Strangers on a Train, Pink Flamingos, Cooley High, Return of the Jedi, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Selena are among the cinematic treasures chosen this year for the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, it was announced Tuesday.
The list of 25 motion pictures picked to be preserved also includes What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Sounder, The Long Goodbye, Richard Pryor: Live in Concert, Stop Making Sense, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Watermelon Woman and WALL-E.
“Films help reflect our cultural history and creativity — and show us new ways of looking at ourselves — though movies haven’t always been deemed worthy of preservation. The National Film Registry will preserve our cinematic heritage, and we are proud to add 25 more films this year,” Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said in a statement.
Under the terms of the National Film Preservation Act, the librarian each year names 25 motion pictures at least 10 years old that are “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant. There are now 825 films in the registry.
The librarian confers with members of the National Film Preservation Board and others before making the selections, and more than 6,100 titles that were nominated by the public also were considered.
Return of the Jedi and The Fellowship of the Ring garnered strong support this year. Nominations for the class of 2022 will be accepted through Aug. 15 here.
Three films on the list this year addressed racially motivated violence against people of color: Requiem-29, The Murder of Fred Hampton and Who Killed Vincent Chin?
“We have always looked at the range of films, those that are entertaining and inspiring, but also those films that raise more difficult kinds of questions, those that get us to recognize that films are documents of our social and political history and that their preservation is absolutely essential if we’re going to look honestly at our past,” said TCM host Jacqueline Stewart, who also serves as the chair of the National Film Preservation Board and chief artistic and programming officer at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.
TCM will screen a selection of motion pictures named to the registry this year starting at 2 p.m. PST on Friday, with Hayden joining Stewart to discuss the films.
Below, The Hollywood Reporter takes a look at this year’s inductees in alphabetical order, with descriptions supplied by the Library of Congress:
Producer-director Sylvia Morales created this 22-minute collage of artworks, stills, documentary footage, narration and testimonies to provide a counterpart to earlier film accounts of Mexican and Mexican-American history that all but erased women’s lives from their narratives. Centering on successive struggles by women from the pre-Colombian era to the present to combat exploitation, to break out of cultural stereotypes and to organize for national independence, women’s education and the rights of workers, Chicana resurrects an arresting array of proto-feminist icons to inspire Chicana feminists with role models from their cultural past. In 1977, Morales, an artist and cinematographer who had worked at KABC in Los Angeles and was enrolled in UCLA film school, became enthralled with a slide show created by Chicano Studies teacher Anna Nieto-Gómez that included a history of Mexican women of which Morales was unaware. With Nieto-Gómez’s support, Morales conducted additional research with Cynthia Honesto; hired composer Carmen Moreno to score the film and renowned actress Carmen Zapata to narrate it; shot documentary footage; and recorded interviews with Chicana activists Dolores Huerta, Alicia Escalante and Francisca Flores to incorporate as voiceovers into the film. Acknowledged as a brilliant and pioneering feminist Latina critique, Chicana has served as a stepping stone for Morales’ distinguished career as a writer and director of acclaimed cable and public television documentary and fiction productions. UCLA has digitally scanned the best surviving picture sources for interim preservation purposes and hopes to turn this provisional work into a full restoration effort.
“I loved the movies, and so I decided early on, when I was a teenager, that I was going to make some movies and put some Mexicans in it,” Morales said. “I think it’s the struggle that’s important, and that’s what Chicana is. It’s the struggle to be whoever you are.”
Cooley High (1975)
NPR has called Cooley High a “classic of black cinema” and “a touchstone for filmmakers like John Singleton and Spike Lee.” Set in Chicago’s Cabrini Green housing project, Cooley is — at least at its start — a coming-of-age comedy about Black friends making the most of their halcyon high school days. But they soon find their lives and futures threatened when a scuffle at a party escalates and projects them into a series of legal jeopardies. Though often compared with 1973’s American Graffiti, Cooley stands beautifully on its own thanks to its unique sensibilities, the taut direction of Michael Schultz and the incredible naturalistic acting styles of its entire cast — which included Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Garrett Morris and Glynn Turman. Made on a small budget, Cooley would become one of the biggest critical and commercial successes of 1975. Retooled, Cooley High would also serve as the genesis for the successful ABC sitcom What’s Happening!!
“The one thing I knew about Cooley High was that it was unique, it was exciting,” Schultz said. “It would open up people to a new world.”
