Saturday, December 31, 2022

The National Film Registry 2022

Part of Your World
"I don't see how a world that can make such wonderful things...could be bad," says Ariel, the Little Mermaid without a leg to stand on, before launching into her "I Want" song.
A large swath of this year's films can be conjoined into the "Finding Your Footing" category where people (or mermaids) find themselves in new circumstances and trying to adjust. But, that's about all they have in common. As per its charter, the Registry is tied with film preservation, and so special attention is paid to the neglected, lest they suffer the fate of the large percentage of silent films that can never again see the light of a projector or laser beam. Iron Man will always have a clean copy. But, The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez? And, this year, there are two mainstream studio movies—box office hits and Oscar-winners—that fell into the public domain and have more bad copies than good floating around (you might own one on DVD) and they need "the treatment" too.
A great many of the documentaries are available on YouTube and I've embedded them in the article (for educational purposes, of course). However, it's best to see them quickly. Over the years the fastest links to die are the ones with the full movie, either because the accounts go away, or either the LoC or a copyright holder finally realizes they could make money on a 20-30 year old documentary that no one's noticed for years. They go away. 

The Registry's commentary is in standard Arial font. My stuff is below in the off-gray Verdana.
Attica (1974) Americans have often ignored somewhat out-of-sight perversions of the American dream: inequality, race relations, conditions at mental hospitals and prisons. These issues only gain the spotlight with coverage of a horrific situation. The September 1971 Attica prison uprising is the deadliest prison riot in U.S. history. To protest living conditions, inmates took over the facility, held hostages, issued a manifesto demanding better treatment, and then engaged in four days of fruitless negotiations. On Day 5, state troopers and prison authorities retook the prison in a brutal assault, leaving 43 inmates and hostages dead. Cinda Firestone’s outstanding investigation of the tragedy takes us through the event, what caused it, and the aftermath. She uses first-hand interviews with prisoners, families and guards, assembled surveillance and news camera footage, and video from the McKay Commission hearings on the massacre. An ex-inmate ends the film with a quote hoping to shake public lethargy on the need for prison reform: “Wake up, because nothing comes to a sleeper but a dream.”
"Everything they do... is designed to destroy you. Dehumanize you. Make you a complete nothing." On September 9th, 1971, inmates at the Attica prison occupied the "D" yard, setting up a tent city, taking 38 hostages, and making demands to improve prison conditions. Negotiations started with the prisoners with various go-betweens, including Tom Wicker of the N.Y. Times. But, with access to television coverage, the inmates soon realized they were being played and an assault force gathered around the prison. Firestone takes a chronological approach to telling the story with recorded footage, post-riot interviews and testimony from the Investigating Commission (which is particularly damning) exposing the disconnect between government officials' conjectures, excuses and accounts and the truth of what happened.

The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez (1982)
Acknowledged as one of the key feature films from the burgeoning 1980s Chicano film movement, “The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez” was based on folklorist Américo Paredes’ acclaimed account of “El Corrido de Gregorio Cortez,” a key work of the Chicano Studies movement. The ballad from the borderlands of Texas and Mexico, explored the creation through song of the folk hero Gregorio Cortez, a poor Tejano farmer accused in 1901 of killing a sheriff who had shot Cortez’s brother during a poorly translated interrogation. A posse of some 600 Texas Rangers pursued Cortez for 11 days before his capture, as widespread newspaper accounts of the chase and subsequent trial spurred the creation of the ballad. Relying on the prodigious talents of director Robert M. Young, lead actor and co-producer Edward James Olmos, cinematographer Ray Villalobos and producer Moctesuma Esparza, “The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez” employed narrative devices common to such classic films as “Citizen Kane,” “Rashomon” and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” to tell its complicated story in a nonlinear fashion. While some characters speak in Spanish and others in English, the filmmakers decided not to use subtitles to replicate in audiences the experience of borderland characters caught up in the unfolding tragedy. The film has been preserved by the Academy Film Archive.
"He says no man can arrest him," says the translator for Sheriff Glover moments before he is killed. It's about the only thing the translator got right. After a deadly altercation in which Gregorio Cortez kills the Sheriff after witnessing the lawman kill his brother, Cortez set out to escape capture from a posse that, at times, numbered 300 men—the most in U.S. History. The same year Edward James Olmos, Brion James and William Sanderson appeared in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, they also made this movie under the direction of Robert M. Young. Lending a lived in western look were James Gammon, Bruce McGill, Barry Corbin, and Ned Beatty in a brief cameo. Young mostly tells his story in flashback, alternating with chase scenes and shoot-outs (including one amazing looking sequence involving a massive posse and Cortez—Olmos is riding—out-chasing a train) entrenching the film in story-telling and myth, even as it was happening. Performances are uniformly rustic and Olmos makes a sympathetically tragic protagonist. Great film, really.

