Friday, December 30, 2011

The National Film Registry: Saluting Movies that Made the Cut in 2011

‘Tis the season. In the mail yesterday I received a fascinating handmade what-is-it? from some good friends in Georgia. My email inbox contained a less tangible gift for me and my fellow film buffs: a list of the 2011 selections for the National Film Registry. Annually since 1988, the Library of Congress has chosen twenty-five films of cultural, historical, or aesthetic significance it plans to preserve for future generations. As always, the titles on the list vary widely, from silent comedies (1912’s A Cure for Pokeritis) to landmark social-problem films (1945’s The Lost Weekend); from classic animation (1942’s Bambi) to sci-fi epics (1953’s The War of the Worlds). Documentaries and experimental films are also represented, along with Hollywood blockbusters (1994’s Forrest Gump) and such oddities as the tapdancing Nicholas Brothers’ family home movies.

Naturally, I couldn’t help scanning the list for movies with a Roger Corman connection. Roger himself made the cut in 2005 with the first of his Poe films, House of Usher. (I personally had the pleasure of giving him the good news.) Among the 2011 entries, the unofficial Roger Corman Alumni Association is well represented. One honoree is Norma Rae, the inspirational 1979 drama about a young woman coming into her own as a union activist in a Southern textile mill. Norma Rae may best be remembered for Sally Field’s Oscar-winning performance, but the film was produced by two women, Tamara Asseyev and Alex Rose, who earned their stripes on such Corman exploitation fare as Sweet Kill.

Also on the 2011 list is a great 1981 horror-fest, The Silence of the Lambs. Of course it was directed by Jonathan Demme, who began as a Corman publicist, then quickly moved into screenwriting, and almost immediately won the chance to direct a women-in-prison flick, Caged Heat. I well remember Jonathan wandering the halls of New World Pictures. In those days his hair was shaggy and he favored brown-and-white saddle oxfords. He has since improved his sartorial taste, but he continues to be grateful to the man who kickstarted his career. In fact, Roger appears briefly in Silence of the Lambs as the head of the FBI. And Jonathan has entrusted him with other roles too, including a featured appearance as a crafty businessman who takes the witness stand in Philadelphia.

I mst admit, though, that I was most tickled by the naming of one of my favorite small films, 1975’s Hester Street. Made on the proverbial shoestring, Hester Street is based on an 1898 short story by journalist Abraham Cahan that chronicles the sometimes painful adjustment of Eastern European Jews newly arrived in America. Filmmaker Joan Micklin Silver shot in black-and-white on the streets of New York’s Lower East Side, using actors who learned Yiddish to play their roles. Cleverly Silver shifted the focus of the story from the assimilated husband to his greenhorn spouse, thus highlighting the way an old-world wife must evolve to become acceptably American. With Carol Kane exquisite (and Oscar-nominated) in the central role, the film is a treat. And for every American who comes from immigrant stock – and hey, that’s most of us! – Hester Street may be as close as we’ll get to knowing what it feels like to be just off the boat.

How do National Registry films get chosen? The American moviegoing public can help suggest future candidates by going to a special Library of Congress site. Maybe if there’s a groundswell of popular support, Roger Corman classics like Little Shop of Horrors, The Intruder, The Wild Angels and The Trip might get the recognition they so richly deserve.


  1. My vote would definitely go to THE INTRUDER. Excellent movie. I honestly believe Shatner to be a fine actor despite so many folks seeing him as a human ham sandwich. He was deliciously evil in that movie and I certainly wasn't expecting it the first time I saw it.

    NORMA RAE I saw for the first time about a year ago. It's not a movie I normally go out of my way to watch, but it definitely had heart and soul. Speaking of Sally Field, I also have her in STAY HUNGRY on my DVR. I haven't watched it all yet, but it's highly entertaining.

    And speaking of the Registry, I did a post in December of 2010--something of a departure from what I normally post--about 20 of the most quintessentially American movies of all time. I imagine it will only be a matter of time before the Registry begins accepting alternative cinema in much the same fashion as Turner Classic Movies; they having embraced the wilder, but no less engrossing and delightfully macabre side of movies.

  2. I'd love to see that post, Brian. Can you provide a link? And, by the way, Happy New Year (a bit in advance)!

  3. Sure, it's here...

    And Happy New Year to you and your family as well! :)

  4. Great list, Brian. I think all movie fans should know these films. For what it's worth, there's only one star who appears in two films on your list. Natalie Wood has major roles in both "Rebel Without a Cause" and "The Searchers." What does this mean? I have no idea!

  5. I had actually thought about doing a follow up with either 10 or maybe 20 additional pictures. Oh, that's right about Natalie Wood! And with her in the news again lately...What could that possibly mean? I, too, have no idea! There's actually a third film of hers that's mentioned in one of the paragraphs--MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET! A lovely actress, though. My grandmother has/had great admiration for her back in the day.

  6. I second the vote for The Intruder! Not only is it a socially significant motion picture with a dead serious William Shatner performance - it is also the only movie Roger Corman admits to losing money on - so that makes it doubly in need of recognition!