Harry writes about the latest 25 films chosen for the National Film Registry
Hey folks, Harry here. 25 new choices were announced today regarding films chosen to
be admitted into the NATIONAL FILM REGISTRY. As always it is an eclectic selection,
but I felt inclined to give you a bit more than the local newspaper column would on these
films. I hope you enjoy... I just wish they were choosing a hundred at a time. Film
preservation is such an important and often times looked over necessity that the studios
don’t pay near the attention to as they should. Sigh... Well here I go...
Well, I guess I’ll begin with CIVILIZATION, the 1916 film directed by Thomas Ince and
Raymond West. The film is a very interesting silent made back around the time that we
Americans wanted no part of World War I. The film was a huge production, that
ultimately bombed at the box office with the mood of the country swung away from
isolationism. Personally the film isn’t one of my favorite silents, as I prefer Ince’s
westerns... particularly the work with William S Hart.... However, as a historical film....
that documents the mood of the country prior to a major political policy shift... it is
without a doubt of capital importance. Of additional interest... the director... Thomas Ince
was shot dead by William Randolph Hearst (newspaper magnate and basis for the
character of Charles Foster Kane) who was trying to kill Charles Chaplin. Ince played a
huge part in the creation of the way films were made. Insisting that the script be finished
before shooting.... He began to get ‘assistant directors’ so his films could be ‘bigger’.
The screenwriter, C. Gardner Sullivan, went on to write one of the best damn silents I’ve
ever seen... TUMBLEWEEDS starring William S Hart. Good Luck trying to find
CIVILIZATION or TUMBLEWEEDS, but while CIVILIZATION is a good historical
representation ... TUMBLEWEEDS is a great film period.
"Do The Right Thing,'' 1989
Wow.... You know... The idea of preserving a film from 1989 is just odd to me, but...
given the fact that once a studio gets it’s video prints struck and the film is no longer in
theaters... The film prints of movies... just 3 years old begin to degrade to a pathetic level.
However... Once again, I can not stress enough the impact of DO THE RIGHT THING.
I remember back in 1989, three of my best friends went and saw this movie while I had
band practice in Seymour, Texas. Edward, Bobby and Devilin... All three were
Afro-Americans, but we never saw it that way. We were all just best friends, and best
friends are color blind. That night, I gave Edward a call and he told me he was glad I
didn’t go see the movie with him. I asked why and all he could say was that at that
moment... he was so outraged by what he saw that he just wanted to beat the shit out of
the nearest white guy. Now... I was shocked. I couldn’t believe what I had just heard, so
I hopped in my car and drove to Wichita Falls, Texas and caught the last showing of the
film and man... What a powerful movie. Still my favorite of Spike Lee’s work. An
important film and I’m happy as hell to see it get recognized.... God knows the Academy
didn’t. It really heralded the birth of an amazing filmmaker to a world that unfortunately
overlooked SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT and SCHOOL DAZE... which once they saw this
film... Well... we went back and discovered.
"The Docks of New
Now this.... This is a masterpiece of silent filmmaking. Anyone who is familiar with Josef
Von Sternberg’s films can’t help but sing his praises for days on end. One of the most
beautiful black and white films I have ever seen. The lighting, the shadows, the depth of
field.... And... on top of that a wonderful movie that is one of the finest stylized works
you’ll ever see. Josef Von Sternberg was and is the greatest collaborator of Marlene
Dietrich (to my eyes at least). I guarantee that a week spent watching this film, THE BLUE ANGEL, MOROCCO, SHANGHAI EXPRESS, BLONDE VENUS, THE
SCARLET EMPRESS and THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN will be one of the great
illuminating weeks of your film fan life. My mother raised me on Sternberg. As a child,
our house was decorated with lobby cards from Sternberg’s Dietrich films, and among the
first films we had on Video Tape were these films. Check them out.
"Duck Amuck,'' 1953
If I even have to friggin tell you about this film, this Chuck Jones classic... Well... sigh... I
guess gather around. Many consider this the greatest Daffy Duck cartoon ever, some
even consider it the best cartoon period. Some argue that DUCK DODGERS IN THE 24
1/2 CENTURY is the best.... Personally my favorite is THE GREAT PIGGY BANK
ROBBERY when Daffy thinks he’s Dick Tracy and fights NEON NOODLE... but that’s a
separate column. Ultimately it’s a story of a fictional creation’s struggle for existence.
