Wednesday, December 14, 2016

National Film Registry Class of 2016

A relatively new end-of-year ritual in the U.S. is the naming of the latest films added to the Library of Congress's National Film Registry of movies with historic or artistic significance worthy of government-funded preservation. Following last year's list I chose 50 titles from the LOC websites' list of potentially worthy films as the most deserving of immediate inclusion. Three of those movies have made the 2016 list: Edwin S. Porter's early narrative film The Life of An American Fireman (1903), D. W. Griffith's innovative crime picture The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912), and Buster Keaton's comic disaster picture Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928). My other 47 are still waiting. My problem, of course, is that I prioritize the past, presuming that the older stuff is by definition more historic and probably more in need of committed preservation, while the Registry often offers clickbait selections -- relatively recent popular films of dubious historic value but potential cultural importance that get the headlines in news reports and, so I suppose it's hoped, draw casual readers' attention to the complete list. I nominated nothing more recent than 1943 last year, but all but seven of this year's selections were made after that year. Many of these are films of lasting popularity, but I still question whether that alone should earn some of them places in this official canon. This year's selections are at the top of the list at the Registry web site; they include such modern touchstones as The Breakfast Club, The Princess Bride, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Thelma and Louise and The Lion King. Worthy as you may think some or all of these, I can't help thinking that they've butted ahead, or were escorted ahead of films at least equally deserving that have waited longer. On the other hand, the Registry is usually good about including documentary films and home movies of more obvious historical significance, even if a few selections each year forced me to do Google searches. Those informed me that Suzanne, Suzanne (1982) was a pioneer documentary addressing the linkage of drug abuse and abusive parenting, while the Reverend Solomon Sir Jones collection (see the films themselves here) includes very rare home movies of life in a 1920s black community in Oklahoma. Other documentaries added this year include the punk chronicle The Decline of Western Civilization (1981), the satirical compilation The Atomic Cafe (1982) and the drag-queen picture Paris Is Burning (1990). Then there are selections that are utterly whimsical or just plain nuts. To that category belongs the early Vitaphone vaudeville short The Beau Brummels (1928), starring the team of Shaw & Lee, which must be seen to be explained, to the extent that explanation is possible. Fortunately, lolevy uploaded the thing to YouTube, marred only slightly by some screen graphics. I'll leave you to look at it with the thought that it will definitely throw you back to a possibly unfathomable time.

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