Behind Every Good Man (1967) This flirtatious, heartbreaking, pre-Stonewall UCLA student short by Nikolai Ursin offers a stunning early portrait of Black, gender fluidity in Los Angeles and the quest for love and acceptance. Following playful street scene vignettes accompanied by a wistful, baritone voice-over narration, the film lingers tenderly on our protagonist preparing for a date who never arrives. The film is preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Preservation funded by the National Film Preservation Foundation on behalf of the Outfest UCLA Legacy Project. Special thanks to John Campbell, Stephen Parr and Norman Yonemoto.
One never is rid of the feeling that this is a staged, though empathetic, portrait of the day-to-day feelings of a transsexual, designed to raise awareness and understanding...with a bit of exploitation thrown in. Good choice of pop songs—"Reach out for Me", "Wishin' and Hopin'", and "Turn to Stone"—on the soundtrack.

Betty Tells Her Story (1972)
Liane Brandon’s classic documentary explores the layers of storytelling and memory - how telling a story again can reveal previously hidden details and context. In this poignant tale of beauty, identity and a dress, the filmmaker turns the storytelling power over to the subject. Deceptively simple in its approach, the director in two separate takes films Betty recalling her search for the perfect dress for an upcoming special occasion. During the first take, Betty describes in delightful detail how she found just the right one, spent more than she could afford, felt absolutely transformed … and never got to wear it. Brandon then asks her to tell the story again, and this time her account becomes more nuanced, personal and emotional, revealing her underlying feelings. Though the facts remain the same, the story is strikingly different.“Betty Tells Her Story” was the first independent documentary of the Women’s Movement to explore the ways in which clothing and appearance affect a woman’s identity.It is used in film studies, psychology, sociology, women’s studies, and many other academic disciplines as a perceptive look at how our culture views women in the context of body image, self-worth and beauty in American culture.The film was restored with a grant from New York Women in Film & Television’s Women's Film Preservation Fund.“A groundbreaking classic of feminist filmmaking and a subtle and heartbreaking parable about disillusionment, the oppression of imposed gender roles, and the workings of memory,” wrote Peter Keough of The Boston Globe.
Betty is invited to The Governor's Ball in Connecticut and doesn't have a thing to wear. This short eighteen minute movie couldn't be more simple: Elizabeth Murray tells us the story of going to a posh shop and buying a dress that is way too expensive, but makes her feel good and beautiful in it, which is the consensus of all her friends. After finishing the story, she's asked to tell it again, and so much of the rich detail is gone. Instead, it's a story of feelings and disappointment. What has changed? Maybe it was because she's told so much of the story before, that, when she repeats it, she's just focusing on what she feels is different in the second telling, what she might have missed the first time the effect the story had on her. Anyway, the details change—what's important has changed. Betty has changed. It couldn't be a simpler film, but the subtleties are profound.
Bush Mama (1979)
A member of the L.A. Rebellion group of filmmakers, Ethiopian-born director Haile Gerima was inspired to make “Bush Mama” by seeing a Black Chicago woman evicted from her home during winter. Serving as Gerima’s UCLA thesis project, the film was released in 1979 though made earlier in 1975. Shot on a small budget, the film was directed, produced and edited by Gerima with cinematography by Roderick Young and Charles Burnett. “Bush Mama” is the story of Dorothy, a woman facing another pregnancy and drowning in the oppressive red tape of a system that put her Vietnam veteran lover in prison for a crime he did not commit. Portrayed by the riveting, frequent L.A. Rebellion collaborator Barbara O, Dorothy persists through frustrations and exhaustion in her attempts to navigate a callous system that denies her the benefits needed to support her family. Brutally real and experimentally lyrical in its narrative strategies, “Bush Mama” resonates as a haunting look at inner city poverty, and damning indictments of police brutality and the welfare, judicial and penal systems.
I haven't seen the whole thing, but what I've seen makes me want to seek it out in toto. A combination of gritty realism and "out-there" surrealism, with a multi-layered oppressive soundtrack of found sound and music, Bush Mama pushes boundaries and buttons.

Cab Calloway Home Movies (1948-51) Shot in 16mm, black and white and color, the Cabell “Cab” Calloway III Collection includes handsome footage of the legendary singer/bandleader/actor and his family and friends. Filmed with his wife Nuffie, they document their home life in Long Beach, New York, and their travels throughout North, South and Central America and the Caribbean. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Cabella Calloway Langsam. Photochemical preservation was performed by Colorlab, which made new internegative prints of the silent films from the original 16mm color and black and white prints in 2016.
You can sample some of the clips at the NMAAHC's web-site

Carrie (1976)
Brian De Palma stands as an icon of the new wave of filmmakers who remade Hollywood and its film-making conventions beginning in the 1960s and 70s. After some intriguing independent efforts, De Palma burst onto the national spotlight with “Carrie.” Never one to feature subtlety in his films, De Palma mixes up a stylish cauldron of horrific scenes in “Carrie,” adapted from the Stephen King novel. Combine a teen outcast with telekinetic powers facing abuse from cruel classmates and a domineering religious mother, and you have a breeding ground for revenge, with the comeuppance delivered in a no-holds barred prom massacre. The flamboyant visual flair and use of countless cinema techniques may occasionally seem overdone, but the film’s influence remains undeniable to this day, often cited by other critics and filmmakers for its impact on the horror genre.
Director Brian DePalma ratcheted up to the top tier of film directors—from his independent-gadfly status—with his adaptation of Stephen King's teen horror story. It was the first film based on one of King's novels, "Carrie" being only King's first published book. Screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen did away with King's splintered narrative and made it more personal, treating it like some perverse After-school Special from Hell, showing the tortured existence of a repressed high school wall-flower—played at the time by 26 year-old Sissy Spacek—who, upon her late onset of puberty is given yet another curse—telekinesis, the ability to move objects with her mind...sometimes violently.
De Palma had the advantage of some lucky casting—he conducted a joint casting call with George Lucas, who was looking for young actors for his upcoming "Star Wars" feature—and he also had the lucky break of getting Spacek (whom he knew as a set dresser for husband Jack Fisk, a production designer), as well as managing to coax Piper Laurie out of a self-imposed retirement (after winning an Oscar for The Hustler), as well as getting teen-heart-throb and cast-member of "Welcome Back Kotter", John Travolta. It's an amazing cast with large parts for Betty Buckley (who would win a "Tony" Award for "Cats") as well as newcomers Irving and Allen (both of whom would appear in other De Palma films). 
Carrie remains one of the strongest films in De Palma's filmography, with its combination of the macabre, the tragic, and the mordantly humorous, lying just on the precipice of hysteria, which is where one's memories of High School usually lie.