What is interesting is the basic concept of the animated creation being aware of the world
off the paper or cel, began way back at the beginning when Winsor McCay threw that
apple to GERTIE THE DINOSAUR, and then later when Koko the Clown raised hell in
Max Fleischer’s universe like in Koko’s Earth Control. BUT.... Without a doubt, the best
self-aware cartoon character is... Daffy Duck. The tormenting and torturing he undergoes
is akin to Job’s biblical torments to the nth degree. A film about the chaos and sadism of
the creative mind. And just balls out funny as hell. What I love about this film registry is
the fact that it acknowledges that film is silent, long, short, fiction, non-fiction, accidental,
etc.. And this is one of the greats.
"The Emperor Jones,'' 1933
One of the greatest actors around that simply existed in the wrong era. This film is not
great, but it does highlight and give top billing to a great actor.... Paul Robeson. Robeson
is probably best remembered for playing ‘Joe’ in James Whale’s amazing adaptation of
SHOWBOAT, but unfortunately Robeson didn’t have the leading man material to work
with back in the thirties and forties. Watch any of his films and you can see clearly this
was a great actor. Robeson is not alone here though, another great black actor, Rex
Ingram, who’s filmography is far more accessible today (THIEF OF BAGDAD,
SAHARA, GREEN PASTURES, CABIN IN THE SKY, ADVENTURES OF
HUCKLEBERRY FINN and a small part in ELMER GANTRY). Robeson and Ingram
are actors that do not deserve to be forgotten or put aside. All I know is from the small
bit parts they were given... they shined far brighter than anyone anticipated. Rex Ingram’s
Djinn in THIEF OF BAGDAD is one of the greatest hands down characters you’ll ever
see. But this film is clearly Paul Robeson’s. The play was badly adapted from Eugene
"Gunga Din,'' 1939
One of the greatest adventure films ever made. Directed by George Stevens (GIANT,
SHANE, PENNY SERENADE, WOMAN OF THE YEAR and A PLACE IN THE SUN)
and really... this is the film that put him on the map. A perfect film. Starring Douglas
Fairbanks Jr, Victor McLaglen and Cary Grant as three blokes that end up in the battle to
end all battles. The title character though is played by Sam Jaffe... a character actor that is
often times overlooked, but for me.... He’s like so cool. I mean, first off he played the
High Lama in Frank Capra’s LOST HORIZON, then he played GUNGA DIN, then went
on to be Professor Barnhardt in DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.... for crissakes... if
the man had never done anything else he should be remembered for all time!!! If you want
to absolutely see why TEMPLE OF DOOM and THE MUMMY aren’t nearly the
adventures they ought to be... check this film out. They don’t get any better.
"In The Land Of The Head-Hunters,'' also known as "In The Land Of The
War Canoes,'' 1914
Well... I’m stumped.... All I can do is state the obvious. This is an early, 6-reel (I believe),
documentary that either went to the Amazon or Bali or somewhere like that where the
practice of Head-Hunting took place. Personally, I would LOVE to see this film. The
title alone is enough of a reason to preserve it. If anyone has a print of this, I’d love to see
"Jazz On A Summer's Day,'' 1959
Another documentary, but one... I’ve seen. This is one of the just downright coolest
videos a man could own. It documents the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival and the immense
talents that took part in it. Preserved, undoubtedly, for it’s remarkable portrait of
America’s music. Features Louis Armstrong, Chuck Berry, Thelonious Monk, Mahalia
Jackson, Big Maybelle and about a score more of great musicians. For Jazz fans it is a
must and a half. I believe the video is still in print.
"King: A Filmed Record
... Montgomery To Memphis,'' 1970
A wonderful documentary on the travels of Martin Luther King Jr. The documentary was
put together by Sidney Lumet (12 ANGRY MEN, FAIL-SAFE, THE PAWNBROKER,
SERPICO, DOG DAY AFTERNOON, NETWORK and THE WIZ) and Joseph
Mankiewicz (ALL ABOUT EVE, THE GHOST AND MRS MUIR, GUYS AND
DOLLS and CLEOPATRA). An exhaustive collection of newsreel footage and speeches.
There are these slightly annoying sequences with Paul Newman and James Earl Jones
where they just wanted.... I don’t know.... Faces talking at you that you would recognize,
but the footage and clips and sounds speak for themselves. Not one of the great
documentaries, but it’s a damn good one.
"Kiss Me Deadly,'' 1955
Alright. There are some cool films on this list, but... ya know.... This might very well be
the coolest film on the list. First off it’s not one of the great ‘KNOWN’ films, but it’s just
so friggin cool it hurts. I had to do an introduction for this film once when Robert
Rodriguez couldn’t make it back from L.A. once and folks.... The audience was EMPTY.
