'Dirty Harry' Among Films Enshrined in National Film Registry
Samsara: Death and Rebirth in Cambodia (1990)
International relief worker Ellen Bruno’s master’s thesis at Stanford University documents the struggle of the Cambodian people to rebuild a shattered society in the aftermath of Pol Pot’s killing fields. “Samsara” is a Sanskrit term that means “circle” or “wheel” and is commonly translated as “cycle of existence.” Bruno fleshes out this concept by using ancient Buddhist teachings and folklore to provide a context for Cambodia’s struggle. Described as poetic, heartbreaking and evocative, the film brings a humanistic perspective to the political chaos of Southeast Asia with a deliberate, reflective and sometimes dreamlike pace as it intertwines the mundane realities of daily life with the spiritual beliefs of the Khmer people. One reviewer reflected, “The meditative pacing, the rhythm of bells and chimes, the luxuriant green landscape, the otherworldly response to horrific recent history -- I was transported not just to a faraway place but to an altered consciousness.”
Along with sex, lies, and videotape (1989), Slacker is widely regarded as a touchstone in the blossoming of American independent cinema during the 1990s. A free-floating narrative, the film follows a colorful and engaging assortment of characters in Austin throughout the course of a single day as they ruminate on UFOs, Scooby-Doo, Leon Czolgosz and many other things. Shot on 16mm film with a budget of $23,000, director Linklater dispensed with a structured plot in favor of interconnected vignettes. This resulted in a film of considerable quirky charm that has influenced a generation of independent filmmakers. Slacker eventually was picked up by distributor Orion and earned more than $1 million at the box office.
Sons of the Desert (1933)
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, along with comedian Charley Chase, star in this riotous comedy of fraternity and marital mishaps. Helmed by veteran comedy director William A. Seiter for Hal Roach Studios, Sons of the Desert successfully incorporated into a feature-length film many of the comedic techniques that had made Laurel & Hardy such masters of short-subject humor. The film was ranked among the top 10 box-office hits after its release. Film scholars and fans consider it to be the duo’s finest feature.
The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973)
When The Spook Who Sat by the Door was restored for DVD release in 2004, The New York Times called it “a story of black insurrection too strong for 1973.” Based on a controversial best-selling 1969 novel by Sam Greenlee and with a subtly effective score by jazz legend Herbie Hancock, the film presents the story of a black man hired to integrate the CIA who uses his counter-revolutionary training to spark a black nationalist revolution in America’s urban streets. Financed mostly by individual African-American investors, some commentators lambasted the film for its sanctioning of violence, and United Artists pulled the movie from theaters after a successful three-week run. Others appreciated its significance. Washington Post journalist Adrienne Manns, a former spokesperson in the black student movement, argued that the film “lends humanity to persons who are usually portrayed as vicious, savage, sub-humans -- the street gangs, the young people who have in many cities terrorized the communities they live in.” New York Times reviewer Vincent Canby commented, “The rage it projects is real.” Director Ivan Dixon, known for his roles in Hogan’s Heroes and as the lead in Nothing but a Man (1964), believed that the film did not offer “a real solution” to racial injustice but projected instead “a fantasy that everybody felt, every black male particularly.”
They Call It Pro Football (1967)
Before They Call It Pro Football premiered, football films were little more than highlight reels set to the oom-pah of a marching band. In 1964, National Football League commissioner Pete Rozelle agreed to the formation of NFL Films. With a background in public relations, he recognized that the success of the league depended on its image on television, which required creating a mystique. They Call It Pro Football, the first feature by NFL Films, looked at the game “in dramaturgical terms,” capturing the struggle, not merely the outcome, of games played on the field. Written and produced by Steve Sabol, directed by John Hentz and featuring the commanding cadence of narrator John Facenda and the music of Sam Spence, the film presented football on an epic scale and in a way rarely seen by the spectator. Telephoto lenses brought close-ups of players’ faces into viewers’ living rooms. Slow motion revealed surprising intricacy and grace. Sweeping ground-to-sky shots imparted a “heroic angle.” Coaches and players wearing microphones let the audience in on strategy and emotion. They Call It Pro Football established a mold for subsequent productions by NFL Films and has well earned its characterization as the Citizen Kane of sports movies.
