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The 2017 National Film Registry Is More Than a ‘Field of Dreams’
- Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017
‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,’ ‘Titanic,’ ‘Superman’ Among the Titles
Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden announced the 2017 selections to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. Selected for their cultural, historic and/or aesthetic importance, these 25 motion pictures range from an early film of the New York subway in 1905 and the musical biopic “La Bamba” to the holiday action thriller “Die Hard” and “The Goonies,” the adventure tale of a band of misfits.
“The selection of a film to the National Film Registry recognizes its importance to American cinema and the nation’s cultural and historical heritage,” Hayden said. “Our love affair with motion pictures is a testament to their enduring power to enlighten, inspire and inform us as individuals and a nation as a whole. Being tasked with selecting only 25 each year is daunting because there are so many great films deserving of this honor.”
Spanning the period 1905 to 2000, the films named to this year’s registry include Hollywood blockbusters, documentaries, silent movies, animation, shorts and independent and home movies. The 2017 selections bring the number of films in the registry to 725, which is a small fraction of the Library’s vast moving-image collection of 1.3 million items.
The public can tune into Turner Classic Movies (TCM) at 8 p.m. E.T. tonight to view a selection of films named to the registry this year. The Librarian joins movie critic Leonard Maltin to discuss the films. The Library also announced that 64 motion pictures, previously named to the National Film Registry, are now freely available online at loc.gov/collections/selections
Among this year’s selections are the 1939 aviation adventure starring Cary Grant, “Only Angels Have Wings”; Elia Kazan’s 1947 study of anti-Semitism, “Gentleman’s Agreement”; Stanley Kramer’s 1967 groundbreaking drama “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” featuring powerhouse performances by Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy and Sidney Poitier; Yvonne Rainer’s 1972 experimental film “Lives of Performers”; the Steven Spielberg-executive produced 1985 adventure “The Goonies”; the 1989 inspirational fantasy “Field of Dreams,” starring Kevin Costner; “Titanic,” James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster about the great maritime disaster; Christopher Nolan’s 2000 breakthrough thriller “Memento”; two very different films starring Kirk Douglas, the historical epic “Spartacus” and the film noir “Ace in the Hole”; and the 1978 version of the quintessential superhero, “Superman,” directed by Richard Donner, who also was the director of “The Goonies.”
“I thank the National Film Registry for choosing ‘Superman: The Movie’ and ‘The Goonies’ as films to be treasured,” Donner said upon hearing the news. “They are both special films in my life, as was the cast and crew for both. It’s wonderful to see them listed among so many great films.”
Several films on the registry showcased the ethnic diversity of American cinema. The 1979 documentary-styled “Boulevard Nights” depicts the struggles facing Chicano youth in Los Angeles, and the 1987 musical biopic “La Bamba” told the story of rock’s first Mexican-American superstar, Ritchie Valens.
Directed by Luis Valdez, “La Bamba” also starred Lou Diamond Phillips as Valens, who tragically died in a plane crash at the age of 17. “I cannot be more proud of its inclusion in the National Film Registry not in the least because, in this day and environment, ‘La Bamba’ still speaks to the American Dream and to inclusion and representation,” said Phillips, noting the film’s 30th anniversary. “The heart and light of this timeless movie continues to inspire young people of every background to claim their rightful place in American society.”
African-American director Charles Burnett’s “To Sleep with Anger” (1990) examines cultural and generational conflicts within a black family. “I can’t imagine being in the mix with such great films and directors,” Burnett said about the film’s inclusion in the registry. “I’m so happy for the people who believed in the film. I’m thankful that the film reached so many people in a good way. I hope this means that people will be able to see the film for a long time to come and will still be meaningful.”