Charade (1963)
With the 1963 romantic comic thriller “Charade,” director Stanley Donen gave audiences their first and only opportunity to enjoy the delicious onscreen chemistry of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, two of Hollywood’s most elegant and sophisticated actors. Despite a noticeable difference in age, the pairing worked delightfully, sparking stylish scenes of wit, charm and silliness, once Grant convinced Donen and writer Peter Stone to make Hepburn’s character, rather than Grant’s, the aggressor to avoid a feared unseemly effect. Drawing on a persona Grant created with Alfred Hitchcock that introduced elements of uncertainty and deceit into a developing romance, Stone and Donen, an admirer of “North by Northwest’s” “wonderful story of the mistaken identity of the leading man,” made the true identity of Grant’s character a secret to Hepburn’s and the audience until the final scene. “Working with Cary is so easy,” Hepburn remarked after the filming. “He does all the acting, and I just react.” Though Grant proclaimed, “All I want for Christmas is another movie with Audrey Hepburn,” they never worked together again. Set in picture-postcard Paris, “Charade” has grown in regard over the years, appreciated at its 50th anniversary as “the last sparkle of Hollywood” by cultural historian and film critic Michael Newton.
"The best Hitchcock movie Hitchcock never made" is how the film has been described. Billy Wilder had been trying to pair up Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant for years, but Grant always turned down every A_Hep movie ostensibly because of their differences in age. Or maybe because he thought he'd co-starred in enough "Hepburn movies" (he'd done so many with Katherine!). But, Peter Stone's script and a chance to work with Stanley Donen finally convinced Grant to do this, one of his last films. A cross between North By Northwest and the emerging James Bond series (which are also distinctly cousinly), an innocent is caught up between criminals and officials looking for a specific McGuffin. And, as if Grant and Hepburn weren't enough, the film features Walter Matthau, James Coburn and George Kennedy, just at the cusp of their becoming stars.
And, as a warning to those in the industry doing titles, Charade entered the public domain almost immediately upon its release, as, due to a clerical error, the all-important "©" was left off the film. As such, I'm including it below.

Cyrano de Bergerac (1950)
Produced by Stanley Kramer and directed by Michael Gordon, this was the first U.S. film version of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 French play, and the screenplay used a 1923 English blank verse translation by Brian Hooker. Though critics felt the film suffered from its low budget and appearing too much a stage production, José Ferrer’s star-making performance received much acclaim. Bosley Crowther in the New York Times wrote, “Mr. Ferrer plays Cyrano in a style that is in the theatrical tradition of gesture and eloquence. He speaks the poetry of Rostand with richness and clarity such as only a few other actors have managed on the screen.” For his performance, Ferrer won the Oscar for Best Actor, becoming the first Hispanic actor to win the award. Preserved at the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Preservation funded by Myra Teitelbaum Reinhard, UCLA class of '58, in loving memory of her grandfather Nathan, father Ben and uncle Harry Teitelbaum. Preserved from the 35 mm. nitrate original camera negative and a 35 mm. acetate fine grain master, in cooperation with Paramount Pictures. Laboratory services by YCM Laboratories. Sound services by DJ Audio and Audio Mechanics. Special thanks to Barry Allen, Eric Aijala, Martha Stroud, Peter Oreckinto and John Polito.
Producer Stanley Kramer was riding a burgeoning level of success as a movie producer when he won the rights to make a filmed presentation of Jose Ferrer's Tony Award-winning performance as Cyrano (from 1947). But, he didn't have high hopes for it—he worried that American audiences wouldn't be able to pronounce the name of the title character—check out how it's simplified in the poster—or the name of the guy playing him. So, writer Carl Foreman (soon to be black-listed) was employed to cut down the script, its characters and situations to make it all set-bound in order to cut costs. To the film's detriment. And so, the movie is Ferrer's—he has the best part, the most scenes, the other characters are given short-shrift, and Ferrer roars through it like he owns the role. And he won an Oscar for it, as well.
Curiously, this is another film that prematurely went into public domain, due to copyright issues and paperwork that wasn't filed. 
Hairspray (1988)
Sometimes described as affectionate yet mildly subversive, “Hairspray” is John Waters’ most mainstream film, an irresistible look at Baltimore’s teen dance scene in 1962, as well as a moving plea for racial integration. Waters received his first PG-rating for this New Line Cinema release, and “Hairspray” has gone on to become a successful film, an even bigger home video release, a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, a live television production, and is even performed in high school and middle school productions. Featuring a cast of John Waters-regulars, Divine and Mink Stole, the film also stars Ricki Lake, Debbie Harry, Jerry Stiller, Sonny Bono, Josh Charles, and appearances by Ric Ocasek, John Waters, and Pia Zadora. No film by John Waters fits neatly into a cut-and-dried mold, not even a film gaining a wider audience like “Hairspray.”
Ricki Lake is fairly incandescent as upper-middle-class Tracy Turnblad (a "hair-hopper" and "the baddest white dancer in town!"—that being 1963 Baltimore) in Waters' winking look at prejudice and sock-hop shows. Waters isn't everybody's cup of swill, but it would have to be some sort of stuck-up sorority princess ("with ROACHES in their hair!") to not enjoy this romp about the power of rock n' roll to integrate. With Divine, Jerry Stiller, Sonny Bono and Debbie Harry (hilarious) and Ric Ocasek and Pia Zadora ("When I'm high, I AM Odetta!") playing beat-niks. Waters himself cameos as a deprogrammer for integrationists. A great soundtrack gives it it's energy, but the general good-will is absolutely as roaches. Inspired an equally charming musical version for the stage and screen.