The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)
Told largely with revealing news clips and archival footage interspersed with personal reminiscences, The Times of Harvey Milk vividly recounts the life of San Francisco’s first openly gay elected city official. The film, which received an Academy Award for best documentary feature, traces Harvey Milk’s ascent from Bay Area businessman to political prominence as city supervisor and his 1978 assassination (San Francisco Mayor George Moscone also was killed in the rampage by a former San Francisco supervisor who had resigned weeks earlier). While illuminating the effect that Milk had on those who knew him, the film also documents the nascent gay rights movement of the 1970s. The film, with its moving and incisive portrait of a city, a culture and a struggle -- as well as Milk’s indomitable spirit -- resonates profoundly as a historical document of a grassroots movement gaining political power through democratic means.
Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)
During a short-lived period following the success of such youth-oriented films as Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate and especially Easy Rider in the late 1960s, Hollywood executives financed -- with minimal oversight -- a spate of low-budget, innovative films by young “New Hollywood” filmmakers. With influences ranging from playwright Samuel Beckett to European filmmakers Robert Bresson, Jacques Rivette and Michelangelo Antonioni, one such film was the minimalist classic Two-Lane Blacktop. The film follows two obsessed but laconic young operators of a souped-up 1955 Chevy (singer-songwriter Taylor and Beach Boys drummer Wilson) as they engage in a cross-country race with a 1970 Pontiac GTO, whose loquacious, middle-aged driver (Warren Oates) continually reinvents his past and intended future. The drivers’ fixation on speed, mastery and competition is disrupted when a 17-year-old drifter (Laurie Bird) joins their masculine world and later leaves them in disarray. Director Monte Hellman and screenwriter Rudolph Wurlitzer allow audiences time to absorb the film’s spare landscapes, car-culture rituals and existential encounters, reflecting on the myth of freedom that life on the road traditionally has embodied.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1914)
Harriet Beecher Stowe published her great anti-slavery novel in 1852. Adapted for the stage a year later, it was continuously performed in the U.S. well into the 20th century. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was adapted to movies frequently after 1900 but always with white actors in the lead roles until this version, said to be the first feature-length American film that starred a black actor. Lucas – an actor, musician, singer and songwriter -- had become famous in the 19th century for his performances in vaudeville and minstrel shows produced by Charles Frohman. In 1878, Frohman achieved a breakthrough in American theatrical history when he staged a production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin featuring Lucas in the lead role. Thirty-six years later, Lucas was lured out of retirement by the World Producing Corp. to re-create his historic role on film and, in the process, set an important milestone in American movie history.
The Wishing Ring: An Idyll of Old England (1914)
Director Maurice Tourneur, called by film historian Kevin Brownlow “one of the men who introduced visual beauty to the American screen,” arrived in America in 1914. Previously, he was as an artist (assisting sculptor August Rodin and painter Pierre Puvis de Chavannes), actor and innovative director in French theater and cinema. Tourneur’s third American film, The Wishing Ring, was believed lost until Brownlow located a 16mm print of the film in northern England. The print subsequently was copied to 35mm by the Library of Congress as part of an effort funded by the National Endowment for the Arts to preserve America’s film heritage. At the time of its initial release, the film was admired for its light and pleasing cross-class romantic story, its fresh performances and the authenticity of its “Old England” settings -- though it was shot in New Jersey. Historians of silent cinema have lionized the film since its rediscovery. William K. Everson praised its “incredible sophistication of camerawork, lighting, and editing.” Richard Koszarski deemed it “an extraordinary film -- probably the high point of American cinema up to that time.”
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