National Film Registry selections include 'Blazing Saddles,' 'Halloween'

This article was corrected on Jan, 2, 2007.

“Fargo,” “Blazing Saddles,” “Groundhog Day,” “Halloween,” “Notorious,” “Rocky” and “sex, lies and videotape” are among the well-known films on this year’s National Film Registry by the Library of Congress list.

A place on the list — always made up of 25 films — guarantees the film will be preserved under the terms of the National Film Preservation Act.

“Fargo,” released in 1996, was named Wednesday in its first year of eligibility and is now the youngest film on the registry’s list of 450 films. “Toy Story,” released in 1995, had been the previous holder of that distinction after it was tapped last year — also in its first year of eligibility.

“Rocky,” named as fifth sequel “Rocky Balboa” unspools in theaters, is the top grosser on this year’s list with $117 million domestic B.O.

The earliest film on the list is the 1913 selection “Traffic in Souls,” an expose of white slavery that created a sensation when released. Two others come from the silent era — “Flesh and the Devil” (1927), the first onscreen pairing of silent stars John Gilbert and Great Garbo, and 1914′s “Tess of the Storm Country,” which made Mary Pickford a star.

The list also features a quartet from the early days of sound — Rouben Mamoullian’s first film, “Applause” (1929); Raoul Walsh’s “The Big Trail” (1930), starring a then-unknown John Wayne; Josef von Sternberg’s “The Last Command” (1928), with Emil Jannings in an Oscar-winning turn; and “Red Dust,” a steamy 1932 pre-Production Code melodrama starring Clark Gable and Jean Harlow.

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington made the announcement and noted 50% of films produced before 1950 and 80%-90% of those made before 1920 have disappeared.

He said an increasing number of films from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s are lost each year to nitrate deterioration, color fading and the recently discovered “vinegar syndrome,” which threatens the acetate-based “safety film” stock, on which the vast majority of motion pictures have been reproduced.

“The syndrome really does make film smell like vinegar, and the images simply begin to disappear,” said Steven Leggett, program coordinator of the National Film Preservation Board. “It’s been happening to films produced in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. If they’re put in cold storage, the process can be arrested.”

Congress established the National Film Registry in 1989 and reauthorized the program in April 2005. For each title named to the registry, the Library of Congress works to ensure the film is preserved.

“The annual selection of films to the National Film Registry involves far more than the simple naming of cherished and important films to a prestigious list,” Billington said in a statement. “The registry should not be seen as ‘the Kennedy Center Honors,’ ‘the Academy Awards’ or even ‘America’s Most Beloved Films.’

“Rather, it is an invaluable means to advance public awareness of the richness, creativity and variety of American film heritage, and to dramatize the need for its preservation.”

A pair of music performance films were tapped — 1929′s “St. Louis Blues,” the only extant film recording of Bessie Smith, and 1964′s “The T.A.M.I. Show,” which featured the Rolling Stones and James Brown.

Other films named include a pair that herald early Asian-American cinematic achievements — “The Curse of Quon Gwon” (1916-17), the earliest known Chinese-American feature; and “Daughter of Shanghai” (1937), a thriller starring Anna May Wong, the first Asian-American movie star.

Other selections include half a dozen docus — 1988′s “Drums of the Winter,” set among the Eskimos; seven of Harry Smith’s “Early Abstractions” (1939-56); “In the Street,” a 1948 project set in East Harlem; “Siege,” a 1940 project by Julian Bryan chronicling the German bombardment of Warsaw; “Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania” (1971-72) by Jonas Mekas; and “Think of Me First as a Person,” a home-movie portrait shot from 1960-75 by a father of a son with Down’s syndrome.

Student film “A Time Out of War,” which won the Oscar for live-action short in 1954, also made the list.

Billington selected the 25 films after evaluating nearly 1,000 titles nominated by the public. That process included discussions with the Library’s motion picture division staff and the National Film Preservation Board, plus extensive input from the public through letters, emails and screenings.

Leggett told Daily Variety that “Fargo,” “Rocky” and “Groundhog Day” had received strong pushes from the public.

“There’s always been a lot of support for the Coen brothers’ films, and I was a bit surprised that ‘Rocky’ wasn’t already on the list,” he added. “And ‘Groundhog Day’ is a real cult favorite, to the point that the phrase has become part of the American culture.”

Films selected to the 2006 National Film Registry:

  1. “Applause” (1929)

  2. “The Big Trail” (1930)

  3. “Blazing Saddles” (1974)

  4. “The Curse of Quon Gwon” (1916-17)

  5. “Daughter of Shanghai” (1937)

  6. “Drums of Winter” (1988)

  7. “Early Abstractions #1-5,7,10″ (1939-56)

  8. “Fargo” (1996)

  9. “Flesh and the Devil” (1927)

  10. “Groundhog Day” (1993)

  11. “Halloween” (1978)

  12. “In the Street” (1948/52)

  13. “The Last Command” (1928)

  14. “Notorious” (1946)

  15. “Red Dust” (1932)

  16. “Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania” (1971-72)

  17. “Rocky” (1976)

  18. “sex, lies and videotape” (1989)

  19. “Siege” (1940)

  20. “St. Louis Blues” (1929)

  21. “The T.A.M.I. Show” (1964)

  22. “Tess of the Storm Country” (1914)

  23. “Think of Me First as a Person” (1960-75)

  24. “A Time Out of War” (1954)

  25. “Traffic in Souls” (1913)

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