House Party (1990)
Written and directed by Reginald Hudlin, “House Party” stars Kid and Play of the popular hip hop duo Kid ‘n Play. With his parents out of town, Play announces to his friends that he is hosting an epic party at his house. His best friend, Kid, is the most eager to attend, knowing that his high school crush will be there. After Kid gets into a fight at school, his father punishes him and bans him from going to the party. Determined to go, Kid makes his way to the biggest and most memorable party of the school year with some hilarious stops along the way. “House Party” also stars Paul Anthony, Bow-Legged Lou and B-Fine (from the musical group Full Force), and Robin Harris, Martin Lawrence, Tisha Campbell, A.J. Johnson, and John Witherspoon. Funk music legend George Clinton makes a cameo. Filled with imagination and infectious optimism, the film became a box office hit and launched a thriving franchise. 
Reginald Hudlin's expansion of his Harvard thesis film is a Hip-Hop version of the Ferris Bueller/Risky Business formula, where teens conspire to outwit their clueless parents—this one has a more aware father (played by the late Robin Harris, who died months after the film's premiere) who is aggressively in on the chase, along with Bangers, the Po-lice, and irate homeowners. The home-boys are all legends in their own minds and the women tolerate the misogyny and roll their eyes. Stick around for the mid-credit scene. Roger Ebert wrote of it: "'House Party' is silly and high-spirited and not particularly significant, and that is just as it should be." The Registry disagrees about that "significant" part.

