865 titles for addition to the Registry. The public can submit nominations throughout the year on the Library’s website. The Library will accept nominations for next year until Aug. 15, 2023, at loc.gov/film.
Under the terms of the National Film Preservation Act, each year the Librarian of Congress names to the National Film Registry 25 motion pictures that are “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant. The films must be at least 10 years old
The Librarian makes the annual registry selections after conferring with the members of the National Film Preservation Board and Library specialists.
Many titles named to the registry have already been preserved by the copyright holders, filmmakers, or other archives. In cases where a selected title has not already been preserved, the Library of Congress National Audio-Visual Conservation Center works to ensure the film will be preserved by some entity and available for future generations, either through the Library’s motion picture preservation program or through collaborative ventures with other archives, motion picture studios and independent filmmakers. The center is located at the Library’s state-of-the-art Packard Campus in Culpeper, Virginia.
2022 Selections to the National Film Registry
See a showreel, here.
Often-ignored perversions of the American dream such as inequality, race relations, and conditions at mental hospitals and prisons were brought to public attention by the September 1971 Attica prison uprising, the deadliest prison riot in U.S. history. To protest living conditions, inmates took over the facility, held hostages, issued a manifesto demanding better treatment, and then engaged in four days of fruitless negotiations. On Day 5, state troopers and prison authorities retook the prison in a brutal assault, leaving 43 inmates and hostages dead. Cinda Firestone’s investigation of the tragedy takes us through the event, what caused it, and the aftermath. She uses first-hand interviews with prisoners, families, and guards and assembled surveillance and news camera footage and video from the McKay Commission hearings on the massacre. An ex-inmate ends the film with a quote hoping to shake public lethargy on the need for prison reform: “Wake up, because nothing comes to a sleeper but a dream.”
The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez (1982)
Acknowledged as one of the key feature films from the burgeoning 1980s Chicano film movement, The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez was based on folklorist Américo Paredes’ acclaimed account of “El Corrido de Gregorio Cortez,” a key work of the Chicano Studies movement. Edward James Olmos was a working actor but not yet a star when he and several friends, meeting at what would become the Sundance Film Festival, decided to make a film about a true story of injustice from the Texas frontier days. Their ballad from the borderlands of Texas and Mexico explored the creation through song of the folk hero Gregorio Cortez, a poor Tejano farmer accused in 1901 of killing a sheriff who had shot Cortez’s brother during a poorly translated interrogation. A posse of some 600 Texas Rangers pursued Cortez for 11 days before his capture, as widespread newspaper accounts of the chase and subsequent trial spurred the creation of the ballad. Relying on the prodigious talents of director Robert M. Young, lead actor and co-producer Edward James Olmos, cinematographer Ray Villalobos and producer Moctesuma Esparza, The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez employed narrative devices common to such classic films as Citizen Kane, Rashomon, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance to tell its complicated story in a nonlinear fashion. While some characters speak in Spanish and others in English, the filmmakers decided not to use subtitles to replicate in audiences the experience of borderland characters caught up in the unfolding tragedy. Olmos told the Library: “This film is being seen more today than it was the day we finished it. The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez is truly the best film I’ve ever been a part of in my lifetime.” The Academy Film Archive has preserved the film.
Behind Every Good Man (1967)
Before Stonewall, this 1967 student short film by UCLA student Nikolai Ursin offered a flirtatious, heartbreaking portrait of Black gender fluidity in Los Angeles and the quest for love and acceptance. Following playful street scene vignettes accompanied by a wistful, baritone voice-over narration, the film lingers tenderly on our protagonist preparing for a date who never arrives. The film is preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Preservation funded by the National Film Preservation Foundation on behalf of the Outfest UCLA Legacy Project. Behind Every Good Man is one of several films on the Registry that broke ground in visually representing the LGBTQ+ community that had long been kept out of sight — or at least off screen.
