Tuesday, March 11, 2014

2012 National Film Registry, Part 1

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 to 2011.

Here a first look at the films from 2012 (more in a few minutes):

Pieces from the Library of Congress Press release are in Ariel White.

Any thoughts I might have are in Verdana Gray.


3:10 to Yuma (1957): Delmar Daves directed this western based on a short story by Elmore Leonard. 

Even after James Mangold remade the thing in 2007, the 1957 original still holds up as a superior "psychological" western, while giving "usually-good-guy" Glenn Ford the most interesting role of his career, and giving Van Heflin, his most stalwart. To save his farm and family, the latter's character must transport a charismatic and crafty desperado and get him on the train to the Marshall's for trial, despite being pursued by Ford's gang from without, and the manipulations of Ford from within.   
Full review here.

Anatomy of a Murder (1959): Otto Preminger directed this courtroom thriller that made headlines for its frankness in language and adult themes.  
Ya...ya..ya know...this is just about the talkiest courtroom drama ever filmed.  And...and when you got Jimmy Stewart starring that explains the nearly three hour length.  Yeah, it's "frank"...mentioning rape as a motivation for revenge killing and everybody saying "panties" every few minutes.  But the cast does amazing work...it's a thrill to see a passionate Stewart squaring off against the cool-as-a-cucumber fancy-pants prosecutor George C. Scott.  There're also great turns by Ben Gazzara, Lee Remick, Murray Hamilton (at his weasliest), Eve Arden, and Arthur O'Connell, and the judge is played by Joseph Welch, the attorney who "shamed" Joe McCarthy on national TV.  Plus, there's a fine score by Duke Ellington.  It wasn't really Earth-shaking as it seemed, but Preminger keeps it lively, despite it being a one-room movie.

“The Augustas” (1930s-1950s): A 16-minute film by traveling salesman Scott Nixon, who was a member of the Amateur Cinema League, chronicling some 38 streets, storefronts and cities named Augusta.  

Born Yesterday (1950): Judy Holliday won a best actress Oscar as not-so-dumb-blonde Billie Dawn in this political satire directed by George Cukor. 
Holliday is an acquired taste, but she was at her sharpest and craftiest (and was used to her best effect) in this performance, as the dingbat mistress of millionaire Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford), who's in the Nation's Capitol to grease a few politicians' palms. Worried that "Billie" will make him look bad in front the pols, he hires journalist Paul Verral (a bespectacled William Holden) to teach her manners and "couthness" to avoid a scandal. It's a comedy, albeit a satirical one, based on the play by Garson Canin (who was friends with director Cukor and, even though he wasn't invited to write the screenplay, he was inveigled to punch up the script a bit). Directed by Cukor, with his usual non-judgmental tolerance and bite.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961): Audrey Hepburn plays one of her quintessential roles -- the quirky Manhattan call girl Holly Golighty -- in this romantic dramedy based on Truman Capote’s novella.   
Can you believe it?  I'm a big fan of the work of Blake Edwards, but I've never seen this cult favorite, adapted very freely (George Peppard plays Truman Capote??) by George Axelrod (although I've watched the final kiss in the rain with the cat hundreds of times and watched Hepburn sing "Moon River" just as many). It will be interesting to see how it holds up (especially Mickey Rooney's role as a Japanese landlord *shudder*), but it's one of those movie confections made of so many excellent elements and players...Axelrod, Hepburn, Edwards and his comic timing, Henry Mancini's score...that one can forgive the straying so far from the original melancholy material.

A Christmas Story (1983): Humorist Jean Shepherd narrates this classic holiday comedy based on his memoirs of growing up in Indiana and hoping to receive a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas.   
It wasn't a hit when it came out, but it has since became a "Christmas Classic" on perpetual TV rotation around the Holidays, on a par with It's a Wonderful Life. I'm sure "Shep" is amused by this occurrence. Shepherd worked on the script and narrated, and director Bob Clarke was creative enough to mine the material for as much laughs and nostalgia as possible. He also had a terrific cast in Darren McGavin as "The Old Man" (a role he was born to play given his dramatic/comedic gifts) perpetual Mom Melinda Dillon, and Peter Billingsley, who is the "Chalie Browniest" kid I've ever seen. There's something about Billingsley's dead-pan proto-human I find inherently funny, and as the focus of A Christmas Story—an exhausting role for a kid, to be sure—Clarke found the perfect "Ralphie."

“The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Title Fight” (1897): Chronicle of the famed boxing match between James J. Corbett -- aka “Gentleman Jim” -- and Bob Fitzsimmons that was held on St. Patrick’s Day in Carson City, Nev.   
We talked about Raoul Walsh's film on the life of "Gentleman Jim" last year.  Now, the real life Corbett is immortalized and his ring take-down preserved for all time.

Dirty Harry (1971): Clint Eastwood introduced his iconic role as maverick San Francisco Det. Harry Callahan in Don Siegel’s influential action-thriller.  
When it first came out, Pauline Kael called it a "single-minded attack on liberal values" and Roger Ebert decried it for a "fascist moral position." It was the ultra-violent Christmas movie season of 1971, so they hadn't seen anything yet.  But what peace-nik director Don Siegel was trying to say was that the police were fighting a losing battle trying to keep civilized society civilized. The film is very pro-police, even if finding them weak and ham-strung by regulations, and anti-criminal (they're cyphers, moving targets, unexplained, unmotivated and unsympathetic).  Andy Robinson's Scorpio (based on San Francisco's Zodiac killer) is pure venality, as unconstrained as the cops are hand-cuffed.  The only way to stop him is to go beyond regulations or people die.  It's why Eastwood's Harry Callahan, that purveyor of aggressive buzz-phrases, tosses away his badge, High Noon-style, at the end of the film. "You gotta ask yourself one question..."

“Hours for Jerome: Parts 1 and 2” (1980-82) : Experimental filmmaker Nathaniel Dorsky’s silent tone poem.

“The Kidnappers Foil” (1930s-1950s): Dallas native Melton Barker traveled through the South and Midwest for three decades filming local kids acting, singing and dancing in two-reel films he called “The Kidnappers Foil.” A few weeks after shooting, the townspeople would get a copy of the film for screening at the local theater.

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