December 28, 2011

Twenty-Five New Inductees for National Film Registry

Coming attraction slides for 2011 National Film Registry inductees:
The Kid (1921) and The Iron Horse (1924)

Yesterday the Library of Congress announced twenty-five new inductees to the National Film Registry.  Every year the Librarian of Congress selects twenty-five American films for addition to the Registry based on suggestions from the library’s National Film Preservation Board as well as the general public.  This years selection included silent era masterpieces such as Charlie Chaplin's The Kid (1921) and John Ford's The Iron Horse (1924), as well as Thanhouser Studio's child labor exposé The Cry of the Children (1912).

Attention of the popular press has focused on the elevation of Forrest Gump (1994) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991), the only two films of recent decades to make the cut.  I am personally struck in Gumplike wonder to see these listed as two of our country's most “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant motion pictures.  They are fine films to be sure, but it is bewildering to see them so honored when so many films of higher merit remain in the shadows.  

Citizen input is an important component of selection process.  Visit the National Film Registry web site to submit your nominees for 2012.  

The 25 films selected this year for preservation as part of the National Film Registry include:
  • Allures (1961)
  • Bambi (1942)
  • The Big Heat (1953)
  • A Computer Animated Hand (1972)
  • Crisis: Behind A Presidential Commitment (1963)
  • The Cry of the Children (1912)
  • A Cure for Pokeritis (1912)
  • El Mariachi (1992)
  • Faces (1968)
  • Fake Fruit Factory (1986)
  • Forrest Gump (1994)
  • Growing Up Female (1971)
  • Hester Street (1975)
  • I, an Actress (1977)
  • The Iron Horse (1924)
  • The Kid (1921)
  • The Lost Weekend (1945)
  • The Negro Soldier (1944)
  • Nicholas Brothers Family Home Movies (1930s-40s)
  • Norma Rae (1979)
  • Porgy and Bess (1959)
  • The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
  • Stand and Deliver (1988)
  • Twentieth Century (1934)
  • War of the Worlds (1953)

December 25, 2011

These Amazing Shadows

Coming attraction slide for Casablanca (1942)
Inducted to National Film Registry 1989

"It is absolutely imperative that we save the art form of the twentieth century.
How can we not?"
 -- Robin Blaetz, These Amazing Shadows

Time is growing near for the National Film Preservation Board to announce its 2011 inductees into the National Film Registry.  The Registry was created in 1988 by an act of Congress in reaction to Ted Turner's quest to colorize "his films" and recognizes American films deemed to be "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."  The current list of 550 titles (soon to be 575) represents a roll call of cinema treasures, and includes selections from every genre: documentaries, home movies, Hollywood classics, avant-garde, sponsored films, newsreels, actualities, and silent films.

Coming attraction slide for Nanook of the North (1922)
Inducted to National Film Registry 1989
Just in time for the holidays, not to mention the announcement of this year's inductees, comes a wonderful new documentary, These Amazing Shadows, which premieres at 10pm this Thursday (check your local listings!) on the PBS series Independent Lens.  

Rich with imagery, These Amazing Shadows interweaves clips from honored films with interviews of famous actors and directors, but also with archivists, scholars and historians such as Rick Prelinger, Jan-Chris Horak, and Starts Thursday! guest contributor Shelley Stamp.

I was fortunate enough to receive an advance screener of the film and I promise you won't want to miss the broadcast.

These Amazing Shadows tells the story of the passage of the National Film Preservation act of 1988 and how it established a system for identifying noteworthy films.  The Librarian of Congress, with input from the public as well as members of the National Film Preservation Board, selects twenty-five films each year for addition to the registry.  The Registry is not intended to be a "best of" list, though clearly many of our greatest films are listed.  Instead its purpose is to acknowledge the role motion pictures play in shaping and reflecting our history and cultural values.

Coming attraction slide for Easy Rider (1969)
Inducted to National Film Registry 1998
These Amazing Shadows also explores the impact films have had on our collective memory and American attitudes from a variety of perspectives, most pointedly in the history race relations as reflected in such films as The Birth of a Nation (1915) and John Ford's The Searchers (1956).

Personally, I especially appreciated the amount of time the documentary devoted to the dark corners of American film making - sponsored films, early women film makers, home movies, and independent films.  Did I love it that Shelley Stamp received copious screen time to discuss Lois Weber while Citizen Kane (1941) and Gone With the Wind (1939) went completely unmentioned?  I certainly did.  Likewise, how great was it to see local hero Rick Prelinger speak at length about propaganda films and The House in the Middle (1954).