Betty Tells Her Story (1972)
Liane Brandon’s classic documentary explores the layers of storytelling and memory — how telling a story again can reveal previously hidden details and context. In this poignant tale of beauty, identity and a dress, the filmmaker turns the storytelling power over to the subject. Deceptively simple in its approach, the director in two separate takes films Betty recalling her search for the perfect dress for an upcoming special occasion. During the first take, Betty describes in delightful detail how she found just the right one, spent more than she could afford, felt absolutely transformed … and never got to wear it. Brandon then asks her to tell the story again, and this time her account becomes more nuanced, personal and emotional, revealing her underlying feelings. Though the facts remain the same, the story is strikingly different. Betty Tells Her Story was the first independent documentary of the Women’s Movement to explore the ways in which clothing and appearance affect a woman’s identity. It is used in film studies, psychology, sociology, women’s studies, and many other academic disciplines as a perceptive look at how our culture views women in the context of body image, self-worth and beauty in American culture. The film was restored with a grant from New York Women in Film & Television’s Women’s Film Preservation Fund.“ A groundbreaking classic of feminist filmmaking and a subtle and heartbreaking parable about disillusionment, the oppression of imposed gender roles, and the workings of memory,” wrote Peter Keough of The Boston Globe.
Bush Mama (1979)
A member of the L.A. Rebellion group of filmmakers, Ethiopian-born director Haile Gerima was inspired to make Bush Mama by seeing a Black Chicago woman evicted from her home during winter. Serving as Gerima’s UCLA thesis project, the film was released in 1979 though made earlier in 1975. Shot on a small budget, the film was directed, produced and edited by Gerima with cinematography by Roderick Young and Charles Burnett. Bush Mama is the story of Dorothy, a woman facing another pregnancy and drowning in the oppressive red tape of a system that put her Vietnam veteran lover in prison for a crime he did not commit. Portrayed by the riveting, frequent L.A. Rebellion collaborator Barbara O, Dorothy persists through frustrations and exhaustion in her attempts to navigate a callous system that denies her the benefits needed to support her family. Brutally real and experimentally lyrical in its narrative strategies, “Bush Mama” resonates as a haunting look at inner city poverty, and damning indictments of police brutality and the welfare, judicial, and penal systems.
Cab Calloway Home Movies (1948-51)
Shot in 16mm, black and white and color, the Cabell “Cab” Calloway III Collection includes handsome footage of the legendary singer/bandleader/actor and his family and friends. Filmed with his wife Nuffie, they document their home life in Long Beach, New York, and their travels throughout North, South and Central America and the Caribbean. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Cabella Calloway Langsam. Photochemical preservation was performed by Colorlab, which made new internegative prints of the silent films from the original 16mm color and black and white prints in 2016
Brian De Palma stands as an icon of the new wave of filmmakers who remade Hollywood and its filmmaking conventions beginning in the 1960s and 70s. After some intriguing independent efforts, De Palma burst onto the national spotlight with Carrie. Never one to feature subtlety in his films, De Palma mixes up a stylish cauldron of horrific scenes in Carrie, adapted from the Stephen King novel. Combine a teen outcast with telekinetic powers facing abuse from cruel classmates and a domineering religious mother, and you have a breeding ground for revenge, with the comeuppance delivered in a no-holds barred prom massacre. The flamboyant visual flair and use of countless cinema techniques may occasionally seem overdone, but the film’s influence remains undeniable to this day, often cited by other critics and filmmakers for its impact on the horror genre. Sissy Spacek, the star of Carrie, makes her third appearance on the registry, joining her earlier films “Badlands” and “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” Her role as Carrie White, the telekinetic teen misfit who is abused by her mother and taunted by her classmates, drew an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress and a lasting image in pop culture as a vengeful, blood-soaked prom queen. She credits Stephen King’s novel, the basis for the film, as striking a nerve with teenagers in each generation who are desperate to fit in with their peers for the film’s lasting resonance. The other factor, she said, was a superb cast that included Piper Laurie (also nominated for an Oscar), John Travolta and Amy Irving. “Brian De Palma was just such a wonder to work with,” Spacek said in a recent interview, crediting the film’s director. “He would tell us exactly what he needed and then he’d say, ‘Within those parameters, you can do anything you want. That was just so wonderful’.”
With this 1963 romantic comic thriller, director Stanley Donen gave audiences their first and only opportunity to enjoy the delicious onscreen chemistry of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, two of Hollywood’s most elegant and sophisticated actors. Despite a noticeable difference in age, the pairing worked delightfully, sparking stylish scenes of wit, charm and silliness, once Grant convinced Donen and writer Peter Stone to make Hepburn’s character, rather than Grant’s, the aggressor to avoid a feared unseemly effect. Drawing on a persona Grant created with Alfred Hitchcock that introduced elements of uncertainty and deceit into a developing romance, Stone and Donen, an admirer of “North by Northwest’s” “wonderful story of the mistaken identity of the leading man,” made the true identity of Grant’s character a secret to Hepburn’s and the audience until the final scene. “Working with Cary is so easy,” Hepburn remarked after the filming. “He does all the acting, and I just react.” Though Grant proclaimed, “All I want for Christmas is another movie with Audrey Hepburn,” they never worked together again. Set in picture-postcard Paris, Charade has grown in regard over the years, appreciated at its 50th anniversary as “the last sparkle of Hollywood” by cultural historian and film critic Michael Newton.