Iron Man (2008) Marvel Studios enthralled audiences with 2008’s “Iron Man,” a superhero film that transcends and elevates the genre. Key factors in the film’s success include the eclectic direction of Jon Favreau, superb special effects and production design, and excellent performances from Gwyneth Paltrow as the sidekick and Robert Downey Jr., as the brooding, conflicted hero out to make amends for his career as an armaments mogul. Critics sometimes love to take shots at superhero movies but many recognized “Iron Man” for its unexpected excellence. Joe Morgenstern in The Wall Street Journal wrote: “The gadgetry is absolutely dazzling, the action is mostly exhilarating, the comedy is scintillating and the whole enormous enterprise, spawned by Marvel comics, throbs with dramatic energy because the man inside the shiny red robotic rig is a daring choice for an action hero, and an inspired one.” Richard Corliss in Time noted the film’s place in a uniquely American tradition: “Some of us know that there's an American style — best displayed in the big, smart, kid-friendly epic — that few other cinemas even aspire to, and none can touch. When it works, as it does here, it rekindles even a cynic's movie love.”
The movie that launched a Movie Universe. After other attempts at making movies of Marvel properties sputtered and burned after a couple movies, the newly-created "Marvel Studios" came up with a movie about a (frankly) second-tier character and did one really smart thing: they hired Robert Downey, Jr. Oh, there were protests from fans. But, Downey's riffing and really good effects turned a rather mundane super-hero bust-em-up into a crowd-pleaser, with a now-standard mid-credit sequence that promised bigger things. I wasn't that impressed with Iron Man, but one has to acknowledge its special significance in the current movie hero-scape.
Itam Hakim, Hopiit (1984)
Victor Masayesva Jr., Hopi director and cinematographer of the video “Itam Hakim, Hopiit” (We/someone, the Hopi), once wrote, “If film is about imagined time and space, it is borne from the imagination of people each of whom have constructed those times and spaces differently.” In “Itam Hakim, Hopiit,” Masayesva imaginatively translates Hopi Native oral traditions into video art. Complexly constructed of four stories conveyed to Hopi children by elder Hopi historian Ross Macaya, who died shortly after the film’s release, and accompanied by imagery documenting Hopi life, often in non-confrontational close-ups of details or revealed by a non-intruding and slowly-moving camera, “Itam Hakim, Hopiit” moves from the personal to the mythological to the historical, ending up in prophesy. Trained as a still photographer and active as a poet, Masayesva masterly employed color posterization accompanied by Spanish military music and a Vivaldi concerto to introduce a section on Spanish conquest, fast-motion to distort a harvest dance, contemplative long shots of landscapes, blurred videography, and silence for emphatic effect. “For me,” he wrote, “photography is a way of imagining life’s complexity. It provides an analogy for philosophical comprehension.” At the conclusion, Macaya announces the importance of the video for the Hopi people: “I have told you a lot. You have learned a lot from me and learned the stories. These stories are going to be put down so the children will remember them. The children will be seeing this and improving on it. This is what will happen. This will not end anywhere.” 
The Little Mermaid (1989)
When you combine a beloved Hans Christian Andersen tale with the beauty and heart of truly remarkable Disney magic, you end up with an animated film for the ages. Ariel, the titular mermaid, lives under the sea but longs to be human. She is able to live her dream with a little help from some adorable underwater friends and despite the devious efforts of a sea witch named Ursula (a recent addition to Disney’s peerless rogue’s gallery of cartoon villains). Alan Menken composed the memorable score and collaborated with Howard Ashman on songs that have become modern standards such as “Under the Sea;” “Part of Your World” and “Kiss the Girl.” Adding to the film’s irresistible charm is a fantastic array of voice artists including Jodi Benson, Buddy Hackett, Pat Carroll and Kenneth Mars. An extraordinary success — artistically and commercially — at the time of its release, “Mermaid” proved a touchstone film during the “The Disney Renaissance” of the 1980s and 90s.
The Walt Disney Company, known for its timeless feature-length cartoons was doing less and less of it, subsisting for years on less than inspired live-action films that were cheap and used the Disney name as a common brand. Then, someone had the brilliant idea to make another cartoon fairy-tale and hired the song-writing team of Broadway's "Little Shop of Horrors" to do the tent-pole tunes. "The Nine Old Men" of past years were dead, but a new team, inspired and emulating them, was taking over, and with the material, Disney created one of their best products, starting that amazing "Renaissance" that put them back on top as the preeminent creators of good (quality) family entertainment...that every age could enjoy. Some of those Ashman-Menken song still amaze in their tuneful audacity, emotion, and cleverness. Like this one:
Manzanar (1971) Robert Nakamura created this documentary as a film student at UCLA Film School’s Ethno-Communications Program. During his childhood, Nakamura had “lived” in the central California Japanese American internment camp of Manzanar. He recollects his childhood experiences at Manzanar (“feelings, smells, sounds”), the FBI taking away his next door neighbor active in judo and kendo, the stark surroundings, his parents maintaining a cheerful front, going to the camp bathroom and not remembering which of the similar-looking barracks he lived in. The film serves as a pensive meditation on how his time there as a child has affected his adult life. Japanese music serves as a commentary on the images, and the shaky hand-held camera footage attests to the disjointed and stressful nature of his childhood at Manzanar Preserved by the Academy Film Archive. 
Mardi Gras Carnival (1898) In 2013, the Library of Congress issued a detailed report showing that over 70% of silent era American feature films have been completely lost. Many of these titles perished in nitrate fires, while copyright owners often melted the films down for their silver content once their theatrical runs ended, feeling the films no longer had any commercial value. Luckily, hundreds of “lost” American silent films have been rediscovered in foreign archives, carefully preserved by archivists in those nations. American cinema has always had a worldwide audience, and the copies sent for overseas distribution often found permanent homes in archives in the U.K., France, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Russia, and Scandinavian countries. 
The Eye Filmmuseum in the Netherlands has been one of the leading rescuers, recently recovering films such as “Shoes” by Lois Weber, “Beyond the Rocks” (Swanson and Valentino), “His Birthright” (Hayakawa), “The Floor Below” (Mabel Normand), “Lucky Star” by Borzage, silent version of Capra’s “Submarine,” and numerous Vitagraph films from the ‘10s. 
“Mardi Gras Carnival” is another of their finds and is the earliest film known to exist of the carnival parade in New Orleans, showing several dazzling floats, paraders and spectators (almost all wearing hats). The film is part of Eye Filmmuseum’s Mutoscope and Biograph Collection. This collection consists of about 200 films preserved on their original 68 mm format. The digital file provided is scanned in 2022 at Eye Collection Center, from the 35 mm duplicate negative that was made in 1998. After the first analogue preservation round made 25 years ago, Eye is now undertaking the digital restoration of the Mutoscope & Biograph Collection. “Mardi Gras Carnival” became the focus of attention, thanks to its inclusion within ‘The Artistry of REX’ exhibition, that opened in the summer of 2022 at the Louisiana State Museum. 
Mingus (1968)
This raw portrait of the legendary composer and bassist Charles Mingus is an invaluable, at times sad and harrowing,document of one of our great American composers, the jazz scene in New York in the late 1960s, life in Harlem, and Mingus’ eviction from his apartment. In his interviews with director Thomas Reichmann, Mingus riffs with bemused but knowing frankness on issues including racism, his place as a jazz musician in a white-dominated American society, politics during the civil rights era, and women. “Mingus” also features rare and remarkable footage of the artist performing in clubs.
A day before he's evicted from his apartment, Charles Mingus is asked why he's written about it to J. Edgar Hoover: "I've always written to him. I inform all the white fellows—the white folks—I'm trying to be a good boy." He was dubbed "The Angry Man of Jazz" and suffered from depression, but the documentary shows him to be playful, intimidating (firing a gun inside his apartment--to show he could) and messing with director Reichmann (whom he calls "Tommy"), interspersed with his lightning fast playing, a bit of Mingus playing with Dizzy Gillespie and ending with his eviction. Fascinating from beginning to end.
Pariah (2011)
The roster of Black women who have been given a chance to direct features is criminally small, and artists such as Dee Rees show the originality and vibrant creativity that the industry should be supporting. In a 2018 conversation at the Toronto International Film Festival, Rees recalled being inspired to write “Pariah” when she moved to Brooklyn as an adult and was in the process of coming out. Rees encountered a group of teenagers who had come out and confidently knew their sexual identities at an early age; she wondered how difficult such a reveal was for the teens while they were still dependent on others. To her, writing “Pariah” was “my first expression, the kind of thing I had to do first, for everything else to come.” She describes how difficult it was to obtain financing given she would be in a meeting and describe the film as “Black, lesbian, coming of age,” and they would say, “OK, let’s validate your parking and get you out of here.” Audiences found the film raw, authentic and illuminating a world some have traversed and the need for empathy from those who have not. 
Scorpio Rising (1963)
Critics too often apply the word “essential” to works of art, but no one can dispute the status of Kenneth Anger’s “Scorpio Rising” as one of the key works in Avant-Garde/Experimental cinema. The subject of attempted censorship during its release, “Scorpio Rising” is a mesmerizing collage of songs from early 1960s pop artists (Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Martha and the Vandellas, the Crystals, Bobby Vinton, and The Angels), a paean to rebel heroes (James Dean, Marlon Brando), and a one-of-kind, rapid-fire exploration and juxtaposition of symbolism and ideas about religion, Nazism, biker subculture, mystique of the underground, gay life and more. The film is preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Preservation funded by The Film Foundation. Preserved from the original hand-painted 16 mm Ektachrome color reversal A/B rolls and from the 16 mm original magnetic track. Laboratory services by Fotokem Film and Video, Audio Mechanics, DJ Audio, NT Audio. Special thanks to: Kenneth Anger, Michael Friend, Pacific Film Archive, P. Adams Sitney. 
Super Fly (1972)
“Super Fly,” directed by Gordon Parks Jr., serves both as a classic of the sometimes escapist “Blaxploitation” wave of 1970s Black-oriented films, as well as a searing commentary on the American dream. The film revolves around a Harlem drug pusher with style (“Youngblood” Priest,” played by Ron O’Neal) who aims to make one final big score and then leave the business; criminals and corrupt police have other ideas. Some criticized the film as glorifying drug dealers, given O’Neal’s charismatic performance, and for reinforcing what they saw as lifestyle stereotypes in films such as “Sweet Sweetback…” and “Shaft.” Curtis Mayfield’s political and soulful score, however, received universal acclaim for its dynamic sound and for challenging drug culture in its lyrics. The son of renowned photographer and filmmaker Gordon Parks, Parks Jr. tragically died in 1979 at the age of 44 in an airplane crash in Kenya, while on location making a film.
One of the major releases during the "Blaxploitation" era of the early 1970's—when studios were actually paying attention to black filmmakers and black audiences. Super Fly tells the trials and tribulations of a coke distributor and dealing and dealing with unreliable distributors, crooked cops, and greedy black activists while trying to get out of "the business" with one last score. O'Neal stands out just by being the coolest cat in a cast of over-actors. The younger Parks had a feel for "guerilla" film-making, hiding the camera in vans in getting his street-shots. A gorgeous Curtis Mayfield score (that topped the charts when it came out) gives it a sheen that the rest of the film belies.