The documentaries and shorts named to the registry include “4 Little Girls,” Spike Lee’s sensitive account of the deaths of four young children in the 1963 church firebombing in Alabama; “Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser,” an insightful 1988 film about the famed jazz pianist-composer, directed by Charlotte Zwerin; “With the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain” (1937-1938), an advocacy documentary shot during the Spanish Civil War; and “Time and Dreams” (1976), a student film by Mort Jordan, who documents the two racially divided societies in his Alabama hometown.
Other selections include “Wanda” (1971), a character study about loneliness and personal isolation written and directed by actress Barbara Loden, and a collection of home movies of the Fuentes family in the 1920s and 1930s in Corpus Christi. These films are among the earliest visual records of the Mexican-American community in Texas.
Two animated films that made the list are “Dumbo,” Disney’s 1941 timeless tale about a little imperfect elephant, and “The Sinking of the Lusitania,” a 1918 propaganda short combining animation, editorial cartoon and live-action documentary techniques.
Silent motion pictures include an actuality film of the interior of the New York subway, documenting the transportation marvel in 1905—less than seven months after its opening—and the 1924 landmark drama “He Who Gets Slapped,” starring Lon Chaney in one of the earliest “creepy clown” movies.
In 2013, the Library of Congress released a report that conclusively determined that 70 percent of the nation’s silent feature films have been lost forever and only 14 percent exist in their original 35 mm format.
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. More information about the National Film Registry can be found at www.loc.gov/film.
The Librarian makes the annual registry selections after conferring with the distinguished members of the National Film Preservation Board (NFPB) and a cadre of Library specialists. Also considered were the 5,200 titles nominated by the public. Nominations for next year will be accepted through the fall at www.loc.gov/programs/national-
In addition to advising the Librarian of Congress on the annual selection of titles to the National Film Registry, the NFPB also provides counsel on national preservation planning policy. In that capacity, it issued the following statement: “The National Film Preservation Board continues to embrace its commitment to honor those films that are part of our national memory by consulting with the Library of Congress in its annual selection of titles to be added to the National Film Registry. That mandate encompasses our multifaceted culture for preservation and education. Changing technologies are a challenge, but the past is not to be forgotten. The board applauds those efforts in commercial and educational pursuits that will stimulate an appreciation of the work of the archives in preserving our classic cinema, and its members will continue to encourage these pursuits.”
Many titles named to the registry have already been preserved by the copyright holder, the filmmaker or other archives. In cases where a selected title has not already been preserved, the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation works to ensure that the film will be preserved by some entity and available to 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 Packard Campus is a state-of-the-art facility where the nation’s library acquires, preserves and provides access to the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of films, television programs, radio broadcasts and sound recordings (www.loc.gov/avconservation/).
The Library’s National and International Outreach service unit (NIO) National Programs Directorate manages and provides staff support for the Library of Congress National Film Preservation Board, the National Recording Preservation Board and the National Registries for film and recorded sound. This constitutes part of NIO’s broader mission to administer the public-facing programs and activities of the Library of Congress with the mission of “broadening awareness and use of the Library and its resources through outreach and external partnerships.”
The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States—and extensive materials from around the world—both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov, access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov.
2017 National Film Registry
Ace in the Hole (aka Big Carnival) (1951)
Based on the infamous 1925 case of Kentucky cave explorer Floyd Collins, who became trapped underground and whose gripping saga created a national sensation lasting two weeks before Collins died. A deeply cynical look at journalism, “Ace in the Hole” features Kirk Douglas as a once-famous New York reporter, now a down-and-out has-been in Albuquerque. Douglas plots a return to national prominence by milking the story of a man trapped in a Native American cave dwelling as a riveting human-interest story, complete with a tourist-laden, carnival atmosphere outside the rescue scene. The callously indifferent wife of the stricken miner is no more sympathetic: “I don’t go to church. Kneeling bags my nylons.” Providing a rare moral contrast is Porter Hall, who plays Douglas’ ethical editor appalled at his reporter’s actions. Such a scathing tale of media manipulation might have helped turn this brilliant film into a critical and commercial failure, which later led Paramount to reissue the film under a new title, “The Big Carnival.”