I basically watched this with a half dozen other folks that just fell in love. For the record,
this is one of Robert’s favorite films. A classic example of why exactly Mickey Spillane
just kicks the shit out of most writers and kisses them goodbye. Director Robert Aldrich
(DIRTY DOZEN, HUSH HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE, WHATEVER HAPPENED
TO BABY JANE) was in charge of this.... the best Mike Hammer movie ever filmed.
Where did Quentin get the glowing suitcase? How about the glowing orb in HEAVY
METAL? Or still... the trunk in REPO MAN? This is the mack daddy of them all. Pure
adrenal gland on rye. This is why ya don’t pick up half dressed beautiful broads in the
middle of a dark headlight lit highway. This is why Rick don’t stick his neck out for
nobody. A completely badass film. Fuck it... I’m putting it on right now.
If memory serves this is the first filmed footage of George Burns and Gracie Allen. You
know... it’s amazing to me that probably 98% of people today only have memories of
George Burns sans Gracie Allen. The amazing thing was.... Gracie was the funny one. I
know that’s hard to believe today, but just go back in time to a short like this one and
you’ll see what I’m talking about. Gracie Allen is stunning. Over the billion or so years
that George worked with her, they formed the best male-female comedy act I’ve ever
seen. Hopefully with this getting in the registry, it means that perhaps will have it
available in some sort of format. Funny funny stuff.
One of the greatest Film Noirs ever made. Otto Preminger (ANATOMY OF A
MURDER, CARMEN JONES. and as an actor MR FREEZE on the Adam West
BATMAN tv series) directed this film, my favorite of his work. LAURA, while being
about the who-dun-it and how’d-they-dood-it is more about the enchanting memory of
the departed. The intoxicating nature of beauty and mystery. How the unattainable is
more haunting than any living memory. Gene Tierney plays one of the most beautiful
cinematic women in history, and Dana Andrews is obsessed with her. A hard talking film
of brisk quick dialogue, enchanting themes and memory. One of Vincent Price’s best
non-horror roles (check out THE THREE MUSKETEERS and SHOCK for a pair more)
I last saw this film with an audience of MST3K-ers that I wanted to take an AR15 to.
Sigh.... I highly recommend owning this film.
"Master Hands,'' 1936
I have never seen this documentary, and eon before ROGER AND ME, that Gordon Avil
shot at a Flint, Michigan at various Chevrolet auto plants. I’d love to see a double bill of
this and ROGER AND ME.... of course maybe that’s just me.
"My Man Godfrey,'' 1936
One of the joys of life is the comedic world of William Powell films. Be it in THE THIN
MAN series or any of his other work. William Powell is simply amazing. And with the
beautifully zany Carole Lombard (who... for very strange reasons, Cameron Diaz is
reminding me of) as his better half... well this movie just flies. This is one of the joys I
share with Robogeek. The world of the thirties screwball comedy. Screenwriter Morrie
Ryskind was renowned for adapting the Marx Brothers from stage to screen and here...
the work is just magic. I like to imagine that these scripts were 300 pages long and the
dialogue was delivered at a rate where it became 3 and 1/4 pages a minute. Fast fast fast
fast and intense. A comedy so fast it doesn’t give you time to breathe. A great film.
Of The Living Dead,'' 1968
AHA! A film crying out to be protected from the evil fucking clutches of JOHN RUSSO
and his clan of revisionist cut-throats!!! However, they should have saved not only this
film, but the other two in the series. DAWN OF THE DEAD and DAY OF THE DEAD
must also be preserved. Folks.... we live in a country that is willing to protect and
preserve for all time our Zombie Heritage. Does this not rock? I mean holy shit! I can’t
believe NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is in the registry. That is tooo cool. Now,
there should be a retroactive law passed that deports anyone who has ever FUCKED with
Romero’s work to some iceberg floating in the North Atlantic. Hip Hip Hooray!!!
"The Plow That Broke The Plains,'' 1936
A historical documentary that basically shows us the horror of the Dust Bowl Depression
years. It’s about that period when fields turned into deserts and wastelands. A powerful
film, that goes hand in hand with director Pare Lorentz’s THE RIVER. While you might
think this was a film that you could never see... UNTRUE.... It’s available in any format
you want. All Midwest schools should show this film as well as schools with any
agricultural communities. Strong work.
"Raiders Of The Lost Ark,'' 1981
Wait! Do my eyes deceive me? Hahahahah.... YES! That’s right Georgie poo... It is
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK that will be preserved for all time, not that revisionist
lameass INDIANA JONES AND THE RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK! Screw that...
Raiders is the film! Thank God the film is being protected from Mr Mouse and the wild
gang of Pixel Pushers. Raiders, along with the aforementioned GUNGA DIN are a pair of
the most perfect Adventure films (add JAWS, ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD,
FOUR FEATHERS and KING KONG and you have sheer joy) ever made. Will we ever
see all parties involved as perfect as they were here again? I don’t know, but wow...