Cyrano de Bergerac (1950)
Produced by Stanley Kramer and directed by Michael Gordon, this was the first U.S. film version of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 French play, and the screenplay used a 1923 English blank verse translation by Brian Hooker. Though critics felt the film suffered from its low budget and appearing too much a stage production, José Ferrer’s star-making performance received much acclaim. Bosley Crowther in the New York Times wrote, “Mr. Ferrer plays Cyrano in a style that is in the theatrical tradition of gesture and eloquence. He speaks the poetry of Rostand with richness and clarity such as only a few other actors have managed on the screen.” For his performance, Ferrer won the Oscar for Best Actor, becoming the first Hispanic actor to win the award. Preserved at the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Preservation funded by Myra Teitelbaum Reinhard, UCLA class of ’58, in loving memory of her grandfather Nathan, father Ben and uncle Harry Teitelbaum. Preserved from the 35 mm. nitrate original camera negative and a 35 mm. acetate fine grain master, in cooperation with Paramount Pictures. Laboratory services by YCM Laboratories. Sound services by DJ Audio and Audio Mechanics. Special thanks to Barry Allen, Eric Aijala, Martha Stroud, Peter Oreckinto and John Polito.
Sometimes described as affectionate yet mildly subversive, Hairspray is John Waters’ most mainstream film, an irresistible look at Baltimore’s teen dance scene in 1962, as well as a moving plea for racial integration. The quirky story of a plus-sized Baltimore teen and her friends integrating a local television dance show in the early 1960s, wasn’t a huge success at first but has gone on to have a life of its own. It was remade as a Tony Award-winning musical on Broadway, a megahit musical film in 2007 and a live TV version in 2016. But in John Waters’ 1988 original, it was an 18-year-old Ricki Lake who was first tapped to play the lead role of Tracy Turnblad. Waters received his first PG-rating for this New Line Cinema release, and “Hairspray” has gone on to become a successful film, an even bigger home video release, a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, a live television production, and is even performed in high school and middle school productions. Featuring a cast of John Waters-regulars, Divine and Mink Stole, the film also stars Ricki Lake, Debbie Harry, Jerry Stiller, Sonny Bono, Josh Charles, and appearances by Ric Ocasek, John Waters, and Pia Zadora. No film by John Waters fits neatly into a cut-and-dried mold, not even a film gaining a wider audience like Hairspray. “I didn’t even really process that I was the star of the movie,” Lake said in a recent interview, “until the movie was made and we were seeing right before it came out. I was like, ‘Oh, WOW.” Audiences did the same. As the “pleasantly plump” teen misfit, her charming performance gave the nation a cultural marker about acceptance for plus-sized women that reverberates to this day: The heavyset girl could win the dance contest and land the good-looking guy.
House Party (1990)
Written and directed by Reginald Hudlin, the 1990 comedy landmark House Party stars Kid and Play of the popular hip hop duo Kid ‘n Play. It put Black teenagers, hip-hop music, and New Jack swing culture directly into the American cultural mainstream, and spawned the pop-culture careers of stars Kid ‘n Play, sequels and imitations — and the career of Reginald Hudlin, its writer and director. Hudlin is now a major player in Hollywood — but House Party was his first film. With his parents out of town, Play announces to his friends that he is hosting an epic party at his house. His best friend, Kid, is the most eager to attend, knowing that his high school crush will be there. After Kid gets into a fight at school, his father punishes him and bans him from going to the party. Determined to go, Kid makes his way to the biggest and most memorable party of the school year with some hilarious stops along the way. House Party also stars Paul Anthony, Bow-Legged Lou and B-Fine (from the musical group Full Force), and Robin Harris, Martin Lawrence, Tisha Campbell, A.J. Johnson, and John Witherspoon. Funk music legend George Clinton makes a cameo. Filled with imagination and infectious optimism, the film became a box office hit and launched a thriving franchise. “The day we shot the big dance number in ‘House Party’ is easily one of the best days of my life,” Hudlin said in a recent interview, still gushing about how much fun it all was. “We had all the enthusiasm in the world, all the commitment in the world.”