Boulevard Nights (1979)
“Boulevard Nights” had its genesis in a screenplay by UCLA student Desmond Nakano about Mexican-American youth and the lowrider culture. Director Michael Pressman and cinematographer John Bailey shot the film in the barrios of East Los Angeles with the active participation of the local community (including car clubs and gang members). This street-level strategy using mostly non-professional actors produced a documentary-style depiction of the tough choices faced by Chicano youth as they come of age and try to escape or navigate gang life (“Two brothers…the street was their playground and their battleground”). In addition to “Boulevard Nights,” this era featured several films chronicling youth gangs and rebellion — “The Warriors” (1979), “Over the Edge” (1979), “Walk Proud” (1979) and “The Outsiders” (1983). The film faced protests and criticism from some Latinos who saw outsider filmmakers, albeit well-intentioned, adopting an anthropological perspective with an excessive focus on gangs and violent neighborhoods. Nevertheless, “Boulevard Nights” stands out as a pioneering snapshot of East L.A. and enjoys semi-cult status in the lowrider community.
Die Hard (1988)
In this now-classic slam-bang thriller, Bruce Willis stars as a New York cop who faces off, alone, against a team of terrorists inside a high-tech, high-rise Los Angeles office tower. Gripping action sequences and well-crafted humor made this film a huge hit and launched Willis as a major box-office star. Alan Rickman, as witty insouciant terrorist and “exceptional thief” Hans Gruber, serves as Willis’ memorable foe. Because the film is set during the Christmas season, many people now consider “Die Hard” a necessary part of their annual holiday viewing, a counterpoint to other holiday staples such as “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Disney’s charming, trademark animation finds a perfect subject in this timeless tale of a little elephant with oversize ears who lacks a certain confidence until he learns — with the help of a friendly mouse — that his giant lobes enable him to fly. Disney’s fourth feature film gained immediate classic status thanks to its lovely drawing, original score (which would go on to win the Oscar that year) and enduring message of always believing in yourself.
Field of Dreams (1989)
Iowa farmer Kevin Costner one day hears a voice telling him to turn a small corner of his land into a baseball diamond: “If you build it, they will come.” “They” are the 1919 Black Sox team led by the legendary Shoeless Joe Jackson. Although ostensibly about the great American pastime, baseball here serves as a metaphor for more profound issues. Leonard Maltin lauded “Field of Dreams” as “a story of redemption and faith, in the tradition of the best Hollywood fantasies with moments of pure magic.”
4 Little Girls (1997)
An important documentary concerning America’s civil rights struggle, “4 Little Girls” revisits the horrific story of the young children who died in the 1963 firebombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Director Spike Lee first became interested in the story as a student at NYU when he read a 1983 New York Times Magazine article by Howell Raines. Lee combines his experience in fiction filmmaking with documentary techniques, sensitively rendered interviews, photos and home movies to tell the story. The timing of this production was important due to the ages of the key witnesses and relatives and the need to refresh viewers’ memories regarding a dark period in U.S. history.
Fuentes Family Home Movies Collection (1920s-1930s)
Longtime Corpus Christi, Texas, residents Antonio Rodríguez Fuentes (1895-1988) and Josefina Barrera Fuentes (1898-1993) were very active in their local Mexican-American community. Their collection of home movies — mostly from the 1920s and shot on 9.5 mm amateur film format — are among the earliest visual records of the Mexican-American community in Texas and among the first recorded by Mexican-American filmmakers. As with the best home movies, the images provide a priceless snapshot of time and place, including parades, holidays, fashions and the rituals of daily life. The beautiful images also reflect the traditionally fluid nature of the U.S.-Mexico border. The collection is a joint project between the Texas Archive of the Moving Image and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.
Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
Winning the 1947 Academy Award for best picture and considered daring at the time, “Gentleman’s Agreement” was one of the first films to directly explore the still-timely topic of religious-based discrimination. Philip Green (Gregory Peck), a Gentile, is a renowned magazine writer. In order to obtain firsthand knowledge of anti-Semitism, he decides to pose as a Jew. What he discovers about society, and even his own friends and colleagues, radically alters his perspective and throws his own life into turmoil. Director Elia Kazan masterfully crafts scenes that reveal bigotry both overt and often insidiously subtle. The film was based on a book by Laura Z. Hobson.
The Goonies (1985)
The fingerprints of executive producer Steven Spielberg visibly mark every second of “The Goonies,” with the plot sporting a narrative structure and many themes characteristic of his work. Spielberg penned the original story, hand-selected director Richard Donner and hired Chris Columbus (who had written the 1983 “Gremlins”) to do the offbeat screenplay. With its keen focus on kids of agency and adventure, “The Goonies” protagonists are Tom Sawyeresque outsiders on a magical treasure hunt, and the story lands in the continuum between where “Our Gang” quests leave off and the darker spaces of Netflix’s recent “Stranger Things” pick up.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)
Though it would be Spencer Tracy’s last film and the second film for which Katharine Hepburn would win an Academy Award for best actress, even these movie milestones are somewhat overshadowed by the then-novel plot of the 1967 “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” Hepburn and Tracy play an older married couple whose progressiveness is challenged when their daughter (Katharine Houghton, Hepburn’s real-life niece) brings home a new fiancé, who happens to be black. Celebrated actor Sidney Poitier plays the young man with his customary on-screen charisma, fire and grace.
He Who Gets Slapped (1924)
One of the earliest “creepy clown” movies, “He Who Gets Slapped” was the first film produced completely by the MGM studio, though not the first released. The film features Lon Chaney in a memorable role as a scientist who is humiliated when a rival and his wife steal his ideas just as he is to present them to the Academy of Sciences. He then becomes a masochistic circus clown where the highlight of his act is being repeatedly slapped. One of many stand-out scenes occurs during a circus performance where Chaney spots those who betrayed him and tries to call them out, but his fellow clowns are doing their normal crowd-pleasing routine of slapping him in the face. Filled with nightmarish vignettes, this landmark film from the silent era was directed by Victor Sjöström (newly arrived from Sweden and using an anglicized last name of Seastrom) and also features Norma Shearer and John Gilbert, each on the cusp of stardom.
Interior New York Subway, 14th Street to 42nd Street (1905)
This early actuality film documents New York City’s newest marvel, the subway, less than seven months after its opening. However, the film is not as simple as it first appears. It required coordinating three trains: the one we watch, the one carrying the camera and a third (glimpsed on the parallel track) to carry a bank of lights. The artistic flair is the vision of legendary cameraman G.W. “Billy” Bitzer.
La Bamba (1987)
“La Bamba” is a biopic of the life of rock star Ritchie Valens, rock’s first Mexican-American superstar. Directed by Luis Valdez, “La Bamba” (the film draws its name from Valens’ signature song) charts Valens’ meteoric rise as a musician and his tragic death at age 17 in a 1959 plane crash, along with Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper. Lou Diamond Phillips stars as the late Valens. The film’s success not only reinvigorated interest in Valens’ brief but notable musical legacy, it also brought the title tune back to the charts (in a cover version by Los Lobos) 28 years after its first appearance.
Lives of Performers (1972)
Yvonne Rainer was born in San Francisco in 1934. At a very young age, Rainer’s father introduced her to films and her mother introduced her to ballet. She moved to New York in 1956, where she studied dance at the Martha Graham School while also learning ballet at Ballet Arts. Much like other choreographers of her era, Rainer sought to blur the stark line separating dancers from non-dancers. Her work has been described as “foundational across multiple disciplines and movements: dance, cinema, feminism, minimalism, conceptual art and postmodernism.” “Lives of Performers” has been characterize as “a stark and revealing examination of romantic alliances … the dilemma of a man who can’t choose between two women and makes them both suffer.”
