Best Picture winners The Lost Weekend (1945), Forrest Gump (right, 1994), and The Silence of the Lambs (1991), along with the Walt Disney Studios' animated classic Bambi (1942), Charles Chaplin's silent comedy-drama The Kid (1921), and Howard Hawks' early screwball comedy Twentieth Century (1934) are among the 25 “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant movies just added to the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.
Directed by Billy Wilder, The Lost Weekend earned Ray Milland a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of an alcoholic. Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs earned Oscars for both leads, Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster. A monumental box office hit in the mid-'90s and a paean to idiocy and conformism, Forrest Gump earned Tom Hanks his second back-to-back Oscar (he had won the previous year for Demme's Philadelphia).
As per the National Film Registry's release, Bambi was Walt Disney's favorite among his studio's films. (That's all fine, but personally I think Bambi should be rated NC-17. I first watched it as a kid; the brutal murder of a pheasant by a heartless hunter traumatized me for life.) Chaplin's The Kid was his first full-length directorial effort; Jackie Coogan had the title role. Along with Frank Capra's Best Picture Oscar winner It Happened One Night, Twentieth Century officially launched the screwball comedy genre; John Barrymore and Carole Lombard starred.
Other titles added to the National Film Registry include John Cassavetes' Faces (1968), considered the first American independent movie to become a mainstream box office hit; Martin Ritt's pro-organized labor Norma Rae (1979), which earned Sally Field a Best Actress Oscar (Field also plays Tom Hanks' mother in Forrest Gump); John Ford's 1924 epic Western The Iron Horse, starring George O'Brien and Madge Bellamy; and Byron Haskin's 1953 sci-fier The War of the Worlds (1953), with Gene Barry and Ann Robinson.
Inevitably, the National Film Registry found room for films featuring ethnic minorities in the United States. Added to the roster were Robert Rodriguez's student film El Mariachi (1992), set in the US-Mexican border and purportedly made for $7,000; Nicholas Brothers Family Home Movies (1930s-40s), featuring hoofers Fayard Nicholas and Harold Nicholas; and Ramón Menéndez's Stand and Deliver (1988), which earned Edward James Olmos a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his determined high-school teacher.
Plus Otto Preminger's musical Porgy and Bess (1959), starring Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge, and Joan Micklin Silver's Hester Street (1975), which earned Carol Kane a Best Actress Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of a Central European Jewish immigrant. The inclusion of the Frank Capra-produced World War II pro-racial tolerance documentary The Negro Soldier (1944) is of interest partly because several of Capra's movies featured black stereotypes. Stuart Heisler, perhaps best known for the 1942 Alan Ladd-Veronica Lake crime drama The Glass Key, directed The Negro Soldier.
Gloria Grahame, The Big Heat
Besides the aforementioned Hester Street and Norma Rae, women are also at the forefront of Julia Reichert and Jim Klein's Growing Up Female (1971); Chick Strand's Fake Fruit Factory (1986), a documentary about Mexican women who create ornamental papier-mâché fruits and vegetables; and the recently deceased George Kuchar's experimental short I, an Actress (1977), which is available on YouTube.
Anyhow, more interesting than p.c. choices was the inclusion of A Cure for Pokeritis (1912), an early comedy starring then-popular (and quite odd) couple John Bunny and Flora Finch; and what may well be my favorite noirish crime drama, Fritz Lang's The Big Heat (1953), starring Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame.
Here are the remaining titles: Pixar visual effects artist Ed Catmull's one-minute film A Computer Animated Hand (1972); Robert Drew's Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (1963), about Governor George Wallace's attempt to prevent two black students from enrolling in the University of Alabama; Jordan Belson's five-minute 1961 short Allures, “inspired by Eastern spiritual thought”; and George Nichols' socially conscious melodrama The Cry of the Children (1912), from an Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem and featuring future filmmaker James Cruze (of the 1920s blockbuster The Covered Wagon).
Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, who selected the 25 movies out of 2,228 titles submitted by the public, stated that “our film heritage must be protected because these cinematic treasures document our history and culture and reflect our hopes and dreams.”
Once again, that's all fine. But despite my film lover credentials, I never get excited about the National Film Registry choices. After all, I don't believe anyone in his/her right mind is afraid that, say, Paramount and Disney won't be “protecting” Forrest Gump and Bambi in the decades to come. Meanwhile, hundreds of lesser-known but no less “culturally significant” American motion pictures lie waiting – some rotting away – for lack of preservation funds.
Also, having the National Film Registry “protect” a movie doesn't necessarily mean it'll be made available for you and me to watch it on DVD or on cable television. For movies made after 1923, studios still own the rights to them.
It would be nice, of course, if Preminger's Porgy and Bess, generally dismissed at the time and extremely hard to find today (reportedly thanks to the George Gershwin estate), were to be made available. In addition to Poitier and Dandridge, the film's cast includes Pearl Bailey, Diahann Carroll, Sammy Davis Jr, and Brock Peters. Distributed by Columbia Pictures, Porgy and Bess was Samuel Goldwyn's last production.