Iron Man (2008)
The film that launched Marvel Studios as a daily presence in American popular culture. Jon Favreau’s superhero film transcends and elevates the genre. Key factors in the film’s success include the eclectic direction of Jon Favreau, superb special effects and production design, and excellent performances from Gwyneth Paltrow as the sidekick and Robert Downey Jr., as the brooding, conflicted hero out to make amends for his career as an armaments mogul. Critics sometimes love to take shots at superhero movies but many recognized Iron Man for its unexpected excellence. Joe Morgenstern in The Wall Street Journal wrote: “The gadgetry is absolutely dazzling, the action is mostly exhilarating, the comedy is scintillating and the whole enormous enterprise, spawned by Marvel comics, throbs with dramatic energy because the man inside the shiny red robotic rig is a daring choice for an action hero, and an inspired one.” Richard Corliss in Time noted the film’s place in a uniquely American tradition: “Some of us know that there’s an American style — best displayed in the big, smart, kid-friendly epic — that few other cinemas even aspire to, and none can touch. When it works, as it does here, it rekindles even a cynic’s movie love.” Kevin Feige, Marvel Studios president, told the National Film Preservation Foundation: “Iron Man was the very first film Marvel Studios independently produced. It was the first film that we had all of the creative control and oversight on and it was really make or break for the studio. All of our favorite movies are the ones that we watch over and over again and that we grow up with. The notion that here we are, almost 15 years after the release of Iron Man, and to have it join the Film Registry tells us it has stood the test of time and that it is still meaningful to audiences around the world.”
Itam Hakim, Hopiit (1984)
Victor Masayesva Jr., Hopi director and cinematographer of this video, whose title means “We/someone, the Hopi,” once wrote: “If film is about imagined time and space, it is borne from the imagination of people each of whom have constructed those times and spaces differently.” In Itam Hakim, Hopiit, Masayesva imaginatively translates Hopi Native oral traditions into video art. Complexly constructed of four stories conveyed to Hopi children by elder Hopi historian Ross Macaya, who died shortly after the film’s release, and accompanied by imagery documenting Hopi life, often in non-confrontational close-ups of details or revealed by a non-intruding and slowly-moving camera, Itam Hakim, Hopiit moves from the personal to the mythological to the historical, ending up in prophesy. Trained as a still photographer and active as a poet, Masayesva masterly employed color posterization accompanied by Spanish military music and a Vivaldi concerto to introduce a section on Spanish conquest, fast-motion to distort a harvest dance, contemplative long shots of landscapes, blurred videography, and silence for emphatic effect. “For me,” he wrote, “photography is a way of imagining life’s complexity. It provides an analogy for philosophical comprehension.” At the conclusion, Macaya announces the importance of the video for the Hopi people: “I have told you a lot. You have learned a lot from me and learned the stories. These stories are going to be put down so the children will remember them. The children will be seeing this and improving on it. This is what will happen. This will not end anywhere.”
The Little Mermaid (1989)
The 1989 film that kicked off Disney’s renaissance of animated musical films. When you combine a beloved Hans Christian Andersen tale with the beauty and heart of truly remarkable Disney magic, you end up with an animated film for the ages. Ariel, the titular mermaid, lives under the sea but longs to be human. She is able to live her dream with a little help from some adorable underwater friends and despite the devious efforts of a sea witch named Ursula (a recent addition to Disney’s peerless rogue’s gallery of cartoon villains). Alan Menken composed the memorable score and collaborated with Howard Ashman on songs that have become modern standards such as “Under the Sea;” “Part of Your World” and “Kiss the Girl.” Adding to the film’s irresistible charm is a fantastic array of voice artists including Jodi Benson, Buddy Hackett, Pat Carroll and Kenneth Mars. An extraordinary success — artistically and commercially — at the time of its release, Mermaid proved a touchstone film during the “The Disney Renaissance” of the 1980s and 90s. Jodi Benson was a young Broadway actress when Howard Ashman, the lyricist and musical visionary behind many Disney films of that period, convinced her to audition for the lead role of Ariel after a Broadway play the two had worked on fizzled. Benson, who some 33 years later still performs Ariel’s big song, “Part of Your World,” every week, said: “I’m thrilled and honored on behalf of my character and the Walt Disney Company for the Library selecting our very special film.” The film “was the last hand-painted, hand-drawn, full-length feature film for the Walt Disney Studios. So that is really amazing and such an honor.”