This innovative detective-murder, psychological puzzle (and director Christopher Nolan’s breakthrough film) tells its story in non-linear stops and starts in order to put the audience in a position approximating the hero’s short-term amnesia. Guy Pearce tries to avenge his wife’s murder but his anterograde amnesia forces him to rely on sticky notes, tattoos and Polaroids. Nolan recounts, “My solution to telling the story subjectively was to deny the audience the same information that the protagonist is denied, and my approach to doing that was to effectively tell the story backwards … so the story is told as a series of flashbacks which go further and further back in time.” According to Nolan, he frequently intercut between the black-and-white “objective” sequences and “subjective” sequences in color. The goal was to show the conflict between how humans see and experience objective versus subjective and the complex relationship between imagination and memory.
Only Angels Have Wings (1939)
Considered the “quintessential” Howard Hawks male melodrama by many, “Only Angels Have Wings” stars Cary Grant as the tough-talking head of a cut-rate air freight company in the Andes. Grant has a dangerous business to run and spurns romantic entanglements, fearing women blanch at the inherent danger. Displaced showgirl Jean Arthur arrives and tries to prove him wrong. Along with sparkling dialogue from Grant, Arthur and renowned character actor Thomas Mitchell, “Only Angels Have Wings” captivates with dazzling air sequences featuring landings on canyon rims, vertiginous ups and downs and perilous flights through foggy mountain passes.
The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918)
Having virtually established animation as a viable medium through films such as “Little Nemo” (1911) and “Gertie the Dinosaur” (1914), newspaper cartoonist Winsor McCay produced this propaganda short (combining animation, editorial cartoon and live-action documentary techniques) to stir Americans into action after a German submarine sank the British liner RMS Lusitania in 1915, killing 1,198 passengers and crew, including 128 Americans. McCay was upset with the isolationist sentiment present in the country and at his employer, the Hearst newspapers chain. It took McCay nearly two years working on his own to produce the film, debuting a year after America entered the war. Nevertheless, this is a significant film historically and a notable early example of animation being used for a purpose other than comedy. In his seminal “American Silent Film,” William K. Everson called the film “a wartime film that was both anti-German propaganda and an attempt to provide a documentary reconstruction of a major news event not covered by regular newsreel cameramen. The incredibly detailed drawings of the Lusitania, intercut with inserts of newspaper headlines relative to the notable victims, and strongly-worded editorializing sub-titles concerning the bestiality of the Hun, make this a fascinating and seldom-repeated experiment.”
Even among the mega epics being produced by Hollywood at the time (such as “The Ten Commandments” and “Cleopatra”), “Spartacus” stands out for its sheer grandeur and remarkable cast (Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov), as well as for Stanley Kubrick’s masterful direction. The film is also credited with helping to end the notorious Hollywood blacklist of the 1950s – its producer, Douglas, hired then-blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo to author the script, which was based on a book by another blacklisted author, Howard Fast.
Director Richard Donner’s treatment of the famous superhero was not the first time the character had been on the big screen. Kirk Alyn played the role back in a 1948 serial and George Reeves appeared in both theatrical and TV versions in the 1950s. However, for many, Christopher Reeve remains the definitive Man of Steel. This film, an “origins” story, recounts Superman’s journey to Earth as a boy, his move from Smallville to Metropolis and his emergence as a true American hero. Beautiful in its sweep, score and special effects, which create a sense of awe and wonder, “Superman” — as the tag line reads — makes you “believe a man can fly.”
Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser (1988)
Charlotte Zwerin’s insightful documentary of the jazz pianist-composer Thelonious Monk blends together excellent interviews with those who knew him best and riveting concert performances, many shot in the 1960s by Christian Blackwood. Reviewing the film in The New York Times, Stephen Holden noted, “Charlotte Zwerin’s remarkable documentary … reminds us again and again that Monk was as important a jazz composer as he was a pianist.”
