Tuesday, March 11, 2014

2012 National Film Registry, Part 2

Conflicts of Interest

Every year since 1989, the Library of Congress solicits nominations for the National Film Preservation Board to select films for the National Film Registry deemed to be "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" and thus preserved by the LoC.   Unlike most year-end awards shenanigans, this is not a popularity contest, but a way to hold forever the way we looked, the way we thought, and what we thought was important enough to be preserved on film...and eventually preserved for our descendents to contemplate.

Here is the complete list of selected films from 1985 ro 2011.

And here are the rest of the films from 2012

“Kodachrome Color Motion Picture Tests“ (1922): The two-color (greenish blue and red) film was the first publicly demonstrated color film to attract the attention of the film industry.

A League of Their Own (1992): Penny Marshall’s box office hit comedy about the All American-Girls Professional Softball League of the 1940s and early 1950s.  Marshall's baseball movie, based on the women's baseball leagues that had a brief surge in popularity, while the male players were in the last innings of WWII.  Marshall had a solid script (by Ron Howard's regular writers Ganz and Mandel) and a solid cast—Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Rosie O'Donnell and Madonna (in their most effective roles), Bill Pullman, Jon Lovitz, David Straithairn, Garry Marshall (Marshall's brother and director), and, in his first attempt to toughen up his image, Tom Hanks as the broken-down drunk of a coach who coined the immortal baseball and movie adage "there's no crying in baseball!"

There are very few rom-com concessions.  It's more about women who loved to compete and had no outlet until the men cleared out.  If the story is ultimately something of a downer, at least Marshall found a way to end it on a high, and inspiring, note, and A League of Their Own is one of the best baseball movies...in any league.

The Matrix (1999): Andy and Lana -- then known as Larry -- Wachowski directed this visually groundbreaking sci-fi thriller starring Keanu Reeves and Lawrence Fishburne. I'm still amazed that a surface-flash kind of movie like The Matrix is as well-regarded and the subject of unquestioning devotion as it is. Yes, it looks cool, but the "bullet-time" effects displayed (created by the 360° capturing of simultaneous images) had been employed in advertising for ten years by that time. And the Wachowski siblings' conceit—that we're all just sleeping drones living a fantasy that we're in control of our machine-clockwork society is kind of fun...for about forty-five minutes. But the movie keeps droning on with unexplained character transformations and a not-so-veiled superhero exo-skeleton. The action sequences go on forever, even without the benefit of slo-mo, and the characters are non-existent, depending on flat expressions and sepulchral voices. It has bags of style, but no substance (as was made abundantly clear when the team tried to expand the concepts with ever-deepening contrariness in two vapid sequels.

“The Middleton Family at the New York World’s Fair” (1939): Technicolor industrial film produced for the 1939 New York World’s F

“One Survivor Remembers" (1995): Oscar-winning documentary short about Holocaust survivor Gerda Weissmann Klein.

“Parable” (1964): The Protestant Council of New York produced this controversial, acclaimed silent allegorical Christian film for the 1964 New York World’s Fair.  I remember seeing this film in public school classes as an interpretive study in allegory and religion. Directed by Rolf Forsberg and Tom Rook, it tells the story of a sadistic circus manager who uses his employees as puppets, until a harlequin arrives on a donkey and. seeing their suffering, takes their place. It's a direct Christ allegory, but the controversial aspect of it, despite its simple message of sacrifice and redemption which parallels the crucifixion of Christ, is that Jesus is portrayed as a clown. Controversial, but the message is clear, and so preaching is done without being so tied to the Gospel.  Not too far removed from the Christ technique of parables.  
The idea was (oh, let's be kind, shall we?) "re-imagined," by others in the hippy-dippy 70's as the musical "Godspell."

“Samsara: Death and Rebirth of Cambodia” (1990): Ellen Bruno’s university master’s thesis documents the struggle of the Cambodian people to rebuild their shattered society after Pol Pot’s killing fields
Slacker (1991): Richard Linklater’s indie comedy follows a group of diverse characters over the course of one day in Austin, Texas.
Linklatter's first commercial success is the ultimate "walk and talk" movie, set in Austin, Texas in one 24 hour period, filled with random acts of...randomness. The format is simple—photograph a conversation down the street, until it's interrupted, either vocally or pictorially, then the camera follows the interrupter, always a new set of people and a new subject.  It's never boring and never cyclical. "This town is full of crazies," says an older anarchist, at one point. "I wouldn't have it any other way." Less a running gag—more like a "walking gag"—of a town full of underachievers and over-talkers (bloggers without the internet), saturated with conspiracy theories and apocrypha taken as gospel and regurgitated without opposing argument. Sounds like it'd be dull if it weren't so familiar and universal. Yes, our lives are like individual houses, but there's an awful lot of spackle in it.

Sons of the Desert (1933): Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy star in one of their funniest vehicles.

The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973): Ivan Dixon directed this controversial thriller about an African American who infiltrates the CIA in order to create a black nationalist revolution. "Well, like it or not," says a CIA chief, "looks like we're integrated." A cynical political move to get votes sparks an initiative to actually hire and train black agents in the all-white intelligence bureau. Even though the odds are stacked against, one man gets through, Dan Freeman (Lawrence Cook), who ingratiates himself with his superiors, in order to advance through the ranks, until such a time as he begins recruiting radicals to undermine the white infrastructure in key U.S. cities.  Despite the amateurish acting and "Movie of the Week" production values, there are some interesting ideas here, if mightily simplified to come in under 90 minutes, and the film ends on an open-ended note as an armed revolutionary movement spreads throughout the country.

“They Call It Pro Football” (1967): The first feature from NFL Films utilized Telephoto lens and slow-motion to offer a primer on the game. The NFL, which watches these things like a hawk, removes it any time it shows up, despite it being part of the National Archive. I throw a flag down.

The Times of Harvey Milk (1984): Academy Award-winning documentary about San Francisco’s first openly gay elected city official who was slain in 1978.  Actually a much better film than the Sean Penn/Gus Van Sant bio-pic of a few years' back, and provides a more concise and passionate explanation and portrait of the gay rights activism in San Francisco that inspired Milk's political career.  Add to that...you get to see the man himself in his own words and in his own times.  The film is available to view on HuluPlus and Amazon.com.

Two-Lane Blacktop (1971): Director Monte Hellman’s existential road picture  "Existential," maybe. But that may be code for "nothing much happens." Not even the characters have names, but "identifiers"-"Driver" "Mechanic" "GTO" "The Girl." You can't even call it a "character study" as the characters are archetypes, albeit played by James Taylor and Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson. They pick up a hitch-hiker (Laurie Bird), and have a cross-country race from Needles, California to Washington, D.C. with worldly wise "older guy" Warren Oates, along Route 66.  It's not far removed from its hip-youth movie roots ala Easy Rider, with generational conflicts played out on the road, and where the emphasis is on competition, rather than finding America. As such, it's a bit closer to the bone of the American spirit than its "Easy" counterpart. It's also held up better, with less editing trickery, more disciplined cinematography (a lot of gorgeous landscape work here), and a more professional movie-making sense. It's become a cult classic, and inspired the "Cannonball Run" competition.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1914): This silent adaptation of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s landmark 1852 anti-slavery novel is said to be the first feature-length film that starred an African American actor -- Sam Lucas, who had appeared in the 1878 stage version.

“The Wishing Ring; An Idyll of Old England”“ (1914): Maurice Tourneur’s charming cross-class romance.

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