Robert Nakamura created this documentary as a film student at UCLA Film School’s Ethno-Communications Program. During his childhood, Nakamura had “lived” in the central California Japanese American internment camp of Manzanar. He recollects his childhood experiences at Manzanar (“feelings, smells, sounds”), the FBI taking away his next door neighbor active in judo and kendo, the stark surroundings, his parents maintaining a cheerful front, going to the camp bathroom and not remembering which of the similar-looking barracks he lived in. The film serves as a pensive meditation on how his time there as a child has affected his adult life. Japanese music serves as a commentary on the images, and the shaky hand-held camera footage attests to the disjointed and stressful nature of his childhood at Manzanar Preserved by the Academy Film Archive.
Mardi Gras Carnival (1898)
In 2013, the Library of Congress issued a detailed report showing that over 70% of silent era American feature films have been completely lost. Many of these titles perished in nitrate fires, while copyright owners often melted the films down for their silver content once their theatrical runs ended, feeling the films no longer had any commercial value. Luckily, hundreds of “lost” American silent films have been rediscovered in foreign archives, carefully preserved by archivists in those nations. American cinema has always had a worldwide audience, and the copies sent for overseas distribution often found permanent homes in archives in the U.K., France, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Russia, and Scandinavian countries.
The Eye Filmmuseum in the Netherlands has been one of the leading rescuers, recently recovering films such as Shoes by Lois Weber, Beyond the Rocks (Swanson and Valentino), His Birthright (Hayakawa), The Floor Below (Mabel Normand), Lucky Star by Borzage, silent version of Capra’s Submarine, and numerous Vitagraph films from the ‘10s.
Mardi Gras Carnival is another of their finds and is the earliest film known to exist of the carnival parade in New Orleans, showing several dazzling floats, paraders and spectators (almost all wearing hats). The film is part of Eye Filmmuseum’s Mutoscope and Biograph Collection. This collection consists of about 200 films preserved on their original 68 mm format. The digital file provided is scanned in 2022 at Eye Collection Center, from the 35 mm duplicate negative that was made in 1998. After the first analogue preservation round made 25 years ago, Eye is now undertaking the digital restoration of the Mutoscope & Biograph Collection. Mardi Gras Carnival became the focus of attention, thanks to its inclusion within ‘The Artistry of REX’ exhibition, that opened in the summer of 2022 at the Louisiana State Museum.
This raw portrait of the legendary composer and bassist Charles Mingus is an invaluable, at times sad and harrowing,document of one of our great American composers, the jazz scene in New York in the late 1960s, life in Harlem, and Mingus’ eviction from his apartment. In his interviews with director Thomas Reichmann, Mingus riffs with bemused but knowing frankness on issues including racism, his place as a jazz musician in a white-dominated American society, politics during the civil rights era, and women. Mingus also features rare and remarkable footage of the artist performing in clubs.
The roster of Black women who have been given a chance to direct features is criminally small, and artists such as Dee Rees show the originality and vibrant creativity that the industry should be supporting. In a 2018 conversation at the Toronto International Film Festival, Rees recalled being inspired to write when she moved to Brooklyn as an adult and was in the process of coming out. Rees encountered a group of teenagers who had come out and confidently knew their sexual identities at an early age; she wondered how difficult such a reveal was for the teens while they were still dependent on others. To her, writing “Pariah” was “my first expression, the kind of thing I had to do first, for everything else to come.” She describes how difficult it was to obtain financing given she would be in a meeting and describe the film as “Black, lesbian, coming of age,” and they would say, “OK, let’s validate your parking and get you out of here.” Audiences found the film raw, authentic and illuminating a world some have traversed and the need for empathy from those who have not.
Writer/Director Dee Rees was wrapping up her graduate film degree at New York University while she was developing an idea about a teenage Black girl in Brooklyn coming to terms with her identity. She scrounged together grants to make the film as a short and as a feature, all for less than $500,000, called it Pariah and saw it get picked up for national distribution at Sundance.
