I have a hunch that Saving Mr. Banks is not going to be inducted into the National Film Registry anytime soon. Not that I didn’t enjoy it, especially the acerbic but layered performance by Emma Thompson. She certainly made me want to know more about P.L. Travers, a woman who apparently brought her own all-too-real backstory to her timeless fantasy creation, Mary Poppins. But the endearing film from Disney, featuring Uncle Walt genially twisting Travers’ arm in order to get her flying nanny onscreen, is probably too slight (and too self-congratulatory) to live on. The flashbacks, though beautifully wrought, didn’t entirely convince me. And the day-to-day glimpses of the pre-production process -- involving screenwriter Don DaGradi and the musical Sherman brothers – were candy-coated, no question. I must admit, though, that for a Mary Poppins fan like me, it was wonderful to relive the evolution of those timeless tunes, even if what I was seeing on screen added a spoonful of sugar to the act of artistic collaboration.
I mention the National Film Registry here because the end of 2013 brought the annual announcement of new inductees. The twenty-five-year-old Registry, sponsored by the Library of Congress, includes American-made films deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” enough to warrant preservation in the library’s archives. The 25 films chosen are always an eclectic lot, including Hollywood hits, tough-minded documentaries, obscure art films, and even home movies that have something important to say about the American past. Highlights of the 2013 list include Gilda (film noir at its finest), along with The Quiet Man (a rare John Wayne comedy, directed by John Ford), and Forbidden Planet (a sci-fi classic imaginatively based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest). The Magnificent Seven and Pulp Fiction made the list too, as did Michael Moore’s controversial Roger and Me. Among the silent films inducted, one stand-out is Daughter of Dawn, a recently discovered 1920 love story performed by an all Native-American cast. There’s also a collection of films featuring early Martha Graham dance performances, as well as The Hole, John and Faith Hubley’s 1962 Oscar-winning animated meditation on the threat of nuclear catastrophe.
As always, there were several films whose inclusion thrilled me on a personal level. I was delighted to see Mary Poppins on the list, both because of its artistry (especially its brilliant blend of animation and live action) and because it meant so much to me years ago. When I was a high school senior, my friends and I saw this movie multiple times. I think we realized that we were trembling on the brink of adulthood. Mary Poppins allowed us to briefly hold back time and revel in the innocence that would soon no longer be ours.
On the other hand, Mike Nichols’ brilliant screen adaptation of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? introduced us young souls to the world of grown-ups in the most dramatic way possible. And as someone who appreciates the unabashed humanism of Stanley Kramer’s output, I was happy to see recognition for Judgment at Nuremberg, which takes to heart the moral issues raised by the rise and fall of Nazism.
Then there’s “The Lunch Date,” a 1989 student film by Adam Davidson that in ten minutes (and on a very low budget) manages to say a great deal about race and class. The filmmaker is the son of L.A. theatre legend Gordon Davidson and his publicist-wife Judi, who’s a friend. I tip my hat to the Davidsons. And a New Year salute to parents of talented children who much too rarely get the recognition they deserve. All hail! (See below, and enjoy!)