Wednesday, December 12, 2018

National Film Registry Class of 2018

A large bloc of "Movie To Be Announced" on the cable guide for TCM reminded me that the time had come for 25 more films of reputed historical value to be added to the Library of Congress's National Film Registry, and for some of them to play on the movie channel later today. As usual, we have an eclectic lot chosen according to criteria of generic and demographic diversity rather than by the sort of chronological priority that arguably should prevail when films are designated for preservation. I have no problem with any of this year's "diversity" choices (the headliner in that category is Brokeback Mountain), but as far as mainstream Hollywood is concerned this may be the most "meh" selection ever, ranging from a seemingly random Viola Dana picture from 1917 (The Girl Without a Soul -- not a horror film) to the stolid George Cukor musical My Fair Lady (which I suppose qualifies on the strength of its best picture Oscar) to the bland Broadcast News. The Registry has dutifully added another Keaton, another Welles, another Hitchcock and another Kubrick, but nothing seems historic about it. The two films that strike me as most deserving of the bunch are the documentary features Monterey Pop and Hearts and Minds, though I can't argue either with the 1908 actuality footage of an expedition to the Crow Nation or the supposed first-ever footage, from 1898, of a black couple kissing. More than ever, with the exceptions mentioned, the Registry announcement seems merely like a list of "great" movies, though the greatness of some (One-Eyed Jacks?) will remain subject to debate. Another look at the Registry website's list of "Some Films Not Yet Named to the Registry" reminds me that the annual selection could be far more exciting from a historical standpoint, though also probably far less compelling for the casual movie fan whose attention the curators crave. Of the 50 I selected from that list in 2015, only one -- Steamboat Bill Jr. -- has been added to the Registry. I realize my error, of course. I started from the beginning and made it to fifty films by 1943. That was very elitist of me, I guess.

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