Titicut Follies (1967)
In “Titicut Follies,” as with all the nearly 50 observational documentaries he has made since this, his first, Frederick Wiseman drops his audience into goings on at a public institution and challenges them to “figure their own way out without any help from me,” he once explained. Shot at the Bridgewater State Prison for the Criminally Insane in Massachusetts, “Titicut Follies” — “Titicut” being the Native American name for the area surrounding the institution — begins and ends with an annual variety show of that name performed by inmates and guards. In between, the film confronts the viewer with a mosaic of scenes recorded unobtrusively and presented with no voiced narration of inmates undergoing strip searches, repetitive psychiatric questioning, force-feeding and finally burial in a dehumanized world revealed through the film as callous, indifferent and inescapable. “It is as grotesque a vision of human cruelty and suffering, of naked fear and loneliness, as art has ever produced,” wrote film curator Joshua Siegel about “Titicut Follies.” Wiseman stated that his documentaries focus on the relationship between the individual and the state, “especially in an age in which religion functions less.” With “Titicut Follies,” the state, in the guise of Supreme Court of Massachusetts, initially ordered the film banned and its negatives and prints destroyed. That ruling, later revised to allow only professionals in the fields of law, medicine and social services to see the film, was not overturned until 1991. The Library’s Packard Campus holds the original preservation masters for “Titicut Follies” and all of Frederick Wiseman’s completed productions as well as the outtakes.
I remember seeing this in High School (High School!) and was horrified by it, but it instilled a life-long love for the films of Frederick Wiseman, whose only editorial choices were where to point the camera and what to leave in, a minimalist documentarian if ever there was one, without style or nuance, just recording as it happened. But, I think of that when school boards are being attacked for their content that might be deemed "harmful" by Chicken Little parents. If I could survive this, a white kid could learn about slavery. Titicut Follies is a nightmare in black-and-white not because of the tortures of mental institutions, but of the behavior (or lack of it) of the employees. One can make all the excuses one wants for it, but the utter indifference/cruelty of the staff is hard to stomach. That Wiseman shot it unflinchingly and that it gained a reputation for its "it is what it is" approach, makes it a worthy inclusion in the Registry.

