December 30, 2011
Each year the Library of Congress adds 25 “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant films to the National Film Registry. This year’s selections include four silent films, five documentaries, and such popular features as Forrest Gump. I’ve already written about one title, the Nicholas Brothers Family Home Movies (1930s-1940s).
One of the goals of the Registry is to alert the public to the need for preservation. Another is to draw attention to movies that reach beyond features, like Jordan Belson’s experimental Allures. Belson died this year, as did George Kuchar, whose I, An Actress was also added to the Registry.
Several titles mark return visits for filmmakers like John Ford (with the sprawling Western epic The Iron Horse), Howard Hawks (Twentieth Century, an early screwball comedy starring John Barrymore and Carole Lombard), Frank Capra (the WWII documentary The Negro Soldier), Walt Disney (Bambi), Billy Wilder (The Lost Weekend, an expose of alcoholism), and John Cassavetes (Faces).
This is the first appearance on the Registry for noted filmmakers like Chick Strand (Fake Fruit Factory) and Joan Micklin Silver (Hester Street). Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs may provoke some debate, but the selection that has bewildered film buffs the most is Stand and Deliver, a message drama with patently good intentions but not much sophistication.
I will be writing more about the individual titles in the future, but for now I’d like to point out A Cure for Pokeritis, a 1912 comedy starring John Bunny. Bunny and his frequent foil Flora Finch were probably the most accomplished and funniest of the early film comedians in the United States. Bunny was an international star before a cult of celebrity developed; when he died of Bright’s disease in 1915, it was front page news. Had he lived a little longer, he might be more widely known today. But Bunny’s influence stretches on over the decades, in the works of everyone from W.C. Fields to Carrol O’Connor’s Archie Bunker and Homer Simpson.
Here is the complete list of titles for 2011:
The Big Heat (1953)
A Computer Animated Hand (1972)
Crisis: Behind A Presidential Commitment (1963)
The Cry of the Children (1912)
A Cure for Pokeritis (1912)
El Mariachi (1992)
Fake Fruit Factory (1986)
Forrest Gump (1994)
Growing Up Female (1971)
Hester Street (1975)
I, an Actress (1977)
The Iron Horse (1924)
The Kid (1921)
The Lost Weekend (1945)
The Negro Soldier (1944)
Nicholas Brothers Family Home Movies (1930s-40s)
Norma Rae (1979)
Porgy and Bess (1959)
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Stand and Deliver (1988)
Twentieth Century (1934)
War of the Worlds (1953)