Coming attraction slide for The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
Inducted to National Film Registry 1996
This attention to the full range of motion picture history is ultimately what I feel is These Amazing Shadows greatest strength.  It would be have been an easy cop-out to string together the usual set of  "greatest hits" clips:  Scarlet O'Hara refusing to go hungry, Charles Foster Kane whispering "Rosebud," and Bogie playing it again.  

If you've ever tried to explain film preservation to a friend, spending an hour with These Amazing Shadows may do the trick.  According the press release, film makers Paul Mariano and Ken Norton "show us how movies are part of our history, part of our culture, and part of ourselves."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

These Amazing Shadows 
Starts Thursday (of course), December 29
10pm on PBS Independent Lens

Tell 'em SilentRobert sent yuh.

December 23, 2011

This Week! The (Original) Gold Rush in San Rafael

Coming attraction slide for The Gold Rush (1925)

Of all the silent films I have seen, and there have been thousands, Chaplin's The Gold Rush (1925) is without a doubt the closest to my heart.  As I teenager I discovered silent film through the 8mm holdings of the local university library.  Their collection held only five titles: Metropolis, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Battleship Potemkin, The Phantom of the Opera, and The Gold Rush.  I borrowed, borrowed, and re-borrowed those five titles watching them over and over, the only soundtrack being the click-click-click of my little Eumig projector.  I don't know if anybody else ever borrowed them, possibly they never had the chance since I always had them out.  I remember well The Gold Rush being first that I watched and by the time Charlie finished "dancing" the Oceana Roll I was hooked for life.

Despite timeless acclaim for the film, the original silent version of The Gold Rush has been the most challenging of Chaplin's features to see in a theatrical setting.  Ironically (or not), the villain has been sound.  In 1942 Chaplin re-worked and re-released the film with a synchronized sound track.  He replaced the intertitles with narration (hear Charlie speak!), added sound effects and a musical score of his own composition, and re-edited, rearranged, and trimmed certain sequences.  Furthermore, by adding sound the film required projection at 24 frames per second, speeding up the action and reducing the film's overall running time.  All told, the 1942 re-release plays seven minutes shorter than the original and is a huge disappointment compared to this original 1925 version.  What's worse, until very recently the sound version has been the only version available for theatrical screening.

But wait!  It's a Christmas miracle!  This week the San Rafael Film Center is screening a beautiful  newly restored 35mm print of the original silent version.  The excised footage has been restored, the narration removed, and with the permission of the Chaplin estate, composer Timothy Brock has extended Chaplin's 1942 orchestral score to accommodate is original 90 minute length.

The Gold Rush plays through Thursday at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center (1118 Fourth Street).  Info and showtimes:

Happy Holidays!

December 9, 2011

Solve the Mystery! Name the Stars!

Advertising slide for Movie Star Dance (April 28, 1917)
It's time for audience participation!  Can you name these six dancing stars?  In 1917 their images alone were (presumably) enough to sell the show.  That must have been the case since the advertiser found it unnecessary to include their names in the advertising slide.  Apparently he slept through the lesson where they taught the the Four W's of Advertising.

Through diligent research (meaning that I asked my good friend David Kiehn) we have confirmed identification for 4/6 of the cameos.  I'm kicking myself for missing one that I should have recognized immediately, but the others would definitely have taken some digging.

Have you figured them out yet?

Still scratching your head?

The year 1917 was just the beginning for these four, all went on to long and successful careers in film, and even television for two of them.

I'm stalling now, giving you time to think.

Seriously, you don't recognize any of them?

How about a list of their most recents films at the time of the dance?

  • Susie, The Sleuth (April 16, 1917)  [Vitagraph] 
  • Sleeping Fires (April 15, 1917)  [Famous Players]
  • The Hawk (April 23, 1917)   [Vitagraph]
  • God's Man (April 1917)   [Frohman Amusement]

 Give up?

The four stars identified thus far are: Pauline Frederick (top right), Antonio Moreno (bottom left), Edward Earle (bottom middle) and Earle Williams (bottom right).

And now the fun really begins!  ...who are the other two?  ...the women at the top left and center?

Solve the mystery by entering your answer as a comment below.

Please hurry, I'm dying to know.


UPDATE: December 11, 2011

Peggy Hyland
(top center in slide)
Alice Brady
(top left in slide)
We have a winner!  Many many thanks to Mary who dug in and found reference to this event in the April 21, 1917 issue of Moving Picture World.  The two missing pieces of our puzzle are Alice Brady (top left) and Peggy Hyland (top center).

The dance held in the Baltimore Lyric Theatre and was apparently quite the affair, including a "grand march" that preceded the festivities.  Other participating stars not included in this slide were: Ethel Clayton, Anita Stewart, Carlyle Blackwell, Thomas Meighan, and Robert Warwick.

Undoubtedly a good time was had by all.

Moving Picture World, April 21, 1917, page 406