Of demons and men: 25 movies added to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry
In Dec. 2010, among the rarities and fast-decomposing movies added to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry so they can be “preserved for future generations” etc. etc. are:
- Elia Kazan’s family drama A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945).
- William Friedkin’s demon possession horror fest The Exorcist (1973).
- Robert Altman’s revisionist Western McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971).
- Alan J. Pakula’s political thriller All the President’s Men (1976).
- John Badham’s disco-dancing Saturday Night Fever (1977).
As we all know, the movies listed above can’t be watched anywhere on Earth and are in dire need of being preserved, restored, and made available once again.
Compounding matters, the companies that own them – Time Warner, News Corp., Viacom – lack the necessary funds to preserve them, restore them, etc. etc.
‘Artistic, cultural and/or historical significance’
Enter librarian of Congress James H. Billington, who selected each of the films on this year’s list after receiving suggestions from the National Film Preservation Board and the public at large. According to one report, more than 2,100 movies were nominated in 2010.
Officially, films are added to the National Film Registry according to their “artistic, cultural and/or historical significance.” That often translates into avant-garde works, one- or two-minute shorts shot around the turn of the 20th century (just like any feature film, each counts as one individual addition to the Registry), films made by and/or about ethnic minorities in the United States, and, ahem, films owned by some of the biggest conglomerates on the planet.
This year, it also helped to get your movie included in the National Film Registry if you died – and your death was widely publicized.
- Blake Edwards is there with The Pink Panther (1964).
- Irvin Kershner with another fast-decomposing super-rarity, The Empire Strikes Back (1980).
- Leslie Nielsen, Barbara Billingsley, and Peter Graves with Airplane! (1980).
Forgotten Dorothy Janis
Silent film actress Dorothy Janis died this year as well, but her death was hardly mentioned anywhere. That’s too bad, for W.S. Van Dyke’s highly enjoyable (and socially/ethnically conscious) The Pagan (1929), starring Ramon Novarro, could use some restoration, as Turner Classic Movies’ print is out of synch.
Oh, well. With luck, The Pagan will be added to the National Film Registry after every Star Wars, Harry Potter, Transformers, and Twilight movie has been accounted for.
Or perhaps a miracle will happen – the appearance of an angel like Cary Grant in The Bishop’s Wife – leading the money-hungry powers-that-be at Time Warner to greenlight a restoration upgrade on its more battered titles.
More National Film Registry titles
Other titles included in the National Film Registry list are:
- Paul Fejos’ silent slice-of-life drama Lonesome (1928), with Glenn Tryon and Barbara Kent – who just turned 103 on Dec. 16.
- Lewis Milestone’s early talkie The Front Page (1931), which does need some restoration work, as available public domain prints are quite poor. Best Actor Academy Award nominee Adolphe Menjou, Pat O’Brien, Mary Brian, Edward Everett Horton, and Mae Clarke star. Bartlett Cormack and Charles Lederer adapted Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s play.
- The W.C. Fields comedy It’s a Gift (1934). Norman Z. McLeod directed a cast that also included Kathleen Howard and Baby LeRoy.
- Leo McCarey’s old-age melodrama Make Way for Tomorrow (1936), featuring Beulah Bondi, Thomas Mitchell, and Fay Bainter.
- Spike Lee’s political biopic Malcolm X (1992), starring Best Actor Oscar nominee Denzel Washington.
* Jan. 2017 update: The Academy Film Archive and The Film Foundation were the institutions responsible for the restoration of The Front Page in 2016. The George Lucas Family Foundation provided the restoration funding.
George Lucas student film & two-minute documentary
Here a few more 2010 National Film Registry titles:
- The two-minute documentary Preservation of the Sign Language (1913).
- Mary Ellen Bute’s five-minute avant-garde short Tarantella (1940).
- John Huston’s controversial World War II documentary Let There Be Light (1945).
- George Lucas’ student film Electronic Labyrinth: THX 113B 4EB (1967) – a sort of THX 1138 (1971) embryo.
- Peter B. Hutton’s experimental documentary Study of a River (1996), set along the Hudson River.
Curiously, the William S. Hart silent Western The Bargain (1914) was also added to the National Film Registry. But why “curiously”?
Well, unlike the vast majority of, for instance, Norma Talmadge, John Gilbert, Corinne Griffith, Richard Barthelmess, Tom Mix, or Pola Negri silents – or William S. Hart silents, for that matter – The Bargain is readily available on DVD for $11.99.
Cultural/historical significance is in the eye of the publicity-friendly beholder
But then again, these National Film Registry lists are ultimately little more than historical curiosities – i.e., what (some) people at the beginning of the 21st century find culturally and/or historically significant. And worthy of media attention.
Really, how many people believe that The Exorcist, The Empire Strikes Back, All the President’s Men, and Saturday Night Fever are at risk of decomposing and/or becoming unavailable for future generations? Make Way for Tomorrow and, however faded, The Front Page can be watched on cable TV, while even Lonesome is screened regularly (though it doesn’t seem to be available on DVD in the U.S.).
Meanwhile, hundreds of long-forgotten titles lie unseen – many of these in the vaults of the Library of Congress itself – waiting to be salvaged. Films you can’t watch anywhere.
Since they’re worth shit to the studios that produced them in decades past – especially those made during the silent era – and don’t have any sort of influential cinematic godfather or godmother to have them included on the National Film Registry list, there’s no last-minute movie rescue in sight.
National Film Registry cast members
For the record, here are the key cast members of the five movies mentioned at the beginning of this article.
- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
Cast: Dorothy McGuire. Peggy Ann Garner. James Dunn. Joan Blondell. Lloyd Nolan. Ted Donaldson.
- The Exorcist.
Cast: Ellen Burstyn. Linda Blair. Max von Sydow. Jason Miller. Mercedes McCambridge (demon voice).
- McCabe & Mrs. Miller.
Cast: Warren Beatty. Julie Christie.
- All the President’s Men.
Cast: Dustin Hoffman. Robert Redford. Jason Robards. Jack Warden. Martin Balsam. Jane Alexander. Hal Holbrook.
- Saturday Night Fever.
Cast: John Travolta. Karen Lynn Gorney.
Library of Congress’ National Film Registry website.
Warren Beatty and Julie Christie McCabe & Mrs. Miller image: Warner Bros.
Adolphe Menjou The Front Page publicity image: United Artists.
“National Film Registry Adds Fast-Decomposing Star Wars Sequel & Demon Possession Rarity” last updated in April 2018.