Before co-founding The Doors and the band learning their craft in Los Angeles clubs such as London Fog and Whisky a Go, the late Ray Manzarek attended UCLA’s Film School, where he met fellow film student Jim Morrison. While at UCLA and credited as Raymond D. Manzarek, he created this student film, about a jazz musician (Henry Crismonde) and his romance with an art student (played by Manzarek’s then-girlfriend and future wife, Dorothy Fujikawa). Manzarek was always a huge fan of the potential of cinema. He once noted: “Film is the art form of the 20th century, combining photography, music, acting, writing, everything. Everything that I was interested in all came together with that one art form.” In Evergreen, which has been called a “12-minute, West Coast, cool jazz, cinematic tryst,” one can definitely spot the influence of the French New Wave and filmmakers such as Jean-Luc Godard. The film’s title reportedly comes from the Beat literary magazine The Evergreen Review, and Evergreen features music by Herbie Mann/The Bill Evans Trio and the Jazz Crusaders. The location shots of mid-1960s Los Angeles comprise a magical time capsule of their own. Fujikawa sums up the impact of film on Manzarek and Morrison: “I think film informed his work and Jim’s work throughout their musical careers,” she said. “They always thought of their songs as cinematic expressions. They were always sort of little stories that were dramatic and told a story with music. In that way they were cinematic songs.” The film has been digitally restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive.
Flowers and Trees (1932)
In the darkest days of the Great Depression, audiences welcomed a diversion when they went to theaters. Studios responded with Busby Berkeley musicals, risqué pre-Code films and trippy animations such as the Fleischer Studios’ Betty Boop cartoons. Those attending the 1932 premiere of Disney’s Flowers and Trees watched birds singing and trees awakening, all in spectacular hues: it was the first three-strip Technicolor film shown to the public and marked the dawning of a new era. The overwhelming response convinced Walt Disney to make all future Silly Symphony shorts in color and a few years later came features like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Even today, the hand-drawn animation and vibrant Technicolor continues to charm and dazzle, showing new audiences the magic cinema can bring.
The Flying Ace (1926)
The Norman Film Manufacturing Co. of Jacksonville, Florida, was an important producer of “race films,” movies made specifically for Black audiences. Although owned by Richard Norman, a white man, the studio’s films tended to portray a world in which whites, and thus racism, was absent. The Flying Ace is an excellent example, a fairly straightforward romance-in-the-skies drama with a compelling cast and good production values.
Hellbound Train (1930)
A surreal and mesmerizing allegorical film by traveling evangelists James and Eloyce Gist, this is an important and until recently overlooked milestone in Black cinema. Painstakingly reassembled from more than 100 reels of 16mm at the Library of Congress by S. Torriano Berry, this early example of guerilla filmmaking is a fierce condemnation of sinfulness, with Satan portrayed as a very alluring conductor. This train is most assuredly not a clean train.
In the third film of his illustrious motion picture career, humorist and cowboy philosopher Will Rogers enacted the easy-going, likable tramp Jubilo, named for a Civil War song in which enslaved people using a stereotypical dialect celebrate their hoped-for emancipation. Theater organists and pianists no doubt played the tune repeatedly throughout the picture, and for years afterward, it became a signature song for Rogers, a multiracial member of the Cherokee nation who often portrayed a comic trickster common in African American and Native American cultures. Despite its predictable plot, Jubilo was distinguished by the uniquely human character Rogers created and by the title cards he authored that gave national audiences a taste of the topical remarks he would casually toss off from the stage as he entertained New York crowds with his roping and horseback-riding tricks. One card, appearing after his character spends a night trying to fix an automobile, satirizes Henry Ford’s recently unsuccessful political ambitions with the line, “No wonder he wasn’t elected to the Senate with everyone owning one of these.” Reviewers praised Rogers’ “wonderfully natural creation” and “rugged sense of humor,” and a few years later, director Erich von Stroheim commended Rogers’ pictures for their character-driven realism, a desired quality he found otherwise lacking in most of Hollywood’s more plot-dominated productions. The film is preserved by the Museum of Modern Art.