The 2011 film struck a nerve, winning numerous awards and gaining national distribution. It remains a key film in modern queer cinema. This year, it’s an inductee into the registry, one of the few films made by a Black lesbian to join this group so far. Still, Rees said in an interview, the point of the film was the personal narrative of Alika, the main character, not just an archetype of a demographic.
“Here’s, you know, an idea of a life,” Rees said of the film, “an idea of a character, who can outlive us all, hopefully.”
Scorpio Rising (1963)
Critics too often apply the word “essential” to works of art, but no one can dispute the status of Kenneth Anger’s “Scorpio Rising” as one of the key works in Avant-Garde/Experimental cinema. The subject of attempted censorship during its release, “Scorpio Rising” is a mesmerizing collage of songs from early 1960s pop artists (Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Martha and the Vandellas, the Crystals, Bobby Vinton, and The Angels), a paean to rebel heroes (James Dean, Marlon Brando), and a one-of-kind, rapid-fire exploration and juxtaposition of symbolism and ideas about religion, Nazism, biker subculture, mystique of the underground, gay life and more. The film is preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Preservation funded by The Film Foundation. Preserved from the original hand-painted 16 mm Ektachrome color reversal A/B rolls and from the 16 mm original magnetic track. Laboratory services by Fotokem Film and Video, Audio Mechanics, DJ Audio, NT Audio. Special thanks to: Kenneth Anger, Michael Friend, Pacific Film Archive, P. Adams Sitney.
In avant-garde/experimental cinema, Kenneth Anger’s “Scorpio Rising” from 1963 is a mesmerizing collage of songs from early 1960s pop artists and a fast-paced exploration of symbolism and ideas about religion, Nazism, biker subculture, gay life and more.
Super Fly (1972)
Super Fly, directed by Gordon Parks Jr., serves both as a classic of the sometimes escapist “Blaxploitation” wave of 1970s Black-oriented films, as well as a searing commentary on the American dream. The film revolves around a Harlem drug pusher with style (“Youngblood” Priest,” played by Ron O’Neal) who aims to make one final big score and then leave the business; criminals and corrupt police have other ideas. Some criticized the film as glorifying drug dealers, given O’Neal’s charismatic performance, and for reinforcing what they saw as lifestyle stereotypes in films such as “Sweet Sweetback…” and “Shaft.” Curtis Mayfield’s political and soulful score, however, received universal acclaim for its dynamic sound and for challenging drug culture in its lyrics. The son of renowned photographer and filmmaker Gordon Parks, Parks Jr. tragically died in 1979 at the age of 44 in an airplane crash in Kenya, while on location making a film.
As a classic of the “Blaxploitation” genre, Super Fly was also a searing commentary on the American dream in 1972. Directed by Gordon Parks Jr., son of the renowned photographer and filmmaker Gordon Parks, the film revolves around a Harlem drug pusher with style who aims to make one final score and then leave the business; criminals and corrupt police have other ideas. Some criticized the film as glorifying drug dealers or for reinforcing stereotypes. Curtis Mayfield’s score, however, received universal acclaim.
Titicut Follies (1967)
Other documentary films stand out for leading to social change. With the landmark 1967 film Titicut Follies, Frederick Wiseman takes audiences inside the Bridgewater State Prison for the Criminally Insane in Massachusetts to expose the abuse of patients. The film was banned from general release until 1991 when a judge ruled the film could be shown to the general public. The film is a seminal work of American documentary and an illustration of the impact of cinema to bring change to institutions.
In Titicut Follies, as with all the nearly 50 observational documentaries he has made since this, his first, Frederick Wiseman drops his audience into goings on at a public institution and challenges them to “figure their own way out without any help from me,” he once explained. Shot at the Bridgewater State Prison for the Criminally Insane in Massachusetts, Titicut Follies — “Titicut” being the Native American name for the area surrounding the institution — begins and ends with an annual variety show of that name performed by inmates and guards. In between, the film confronts the viewer with a mosaic of scenes recorded unobtrusively and presented with no voiced narration of inmates undergoing strip searches, repetitive psychiatric questioning, force-feeding and finally burial in a dehumanized world revealed through the film as callous, indifferent and inescapable. “It is as grotesque a vision of human cruelty and suffering, of naked fear and loneliness, as art has ever produced,” wrote film curator Joshua Siegel about “Titicut Follies.” Wiseman stated that his documentaries focus on the relationship between the individual and the state, “especially in an age in which religion functions less.” With Titicut Follies, the state, in the guise of Supreme Court of Massachusetts, initially ordered the film banned and its negatives and prints destroyed. That ruling, later revised to allow only professionals in the fields of law, medicine and social services to see the film, was not overturned until 1991. The Library’s Packard Campus holds the original preservation masters for Tititcut Follies and all of Frederick Wiseman’s completed productions as well as the outtakes.