Time and Dreams (1976)
Created in 1976 by Mort Jordan, a student at Temple University, “Time and Dreams” is a unique and personal elegiac approach to the civil rights movement. The filmmaker has described “Time and Dreams” as a personal journey back to his Alabama home, where he contrasts two societies: the nostalgia some residents have for past values versus the deferred dreams of those who are well past waiting for their time to fully participate in the promise of their own dreams. Through vignettes and personal testimonies, the film portrays Greene County, Alabama, as its people move toward understanding and cooperation in a time of social change.
James Cameron’s epic retold the story of the great maritime disaster and made mega-stars of both its leads, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Their upstairs-downstairs romance transported the audience to another world and time via spectacular sweeping scenes in the bow of the ship and beyond. The film cost $200 million to produce, leading many to predict a historic box office disaster, but “Titanic” became one of the top-grossing films of all-time and a cultural touchstone of the era. Newsweek’s David Ansen spoke of how Cameron managed to fulfill expectations for the film: “When Cameron’s camera pulls back from a closeup of the exuberant DiCaprio at the bow of the ship and lifts to peer down from the sky at the Titanic passing majestically underneath, you feel the kind of jaw-dropping delight you felt as a child overwhelmed by the sheer size of Hollywood’s dreams. ‘Titanic’ is big, bold, touchingly uncynical filmmaking.”
To Sleep with Anger (1990)
Beginning with his UCLA student film, the austere neo-realistic “Killer of Sheep,” director Charles Burnett has carved out a distinctive and exalted niche in American independent cinema. Burnett often sets his films on a small scale but deftly explores universal themes, including the power to endure and the rewards and burdens of family. Critic Leonard Maltin called “To Sleep with Anger” an “evocative domestic drama about the effect storyteller/trickster (Danny) Glover has on the various members of a black family. More than just a portrait of contemporary black society, it’s a story of cultural differences between parents and children of how individuals learn (or don’t learn) from experience, and of how there should be no place for those who cause violence and strife.”
Film and TV actress Barbara Loden wrote and directed this affecting and insightful character study about an uneducated, passive woman from the coal-mining region of Pennsylvania, where the cinema verite-like film was shot. The title character possesses critically low self-esteem, leaves her kids and husband and then drifts aimlessly into a series of one-night stands and a dangerous relationship with a bank robber. Today, many consider this low-budget study of loneliness and personal isolation one of the finest works of independent cinema during the 1970s.
With the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain (1937-1938)
This advocacy documentary about the Lincoln Brigade was shot during the Spanish Civil War to raise funds for bringing wounded American volunteers home. Some 2,800 Americans enlisted in the International Brigades to fight against fascism in defense of the Spanish Republic. The film was directed by Henri Cartier-Bresson with Herbert Kline and additional photography was provided by Jacques Lemare and Robert Capa. This film is held at New York University’s Tamiment Library and is part of a vast collection of materials in the Abraham Lincoln Brigades Archive.
Films Selected for the 2017 National Film Registry
- Ace in the Hole (aka Big Carnival) (1951)
- Boulevard Nights (1979)
- Die Hard (1988)
- Dumbo (1941)
- Field of Dreams (1989)
- 4 Little Girls (1997)
- Fuentes Family Home Movies Collection (1920s and 1930s)
- Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
- The Goonies (1985)
- Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)
- He Who Gets Slapped (1924)
- Interior New York Subway, 14th Street to 42nd Street (1905)
- La Bamba (1987)
- Lives of Performers (1972)
- Memento (2000)
- Only Angels Have Wings (1939)
- The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918)
- Spartacus (1960)
- Superman (1978)
- Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser (1988)
- Time and Dreams (1976)
- Titanic (1997)
- To Sleep with Anger (1990)
- Wanda (1971)
- With the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain (1937-1938)