The Long Goodbye (1973)
Here, Elliott Gould, star of such counterculture classics as M*A*S*H and Little Murders, brings Raymond Chandler’s iconic depression-era detective Philip Marlowe into a contemporary Hollywood-infused setting where his moral compass seems anachronistic. Robert Altman directed this richly complex, iconoclastic and highly entertaining detective mystery with a script by Leigh Brackett, who had co-authored the screenplay of the film noir classic The Big Sleep, in which Humphrey Bogart epitomized Chandler’s hard-nosed individualist hero for an earlier generation. The inspired, nontraditional cast, some of whom Altman encouraged to create their own characters and lines, includes Sterling Hayden, Jim Bouton, Nina van Pallandt, Mark Rydell and Henry Gibson. Shot by pictorially inclined cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond near the beginning of his illustrious career, The Long Goodbye employs unsettling, ever-moving camerawork and compositions that masterfully utilize the transparent and reflective surfaces common in Southern California modernist architecture. Altman and Zsigmond’s technique allows viewers to eavesdrop on a corrupt world of trivial pursuits and shocking violence that has left many of its inhabitants impotent, indifferent or deeply scarred. Gould’s repeated signature line, “It’s OK with me,” resonates throughout until Chandler’s shining knight ends the film with a morally ambiguous resolution. Zsigmond won the National Society of Film Critics award for best cinematographer for his work.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Director Peter Jackson kicked off his epic trilogy of films of J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved oeuvre with this film. From its visually stunning depiction of Middle-Earth to his large, expert, all-star casting (Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, John Rhys-Davies, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee and Andy Serkis), Jackson and company created a respectful, literate adaptation of one of the world’s most cherished series of written works. Key to making all this magic work and the story of Hobbits surprisingly human are the heartfelt performances (led by Wood as Frodo and McKellen as Gandalf). The combination of magnificent production values and scenes filmed in spectacular New Zealand locations made this a must-see, particularly on wide screens in a theater.
The Murder of Fred Hampton (1971)
This documentary profiles the final year in the life of Fred Hampton, the 21-year-old charismatic leader of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. The first half shows Hampton making speeches, passionately urging armed militancy, as well as nonviolent advocacy, to confront poverty, protest police brutality and build coalitions to broaden the message of the party from “Power to the People” to “All power to all people.” During production, Hampton and Mark Clark were killed in a police raid, and the film transitions to an investigation of their deaths and the motives of authorities local and beyond. The New York Times, while admitting the film had flaws and certainly was unabashedly biased, assesses that the footage and TV documentation “constitute a remarkable, if uneven, case history. It is, in sum, an unleavened indictment of Edward V. Hanrahan, the Illinois state’s attorney, the policemen in the raid and the Chicago political establishment. The film was restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
The great horror maestro Wes Craven, as writer and director, gave a generation of teens (of all ages) terminal insomnia with this imaginative and intense slasher scare fest. Freddy Krueger (played by soon-to-be legend Robert Englund) is the burn-scarred ghost of a psychopathic child killer, now returned to haunt your dreams and take his revenge! Heather Langenkamp stars as the heroic Nancy, who figures out who Freddy is and must be the one to stop him. Also in the cast: Johnny Depp, John Saxon, Ronee Blakley and Charles Fleischer. Made on a budget of less than $2 million, Elm Street became a box office sensation and inspired numerous sequels (including a film that pitted Freddy against Jason of the Friday the 13th films), a 2010 remake, a TV series, books, comic books and video games, making it one of the most successful film franchises in history. The film established New Line Cinema as a major force in film production, with some calling New Line “The House That Freddy Built.”
Pink Flamingos (1972)
The movie poster tells the story: drag icon Divine, resplendent in a red gown, hair and makeup at glorious extremes, perched on a cloud and brandishing a pistol, beneath the tagline “An Exercise in Poor Taste.” Baltimore favorite son John Waters’ delirious fantasia centers on the search for the “filthiest person alive” and succeeds, but not before having a lot of outrageous fun along the way. This cult classic has been embraced by a generation of filmmakers and is considered a landmark in queer cinema.
UCLA’s Ethno-Communications Program’s first collective student film had intended to capture the East Los Angeles Chicano Moratorium Against the War in Vietnam, Aug. 29, 1970, but the film turns into a requiem for slain journalist and movement icon Ruben Salazar. It shows footage of the march, the brutal police response and resulting chaos interspersed with scenes from the rather callous and superficial inquest. Filmmakers attached to the project have confirmed that the original elements for the film disappeared more than 40 years ago. The UCLA Film & Television Archive has facilitated a 4k scan of the surviving faded 16mm print for preservation purposes and hopes to turn this provisional work into a full restoration effort.