Tongues Untied (1989)
“Marlon Riggs’ brilliant 1989 video essay is a riveting combination of interviews, performance, stock footage, autobiography, poetry and dance that elucidates the revolutionary potential of Black men loving Black men. The words of gay poets, personal testimony, rap tableaux, dramatic sequences, and archival footage are woven together with a seductive palette of video effects. Riggs was diagnosed with HIV while making “Tongues Untied,” but continued to advocate for gay rights both on and off screen.” The film is preserved at the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive.
Union Maids (1976)
This Oscar-nominated documentary film from 1976 was directed by Julia Reichert, James Klein and Miles Mogulescu. It told the story of three female Union workers in the 1930s and their days of conflict and confrontation with American corporations. The three women — Kate Hyndman, Stella Nowicki, Sylvia Woods — emerge as compelling voices. Reichert, a legendary figure in the documentary world, won the Academy Award, along with Steven Bognar and Jeff Reichert, in 2019 for American Factory. Terminally ill with cancer and in hospice when notified in November that “Union Maids” was being added to the registry, she responded to questions by email. She died less than a week later, on Dec. 1.
“For the longest time, women’s voices, especially working-class women’s voices, were not respected let alone heard,” Reichert wrote. “Documentaries presented men as the experts, the historians, the authorities. We hoped this film would just show you how vital, wise, funny and essential these women’s voices were and are, to the struggles of working people to get a better deal.”
Julia Reichert, Jim Klein, and Miles Mogulescu directed this seminal labor documentary on the attempt to create industrial unions during the tumultuous 1930s. Crafted in the form of an oral history interspersed with footage from the National Archives, the film interviews three Chicago women who served as labor organizers during that period: Kate Hyndman, Stella Nowicki and Sylvia Woods. The best documentaries let the subjects speak for themselves, and “Union Maids” benefits greatly from the passion of these three remarkable women whose moving recollections vividly recreate the era. An exemplary example of “history from the bottom up” filmmaking, it resonates as both a plea for union rights but also equality for women taking part in often male-dominated unions. The film had a theatrical run in nearly 20 cities and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature.
When Harry Met Sally (1989)
When Harry Met Sally came in the middle of a remarkable decade-long run of films by Rob Reiner (This is Spinal Tap, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, A Few Good Men). With sparkling chemistry between leads Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, and a spicy script courtesy Nora Ephron, the film ranks among cinema’s greatest romantic comedies, and a paean to the theory of love will find a way, no matter what. Addressing the age-old question of whether men and women can stay friends without being romantically involved, the film remains one of the most quoted films of the 1980s, with lines such as “I’ll have what she’s having,” and “I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
Vanity Fair named the film this year as the best American rom-com ever made. Screenwriter Nora Ephron, director Rob Reiner, actor Billy Crystal and actress Meg Ryan all cemented their status in pop culture fame with the film. And the film remains one of the most quoted films of the 1980s with lines like “I’ll have what she’s having.”
“I just felt so plugged into the process of making the movie,” Crystal said in an interview. “…not that anything is ever easy, but it was just such a joy to see it come to life.”
What makes the movie such an enduring romance? “The movie is beautiful and simple and appropriate and every shot is just right,” Crystal said. “The timing, which is in the hands of Rob, who is, for this movie, a modern-day Billy Wilder … and it’s New York, it’s the fall, it’s the music.”
Word is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives (1977)
Directed by a collective of six queer filmmakers known as the Mariposa Film Group, Word is Out had a profound impact on audiences and became a landmark in the emerging gay rights movement of the 1970s. The film is composed as a mosaic of interviews with over two dozen men and women of many ages, races, and backgrounds who talk about their lives as gay men and lesbians. As Peter Adair, one of the film’s directors noted, the goal was to erase their invisibility in American society. “Word is Out” remains a groundbreaking film of that era, when “coming out” was an act of courage and depictions of gay men and women as “everyday people” was extremely rare. The film is preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Preservation funded by the David Bohnett Foundation, The Andrew J. Kuehn Jr. Foundation, and Outfest.