Tongues Untied (1989)
“Marlon Riggs’ brilliant 1989 video essay “Tongues Untied” is a riveting combination of interviews, performance, stock footage, autobiography, poetry and dance that elucidates the revolutionary potential of Black men loving Black men. The words of gay poets, personal testimony, rap tableaux, dramatic sequences, and archival footage are woven together with a seductive palette of video effects. Riggs was diagnosed with HIV while making “Tongues Untied,” but continued to advocate for gay rights both on and off screen.” The film is preserved at the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive.
"I have three strikes" I heard an activist say last year in an interview. "I'm a man; I'm a black man; and I'm a gay black man." An interesting testament to presentation and performance, Tongues Untied is part celebration, part clenched fist, and part performance piece about being a gay black man. Nothing has made me smile more this year than the explanation of using variations of the "Snap!" gesture as part of your vocabulary.

Union Maids (1976)
Julia Reichert, Jim Klein and Miles Mogulescu directed this seminal labor documentary on the attempt to create industrial unions during the tumultuous 1930s. Crafted in the form of an oral history interspersed with footage from the National Archives, the film interviews three Chicago women who served as labor organizers during that period: Kate Hyndman, Stella Nowicki and Sylvia Woods. The best documentaries let the subjects speak for themselves, and “Union Maids” benefits greatly from the passion of these three remarkable women whose moving recollections vividly recreate the era. An exemplary example of “history from the bottom up” film-making, it resonates as both a plea for union rights but also equality for women taking part in often male-dominated unions. The film had a theatrical run in nearly 20 cities and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature.
They weren't "maids" as the title (rather condescendingly) suggests—they worked in slaughterhouses, laundries, sweat-shops—and worked for 2/3 of what the men got. But, in the Depression, you had to work and often as teens. These women saw work conditions before and after unionization, and their stories of their companies' efforts to convince them not to unionize are the same arguments being used today in the 21st Century (in case you wanted to make an Amazon order today on your way to Starbucks'). But, even the supposedly radical unions still had a paternalistic streak that treated their female members as second-class citizens. Some were more equal than others. The tunes haven't changed, and Pete Seeger provides the ones for this slice of history.
When Harry Met Sally (1989)
“When Harry Met Sally” came in the middle of a remarkable decade-long run of films by Rob Reiner (“This is Spinal Tap, ”Stand By Me,” “The Princess Bride“ and “A Few Good Men.”) With sparkling chemistry between leads Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, and a spicy script courtesy Nora Ephron, the film ranks among cinema’s greatest romantic comedies, and a paean to the theory of love will find a way, no matter what. Addressing the age-old question of whether men and women can stay friends without being romantically involved, the film remains one of the most quoted films of the 1980s, with lines such as “I’ll have what she’s having,” and “I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible."
When Harry Met Sally was met with some nay-saying when it first came out as being "Woody Allen without Woody Allen." Okay, sure, there is some shared DNA—Manhattan as a primary location, there's bridging music of old classics (sung by Harry Connick, Jr.), the interview segments that would transition chapters, and a Jewish comedian in the lead. But, that's about it. Nora Ephron's best script does explore the "can men and women be friends without sex being involved" question—the answer is yes, by the way, but only if they're not as insular as the people in this movie are—and comes up with something like, yeah, but this is a rom-com, so no.
Billy Crystal got a film career out of it and Meg Ryan cemented her status as "America's sweetheart" but one should also mention Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby as "the one's that got away" from a disastrous first date with their friends. So many scenes are well done, but everyone remembers the deli scene that is only capped by the dry reading of the exit-line by Rob Reiner's mother.
Word is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives (1977)
Directed by a collective of six queer filmmakers known as the Mariposa Film Group, “Word is Out” had a profound impact on audiences and became a landmark in the emerging gay rights movement of the 1970s. The film is composed as a mosaic of interviews with over two dozen men and women of many ages, races, and backgrounds who talk about their lives as gay men and lesbians. As Peter Adair, one of the film’s directors noted, the goal was to erase their invisibility in American society. “Word is Out” remains a groundbreaking film of that era, when “coming out” was an act of courage and depictions of gay men and women as “everyday people” was extremely rare. The film is preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Preservation funded by the David Bohnett Foundation, The Andrew J. Kuehn Jr. Foundation, and Outfest.
Twenty six interviews with examples of the "gay/lesbian" community. But, early on, one gets the impression that that is wrong. They're just ordinary people who just happen to be gay. Too often, we think of people as blocks, a sub-set of the human collective for whom that defines them. These people are from all walks of life, with different stories, different histories, thoughts, priorities, and opinions, seeking out their truths and their happiness. They are individuals and unique, even if, sometimes, the film-makers try to impose some sort of direction to their stories. Some want to talk about themselves, some don't, some want to give historical context, or tell horror stories imposed on them from others, or seek the larger perspective of a more general story of oppression imposed by an not understanding, uncaring world. They are all open and honest. But, one can't help but see the exploitative nature of the film-makers, who zoom in when a story gets emotional, waiting to catch the tears drop. It's empowering to see how often they turn up dry.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Don't Make a Scene: It's a Wonderful Life