Return of the Jedi (1983)
The original Star Wars trilogy reached its first apex with this film, the third release in the “a galaxy far, far away” trifecta. Directed by Richard Marquand from a story by, of course, George Lucas, Jedi launches Lucas’ original, legendary characters — Luke, Leia, Han Solo, C-3PO, R2-D2 and others — on a series of new adventures that take fans from the planet of Tatooine to the deep forests of Endor. Populated by intriguing new characters — including Ewoks and the gluttonous Jabba the Hutt — and filled with the series’ trademark humor, heart, thrills and chills, Jedi, though perhaps not quite up to the lofty standards of its two predecessors, still ranks as an unquestioned masterpiece of fantasy, adventure and wonder.
Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (1979)
In history, very few other stand-up stars had ever taken their comedy set to the big screen and presented themselves and their comedic vision so fully, so raw, so unadorned or unedited. The great Pryor did it four times. This riotous performance, recorded at the Terrace Theatre in Long Beach, California, is vintage Pryor: shocking, thought-provoking, proudly un-PC and undeniably hilarious. Already, a legend in the world of stand-up, this film — as straightforward in its title as Pryor is in his delivery — cemented Pryor’s status as a comedian’s comedian and one of the most vital voices in the history of American humor.
Ringling Brothers Parade Film (1902)
Recently restored by the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, this three-minute actuality recording of a circus parade in Indianapolis accidentally provides a rare glimpse of a prosperous northern Black community at the turn of the century. African Americans rarely appear in films of that era, and then only in caricature or as mocking distortions through a white lens. Actuality films indelibly capture time and place (fashions, ceremonies, locations soon to disappear, behavior at large events and the key daily routines of life), sometimes unexpectedly so as in this delightful gem.
In her first major film role, Jennifer Lopez captures the talent, beauty, youthful spirit and many of the reasons why Selena Quintanilla-Pérez was so beloved and on her way to becoming one of the biggest stars in the world. Already the first and most successful female Tejana music singer, Selena, through her growing popularity in both Mexican and American music and fashion, paved the way for many of today’s biggest pop stars, including Lopez herself. Directed and written by Gregory Nava, Selena is the official autobiographic film authorized by the Quintanilla family. Selena’s father, Abraham Quintanilla, serves as a producer and is played by Edward James Olmos in the movie. Olmos has said that there were moments on the set when Selena’s father would excuse himself and quietly cry in the corner because of the fresh emotions of her death and because many events were so accurately portrayed. The final montage of the movie features real footage and photos of Selena’s life.
Selena “will stand the test of time,” Olmos said. “It’s a masterpiece because it allows people to learn about themselves by watching other peoples’ culture.”
Cicely Tyson and Paul Winfield shine as a sharecropper couple trying to get by during the Great Depression in the rural South. Directed by Martin Ritt, the film follows the family’s pre-teen son (Kevin Hooks) as he is thrust into becoming the “man of the family.” Critic Stanley Kaufman wrote that Ritt “is one of the most underrated American directors, superbly competent and quietly imaginative,” and this understated brilliance and love for the humanity of ordinary folks is on glorious and moving display in Sounder. Taj Mahal acted in the film and composed the score.
Stop Making Sense (1984)
The seminal New York-born rock/new wave/punk/post-punk band Talking Heads were captured at the height of their powers in this now iconic concert film. Led by charismatic frontman David Byrne, the Talking Heads tear through some of their most famous songs in this tight 88-minute performance. Selections include “Once in a Lifetime,” “Burning Down the House,” “Psycho Killer,” “Life During Wartime” and, from Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth’s side project, the Tom Tom Club, a spirited rendition of “Genius of Love.” Nearly as inventive visually as it is sonically, the film is directed by Jonathan Demme who, wisely, keeps his camera tightly focused on the stage, leaving the music and bandmembers (and their own unique theatrics) to speak for themselves. Leonard Maltin has called Stop Making Sense “one of the greatest rock movies ever made.” It is infectious and the quintessential get-up-and-dance experience.
Strangers on a Train (1951)
Wildly imitated but never topped, this riveting Alfred Hitchcock classic tells of two men who, having met on a train, hatch a plan to “swap” murders, each killing someone the other knows and, thereby, giving the other an air-tight alibi. Farley Granger thinks the whole plan is a joke while Robert Walker subsequently commits a murder and demands Granger keep his part of the deal. This thriller contains strong supporting performances by Marion Lorne, Ruth Roman and Patricia Hitchcock and, of course, by the Master of Suspense’s signature, extraordinary visuals: from a tense tennis match to a wild, out-of-control merry-go-round finale, with a monogrammed cigarette lighter serving as one of Hitchcock’s trademark “MacGuffins.”
