The Library of Congress yesterday added 25 films–including “Annie Hall, “”Footlight Parade” and “The Birth of a Nation”–to its National Film Registry list, bringing to 100 the number of pix that have been saluted for their historical, cultural and aesthetic significance.
Like last year, the new list is striking for its diversity. Scattered among such predictable Hollywood classics as “Adam’s Rib,””Psycho” and “Double Indemnity” is a 10-minute avant-garde short, “Castro Street”; a Bugs Bunny cartoon, “What’s Opera, Doc?”; and the horror pic “Detour,” the first B movie included on the Registry.
In addition, for the first time, the Library recognized the works of two of modern-day Hollywood’s more controversial helmers: Woody Allen and “Annie Hall” along with Robert Altman and “Nashville.”
The list was announced by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, who also unveiled the Library’s plans to launch a seven-month study on what he described as the sorry state of film preservation in the U.S. “America’s film heritage … is an endangered species,” Billington warned.
The 25 films, selected after consultation with the National Film Preservation Board and participation from the public, also include “The Bank Dick,””Big Business” (The 1929 Hal Roach-produced Laurel and Hardy comedy), “The Big Parade ,””Bonnie and Clyde,” and “Carmen Jones.”
The Library of Congress’s role in selecting Registry pix stems from renewal by Congress of the National Film Preservation Act earlier this year. The law extends for four years the life of the film preservation board, and gives the board authority in passing a national plan to spur pic preservation.
This year’s law retained the requirement that films must be at least 10 years old for inclusion on the list. Removed, however, was a restriction that pix be required to be feature-length or shown in a theater.
The nixing of that restriction allowed the Library to seek what Billington called “motion picture orphans–lesser known Hollywood productions, independent films, short animations, and avant-garde and experimental works.”
Some of those that fall under those categories include “What’s Opera, Doc?,” a 1957 Warner Bros. cartoon directed by Chuck Jones featuring Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd; “Within Our Gates,” a black & white silent made in 1920, director Bruce Baillie’s experimental 10-minute “Castro Street” and writer-director Stan Brakhage’s 1964 silent, “Dog Star Man.”
Billington said the list “should not be seen as the Kennedy Center Honors or the Academy Awards. The films we choose are not the best American films ever made, nor the most famous, nor the most pleasing.
“But they are films that had and continue to have cultural, historical or aesthetic significance, and they often represent thousands of other films deserving of recognition.”
Selections are weighted toward older films, specifically those made before 1960. Eight films on this year’s list were made after 1960, with Woody Allen’s 1977 “Annie Hall” being the most recent.
Earlier films well-known by the contemporary public include the Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn romantic comedy, “Adam’s Rib” (1949), directed by George Cukor; Billy Wilder’s film noir classic, “Double Indemnity” (1944); and Stanley Kubrick’s antiwar classic, “Paths of Glory” (1957).
Some of the list’s well-known silent films include King Vidor’s “The Big Parade,” produced by Irving Thalberg (1925); Charlie Chaplin’s “The Gold Rush” ( 1925); and perhaps the granddaddy of all silents, D. W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” (1915).
Otto Preminger’s lavish 1954 musical “Carmen Jones,” adapted by by Oscar Hammerstein II from Bizet’s opera “Carmen,” is included, as is the Busby Berkeley 1933 musical extravaganza, “Footlight Parade.”
“Detour,” the 1945 cult classic directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, is the story of a hitchhiker who becomes involved with a femme fatale.
The only film directed by Charles Laughton, “Night of the Hunter,” was also selected. The list also pays homage to several blacklisted filmmakers with the selection of “Salt of the Earth,” a film made by the blacklisted producer Paul Jerrico, director Herbert J. Biberman, writer Michael Wilson and composer Sol Kaplan.
As in years past, Billington used the occasion to scold Hollywood and the public into action in the efforts of film preservation. Half the films produced before 1950 and 80% of pre-1930 pix have been lost forever, he said.
The major studios have recently increased preservation efforts, in part because of the revenue potential in videocassettes, he said. But “even when they’re keeping the films (preserved), they’re not preserving them in an archival sense,” said Billington.
He said he hopes the major studios “will play a larger role” in pic preservation. It’s “only fair” that the majors–“and not just the taxpayer”–help foot the bill for preservation, he said. Billington said it is “not just the nitrate films that are going bad.” Technicolor pix are “also showing signs of wearing out.”