Monday, January 07, 2008

National Film Registry 2007 Selections

The latest selections of the National Film Registry include many well known films: Back to the Future (1985), Bullitt (1968), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Dances With Wolves (1990), Days of Heaven (1978), Grand Hotel (1932), In a Lonely Place (1950), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), The Naked City (1948), Now, Voyager (1942), Oklahoma! (1955), 12 Angry Men (1957), The Women (1939), and Wuthering Heights (1939).

There some features that aren't quite as well known that I'd now really like to see: Dance, Girl, Dance (1940), The Strong Man (1926), and Tol’able David (1921). I'd also like to check out Charley Chase's "Mighty Like a Moose" (1926) as well as Ken Jacobs's legendary underground film, "Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son" (1969-71).

And I was pleasantly surprised to find a couple of the shorts available currently available on YouTube, namely, the lovely experimental "Glimpse of the Garden" (1957) and "The House I Live In" (1945), a fascinating glimpse into the politics of the time, featuring young Frank Sinatra (who never sounded better, in my opinion).

There's also an excerpt from the short movie "Peege" (1972), which looks wonderful.

I don't know how we'll ever get to see "Our Day" (1938), an amateur film that sounds incredible - maybe on a future Treasures anthology? Likewise, I would have had no idea where to find "The Sex Life of the Polyp" (1928), which sounded at first like an educational film but turns out to be a comedy. But The Bloodshot Eye points out it's been anthologized on The Paramount Comedy Shorts 1928-1942: Robert Benchley and the Knights of the Algonquin.. Excellent!

Below are some of the more interesting descriptions from the press release:
Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)
Although there were numerous women filmmakers in the early decades of silent cinema, by the 1930s directing in Hollywood had become a male bastion—with one exception. Dorothy Arzner graduated from editing to directing in the late 1920s, often exploring the conflicted roles of women in contemporary society. In “Dance, Girl, Dance,” her most intriguing film, two women (Lucille Ball and Maureen O’Hara) pursue life in show business from opposite ends of the spectrum: burlesque and ballet. The film is a meditation on the disparity between art and commerce. The dancers strive to preserve their own feminist integrity, while fighting for their place in the spotlight and for the love of male lead Louis Hayward.

Glimpse of the Garden (1957)
Though Marie Menken’s volatile marriage to Willard Mass served as the inspiration for playwright Edward Albee in his 1962 play, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” her surprisingly joyful and simple films rate among the more accessible works of avant-garde filmmakers. The beautifully lyrical “Glimpse of the Garden” is a serendipitous visual tour of a flower garden set to a soundtrack of bird calls.

The House I Live In (1945)
This short film directed by Mervyn LeRoy pleads for religious tolerance and won an honorary Academy Award in 1946. Singer Frank Sinatra takes a break from a recording session to tell kids that in America, there are a hundred different ways of talking and going to church—but they are all American ways. The film ends with Sinatra performing the title tune, an inspiring paean to America’s diverse cultural mosaic.

Mighty Like a Moose (1926)
Actor/director/screenwriter Charley Chase is underappreciated in the arena of early comedy shorts. Chase began his film career in the teens, working for Mack Sennett with the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Fatty Arbuckle. Moving on to the Hal Roach Studios, Chase starred in his own series of shorts. “Mighty Like a Moose,” directed by Leo McCarey, is one of the funniest of his silents. A title card at the beginning tells us this is “a story of homely people—a wife with a face that would stop a clock—and her husband with a face that would start it again.” Unbeknownst to each other Mr. and Mrs. Moose have surgery on the same day to correct his buckteeth and her big nose. They meet on the street later, but don’t recognize each other; they flirt and arrange to meet later at a party. A side-splitting series of sight gags follows including Charley’s “fight with himself.”

Our Day (1938)
Wallace Kelly of Lebanon, Kentucky, made this exquisitely crafted amateur film at home in 1938. "Our Day" is a smart, entertaining day-in-the-life portrait of the Kelly household, shown in both idealized and comic ways. This silent 16mm home movie uses creative editing, lighting and camera techniques comparable to what professionals were doing in Hollywood. His amateur cast was made up of his mother, wife, brother and pet terrier. "Our Day" also contains exceptional images of small-town Southern life, ones that counter the stereotype of impoverished people eking out a living during the Depression. The 12-minute film documents a modern home inhabited by adults with sophisticated interests (the piano, literature, croquet) and simple ones (gardening, knitting, home cooking). Kelly was also an accomplished photographer, painter, and writer. He began shooting film in 1929 and continued until the 1950s.

Peege (1972)
Director Randal Kleiser (“Grease”) crafted this renowned, extremely moving student film while at the University of Southern California. Members of a family visit their blind, dying grandmother Peege at a nursing home, but leave in despair at her condition. Remaining behind, the grandson recounts memories to Peege and manages to connect emotionally with the lonely woman and bring a smile to her face.

The Sex Life of the Polyp (1928)
Humorist Robert Benchley’s career was both varied and distinguished: essayist, member of the Algonquin Round Table, writer for Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, actor in Hollywood features ( “Foreign Correspondent”) and several dozen short comedy subjects. “The Sex Life of the Polyp,” Benchley’s second short (following “The Treasurer’s Report”) features him as a daft doctor delivering a droll but earnest lecture on polyp reproductive habits to a women’s club.

The Strong Man (1926)
Harry Langdon, widely considered one of the great silent comedians, had a career that can only be described as meteoric. A vaudevillian for much of his professional life, Harry Langdon was discovered and brought to Hollywood by Mack Sennett in the early 1920s. But he languished until lightning struck in 1925, when director Harry Edwards and then-gagman Frank Capra worked with him on three features and several shorts. The features, “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp,” “Long Pants” and “The Strong Man” put Langdon solidly into the foursome Walter Kerr calls “The Four Silent Clowns” —with Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. “The Strong Man” predated “City Lights” by several years with its plot of a meek man in love with a blind woman.

Tol'able David (1921)
Henry King (1886-1982) had a 50-year career in Hollywood, winning a reputation as one of the most talented directors in capturing the values, culture, history, personality, and character of the nation. His nostalgia was honest, and often bittersweet. In "Tol'able David," King tells a coming-of-age story about a youth who must overcome savage, bullying neighbors as he takes on his first job delivering mail in rural Virginia. "Tol'able David" was studied by Russian filmmakers of the 1920s. They were inspired by King's memorable conjunctions of shots that evoked personalities and emotions without a need for explanatory titles. "Tol'able David" remains a powerful drama and is also known for its craftsmanship, which was tremendously influential on subsequent filmmaking.



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