Sci-fi given some space in Registry


It was "Back to the Future" in more ways than one when the Library of Congress added to the National Film Registry the popular 1985 comedy that helped introduce the world to product endorsement and advanced special effects.

Thursday's list of 25 films brings to 475 the number of "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant films selected by the Librarian of Congress to be preserved for all time.

The Robert Zemeckis film with its memorable Pepsi push wasn't the only icon of that era selected: Steven Spielberg's 1977 hit "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" also was included.

"We're always a little short on the science fiction genre, and this year we wanted to get more entries from the 1970s," National Film Preservation Board staff director Stephen Leggett said.

Among the films also selected were car-chase classic "Bullitt" (1968); "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" (1962), John Ford's last great Western; Kevin Costner's epic "Dances With Wolves" (1990); New York film noir "The Naked City" (1948); Sidney Lumet's claustrophobic courtroom drama "12 Angry Men"; Humphrey Bogart's Hollywood satire "In a Lonely Place" (1950); Rodgers & Hammerstein's musical "Oklahoma!" (1955); the star-studded "Grand Hotel" (1932); William Wyler's "Wuthering Heights" (1939); and the Bette Davis masterpiece "Now, Voyager" (1942).

The films selected aren't necessarily the "best" or most popular films made, the Library noted, but are chosen for their artistic character, historical significance or their reflection of both the good and bad sides of American culture.

While Michael J. Fox's Marty McFly in "Back to the Future" tried to get back to the present day and Richard Dreyfuss' Ray Neary demanded to "speak to the man in charge" in "Close Encounters," the characters most remembered from "Bullitt" might have been a Dodge Charger and a Ford Mustang.

The film's 11-minute chase scene cemented Steve McQueen's iconic status, vindicated British director Peter Yates' decision to shoot the film in San Francisco instead of New York or Los Angeles and turned the Bay Area city into a prime location for movie shoots.

The latest list also bookends one of Hollywood's most enduring genres as two Westerns made 30 years apart made the cut.

"Liberty Valance" explored the end of the Wild West and its takeover by civilization and gave America one of its enduring taglines: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

"Dances With Wolves" comes at the other end of the shelf as it sought to rewrite the myth of the American West and helped revive the Western as a salable genre.

"The Western had died out," Leggett said. " 'Dances With Wolves' and later 'The Unforgiven' revived it. Kevin Costner spent a lot of years and money getting it done."

When narrator/producer Mark Hellinger tells us, "There are 8 million stories in the Naked City; this has been one of them," we know we've been on a trip to the dark side. Director Jules Dassin captured the spirit of film noir, using documentary techniques to tell the story of a murder and its investigation. It forever changed the way police were portrayed in film and how fictional crimes were solved, and its impact can be seen on TV today with the "CSI" franchise.

"No one had done a film where the real hero was a hard-working police detective, like the ones I knew in Brooklyn," said Malvin Wald, one of the film's writers. "We knew we were making a new genre that became the police procedural."

Wald told The Hollywood Reporter that his knowledge of Brooklyn, the filmmakers' willingness to learn how the police really operate and the fact that he'd been a postal inspector, "a civil servant, just like them," managed to get him unheard-of access to active cases.

"When I met Inspector (Joseph) Donovan (of the NYPD), he said to me, 'Oh, you picture guys always make cops looks so stupid like we couldn't find a sail in the Navy yard,' " Wald said.

The title and famous voice-over had their own share of serendipity. The title came from a book of pictures made by the street photographer Weegee. "It was just such a great title, very poetical," he said.

Wald said he filled several notebooks while combing the streets with the cops. Wald and Hellinger were talking about them, when Hellinger asked if he had any good stories.

"I told him I guess I had eight million stories," Wald recounted. "He said, 'Don't give me eight million, give me one.' Later, he called me and said he remembered what I said and he was going to use it."

While feature films always make up a big part of each year's list, Disney's groundbreaking short animated film "The Three Little Pigs" also was selected. The 1933 film shows how Walt Disney's filmmaking evolved. The popular "Pigs" proved a landmark, as each pig had a distinct personality. The film struck a chord in Depression-era America as its title tune, "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf," became an anthem.

Hollywood films bring attention and headlines to the national effort to preserve films, but it is those films that probably need the least support.

"Even as Americans fill the movie theaters to see the latest releases, few are aware that up to half the films produced in this country before 1950 — and as much as 90% of those made before 1920 — are lost forever," Librarian of Congress James Billington said. "The National Film Registry seeks not only to honor these films, but to ensure that they are preserved for future generations to enjoy."

With the passage of decades, more films are vanishing because of deterioration of the nitrate stock on which older films were shot, or because of the more recently discovered "vinegar syndrome," which threatens the acetate-based stock on which most motion pictures were reproduced.

"Our Day" is one of those films that are most at risk. A home movie made by Wallace Kelly in 1938, it depicts a day in the life of his family shown in both idealized and comic ways. The silent 16mm film uses creative editing, lighting and camera techniques comparable to what professionals were doing in Hollywood.

Each year, hundreds of titles are nominated by the public. The librarian makes the final selection after reviewing public input and discussing the films with the members of the National Film Preservation Board and the Library's staff.


Back to the Future (1985)

Bullitt (1968)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)

Dances With Wolves (1990)

Days of Heaven (1978)

Glimpse of the Garden (1957)

Grand Hotel (1932)

The House I Live In (1945)

In a Lonely Place (1950)

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

Mighty Like a Moose (1926)

The Naked City (1948)

Now, Voyager (1942)

Oklahoma! (1955)

Our Day (1938)

Peege (1972)

The Sex Life of the Polyp (1928)

The Strong Man (1926)

Three Little Pigs (1933)

Tol'able David (1921)

Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son (1969-71)

12 Angry Men (1957)

The Women (1939)

Wuthering Heights (1939)