The Story: First off, Merry Christmas!
I knew I wanted to do something from It's a Wonderful Life this time—the "Don't Make a Scene" features fall on Sunday as does the Yuletide this year—I just didn't know which one. There are so many, and I've already done a few (which you can find here and here—Jiminy Christmas, why don't you just watch the movie? Again!) But I was having a difficult time deciding which.
But, the answer is so obvious (once it comes to you): the ending. One of the great happy endings in all of movie-dom. But, it is a happy ending that is earned, by the protagonist George Bailey and, frankly, the audience. Director Frank Capra and his screen-writers (and there were many—heck, Dalton Trumbo and Clifford Odets worked on the early drafts and Dorothy Parker did a "polish" of it and they're not even credited!) put poor George through a veritable Hell on Earth due to his un-doing (suicidal on Christmas Eve, he briefly wishes he'd never been born, and an angel grants his wish). That cold dash of unreality is better than jumping off a snowy bridge to slap him with some perspective, and realizes what he's got and that it's good. Wonderful, in fact.
It's a tough film to watch for anyone who has suffered depression or hardship or...anything. And one is reminded that one should merely get some perspective (Heavenly or other kind) to get back on your feet. It does get better. And it can get pretty darn good.
So, take a cup of kindness...or better yet, give one to someone on a rocky road.
It is a wonderful life.
The Set-Up: George Bailey (James Stewart), the manager of the local Bedford Falls Savings and Loan, has had a turn of fortune on Christmas Eve. Contemplating suicide, he is rescued by an angel-in-training, Clarence (Henry Travers), who shows him what his life would have been like if he'd never been born. And it's a nightmare. One that George begs to have reversed. He is granted his wish and he returns home to find everything is as it was, and the town of Bedford Falls gather to help him out of his immediate financial troubles.
As various members of the family bring out a punch bowl and glasses,
Janie sits down at the piano and strikes a chord. She starts playing "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," 
...and the entire crowd joins in the singing.
Hark! the herald
angels sing,
"Glory to 
the newborn King:
We see a SERIES OF SHOTS of the various groups singing the hymn, and some people are still coming in and dropping their money on the table.
peace on earth, and mercy mild,
Carter, the bank examiner, makes a donation;
God and sinners 
Joyful, all  
the sheriff sheepishly looks at George 
ye nations, rise, join 
and tears his warrant in small pieces.
the triumph of 
the skies;
with th'angelic hosts proclaim,
"Christ is born in Bethlehem!"
In the midst of this scene, Harry, in Naval uniform, enters, accompanied by Bert, the cop.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
HARRY Hello, George, how are you? 
GEORGE Harry... Harry... 
HARRY (as he sees the money) Mary – looks like I got here too late. 
BERT Mary, I got him here from the airport as quickly as I could. The fool flew all the way up here in a blizzard. 
Mrs. Bailey enters scene. 
MRS. BAILEY Harry, how about... 
...your banquet in New York? 
HARRY Oh, I left right in the middle of it as soon as I got Mary's telegram. 
Ernie hands Harry a glass of wine. 
HARRY Good idea, Ernie. 
A toast... 
HARRY my big brother, George. The richest man in town!
Once more the crowd breaks into cheering and applause. Janie at the piano and Bert on his accordion start playing "Auld Lang syne," 
Should old
and everyone joins in.
acquaintance be forgot, and
CLOSE SHOT George, still holding Zuzu in his arms, glances down at the pile of money on the table. 
His eye catches something on top of the pile, and he reaches down for it.
never brought to mind?
It is Clarence's copy of "Tom Sawyer."
George opens it and finds an inscription written in it:
Should old
"Dear George, remember no man is a failure who has friends. Thanks for the wings, Love Clarence."
acquaintance be forgot, and days of auld lang syne? 
MARY (looking at book) What's that? 
GEORGE That's a Christmas present from a very dear friend of mine.
For auld lang syne, my dear,
At this moment, perhaps because of the jostling of some of the people on the other side of the tree, a little silver bell on the Christmas tree swings to and fro with a silvery tinkle. 
Zuzu closes the cover of the book, and points to the bell. 
ZUZU Look, Daddy.
Teacher says,
ZUZU ...every time a bell rings 
ZUZU angel gets his wings.
for auld lang syne, we'll drink a
GEORGE (smiling) That's right, 
GEORGE that's right.
cup of kindness yet,
He looks up toward the ceiling and winks. 
GEORGE Attaboy, Clarence.
auld lang
The voices of the people singing swell into a final crescendo for the
For auld lang syne, 
my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll drink a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
we'll take
a cup
 of kindness yet,
 for auld lang syne!
It's a Wonderful Life is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Paramount Home Video and Artisan Home Entertainment.