Wowing critics and audiences of all ages, Pixar Animation Studios had an unrivalled run of cinematic masterpieces from 1995-2010, including this marvelously unique film. Fresh off the monster hit Finding Nemo (2003), director Andrew Stanton created an incredible blend of animation, science fiction, ecological cautionary tale and a charming robot love story. It is the story of a lovable, lonely trash-collecting robot, WALL-E (standing for Waste Allocation Load Lifter: Earth Class), who one day meets, quite literally, his Eve. A triumph even by Pixar standards, the film uses skillful animation, imaginative set design (and remarkably little dialogue) to craft two deeply affecting characters who transcend their “mechanics” to tell a universal story of friendship and love. Comic relief is provided by M-O (Microbe Obliterator), a truly obsessed neat freak-cleaning robot ever on the search for “foreign contaminants.” The film won the Oscar that year for best animated feature.
The Watermelon Woman (1996)
This is the first feature film by Cheryl Dunye, one of the most important of Black, queer and lesbian directors. The director herself stars as Cheryl, a 20-something lesbian struggling to make a documentary about Fae Richards, a beautiful and elusive 1930s actress popularly known as The Watermelon Woman. The title of the film is a nod to Melvin Van Peebles’ The Watermelon Man (1970). In Watermelon Woman, the aspiring director explores the erasure of Black women from film history as it dovetails with her own exploration of her identity as a Black lesbian seeking love and validation. The film was a new queer cinema landmark. Of why she became a filmmaker, Dunye, during a 2018 interview at Indiana University, recalls attending a screening of She’s Gotta Have It in Philadelphia and the follow-up Q&A with director Spike Lee. Many in the audience planned to slam Lee over his controversial sexualized female protagonist. Lee answered that it was his film and he will represent the characters as he wishes, and he noted that if you wanted to change how African American women are represented, go make your own film. Dunye took that suggestion, and we are the richer for that decision.
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
Despite a memorable, long-running feud, two of classic cinema’s greatest grand dames united for the first, and only, time in this horror dark comedy that delves into the redundant worlds of fading film stardom and the macabre. Directed by Robert Aldrich, Baby Jane recounts the tattered lives of two aged former stars: the dominating Baby Jane (played by Bette Davis) and her disabled sister Blanche (Joan Crawford) as they live out their lives in a decaying mansion, loathing each another as Jane torments Blanche. The film, even today, remains vivid and often uncomfortably terrifying. Along with showcasing two powerhouse actresses, Baby Jane ignited — for better or worse — the “psycho-biddy” subgenre: films featuring older female stars in similar, grand ghoul enterprises.
Who Killed Vincent Chin? (1987)
In 1982, Vincent Chin, a 27-year old Chinese American, was beaten to death with a baseball bat in Detroit by two white auto workers. Detroit during that period was a cauldron of racism against Asian Americans, amid the decline of the U.S. auto industry as Americans elected to buy Japanese cars. Those who killed Chin likely assumed he was Japanese. In the end, the two men were found guilty of manslaughter but given probated sentences and served no jail time. Directors Christine Choy and Renee Tajima-Peña’s Academy Award-nominated documentary examines this appalling miscarriage of justice and the multiple issues it raises, including how irresponsible media can increase the risk of violence against ethnic minority communities. According to Choy, the film’s key elements involve: (1) this was one of the very first civil rights case involving an Asian American; (2) the case mobilized many Asian Americans in the country; (3) the Chin side lost the case but raised an incredible amount of consciousness about the civil rights issue involving all people of color; and (4) why the system failed and what have we learned from this? The film was restored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Film Archive and The Film Foundation.
The Wobblies (1979)
“Solidarity! All for One and One for All!” Founded in Chicago in 1905, the Industrial Workers of the World took to organizing unskilled workers into one big union and changed the course of American history. This compelling documentary of the IWW (or “The Wobblies,” as they were known) tells the story of workers in factories, sawmills, wheat fields, forests, mines and on the docks as they organize and demand better wages, health care, overtime pay and safer working conditions. In some respects, men and women, Black and white, skilled and unskilled workers joining a union and speaking their minds seems so long ago, but in other ways, the film mirrors today’s headlines, depicting a nation torn by corporate greed. Filmmakers Deborah Shaffer and Stewart Bird weave history, archival film footage, interviews with former workers (now in their 80s and 90s), cartoons, original art and classic Wobbly songs (many written by Joe Hill) to pay tribute to the legacy of these rebels who paved the way and risked their lives for many of the rights we have today. The film was restored by the Museum of Modern Art.