"Roman Holiday,'' 1953
A star was born with this movie. I had the great fortune to listen to Gregory Peck talk
about this film at length. Unlike ANY STARS TODAY, Gregory Peck was so self-aware
of his place in the scope of things that he forced the studio and his agent to allow shared
top billing with Audrey Hepburn, because he felt that she would become one of the
biggest stars in history after watching her make this movie. He knew who’s movie this
was and had his ego in check enough to let her take the billing. She went on to win Best
Actress that year and stole the hearts of mankind. I like to dream of stumbling upon a
princess some day.... Who knows... perhaps I already have, but have been too blind to
"The Shop Around
The Corner,'' 1940
Last Christmas we were treated to a remake of this film entitled YOU’VE GOT MAIL,
which I personally loved, but as I was to later discover... was not quite up to this original
film by Ernst Lubitsch (again another filmmaker that way too many have forgotten, but
made NINOTCHKA, THE MERRY WIDOW, TO BE OR NOT TO BE, etc). Jimmy
Stewart was in his pre-WWII mode and was still that wide-eyed kid. A film that should be
"The Ten Commandments,'' 1956
This is what epic filmmaking is defined by. You know... There is a reason Charlton
Heston is an icon, this is one of the reasons. I wish to God he had never become involved
with the NRA, because today there is such a strong segment of society that can’t get that
out of their heads and it really is damaging to his cinematic memory in terms of screening
his films with an audience. But what films!?!?! When Moses opens up those curtains to
show Seti what he’s been up to... WOW. That’s impressive. Hell... When that finger of
flame begins kicking Yul’s ass.... I still feel my heart race. Grandiose filmmaking.
"Trance And Dance In
Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead's
anthropological footage of a Balinese ceremonial dance. Once again here’s one of those
films or assembly of footage that I haven’t seen. But I love this stuff. It’s real Bring Em
Back Alive, Frank Buck type of stuff. Back when the world was still a bit larger than life.
"The Wild Bunch,'' 1969
Heh. Once again, we have a film that’s just a real no-brainer. Of course it needs to be
preserved... especially before some post-modern cultural committee deems it wrong for
our peace-loving society. I watched this film on the big screen for like the 30th time in my
life about 3 weeks ago and folks... This film hasn’t aged a second. From the first time
you see scorpions to the second time, forty minutes have passed and it feels like a blink.
This movie is full of everything that Bruckheimer secretly wants to get on screen but
hasn’t quite had the right people to make it happen. Peckinpah understood those quiet
moments before the storm... those moments of rest and ponderings. He didn’t make BAD
GUYS.... He told human stories with extreme endings. A brilliant film.
"Woman Of The Year,'' 1942
The first teaming of Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. I can’t imagine being there at
the time. Walking into a theater, not knowing I was going to see one of the classic
theatrical teamings be born. About 4 years back I met Tracy’s Grandson and got to
talking to him about his granddad. It was sooo weird, because when I looked at him, I
could see Manny.... I could see ol Sam Craig trying to explain Baseball to Kate...
Heredity is a strange weird creature sometimes. Shadows and lines and skin of the past.
This has all the earmarks of being a great choice. Check out all of the Tracy/Hepburn
films. There are no stinkers. (P.S. Moriarty has threatened to steal my phrase, 'skin of the past'. This is a preemptive alert to his intellectual thievery)
``A Streetcar Named
While some may protest or hold Elia Kazan in contempt.... I simply must applaud the
work the man turned out. I wasn’t alive in the McCarthy era... But I have seen his films.
And a powerful selection it is. He was one of the key pieces in making some of the best
films this world has seen. This one and ON THE WATERFRONT are just stunning
works that have not diminished an ounce with time. Whatever it was he did with
Brando... it created something intangible on screen... an animalistic ferocity that reminds
me of that id we keep buried. This was Brando’s second film and it was the backhand to
the world of acting that made folks sit up and take notice. His first iconic role, in a career
of such roles. If you have just seen the Alec Baldwin tv version... You have not seen A
STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, though if you saw the SIMPSONS’ version... Well..
you still need to see this just so you REALLY get the joke.
"THE KISS," 1896
`The Kiss,'' released in 1896 by Edison Manufacturing Co.
with a cast of just two names, May Irwin and John Rice. No running time is listed;
instead, it is said to be ``50 feet'' in length. I believe this is available in some of those
compilations of early cinema DVDs. Back when simply recorded moments of life were
magic. This is the first eternal kiss.