The Library of Congress has announced 25 films selected for preservation in the 2013 National Film Registry. Take a look at some of the more notable selections, from "Pulp Fiction" to "Mary Poppins," and what the Library of Congress had to say about each of them.
"Forbidden Planet" (1956) Directed by Fred M. Wilcox, MGM's "Forbidden Planet" is one of the seminal science-fiction films of the 1950s, a genre that found itself revitalized and empowered after World War II and within America's newly created post-nuclear age. Loosely based upon William Shakespeare's "The Tempest," "Forbidden Planet" is both sci-fi saga and allegory, a timely parable about the dangers of unlimited power and unrestrained technology. Since its production, the movie has proved inspirational to generations of speculative fiction visionaries, including Gene Roddenberry. Along with its literary influence, highly influential special effects and visual style, the film also pushed the boundaries of cinematic science fiction. For the first time, all action happened intergalatically (not on Earth) and humans are depicted as space travelers, regularly jetting off to the far reaches of the cosmos. Additionally, "Forbidden Planet" is remembered for its innovative score—or lack thereof. No music exists on the film's soundtrack; instead, all ambient sounds are "electronic tonalities" created by Louis and Bebe Barren. Walter Pidgeon, Leslie Nielsen, Anne Francis and, in his debut, Robbie the Robot make up the film's cast.
"Gilda" (1946) With the end of World War II came a dark edge in the American psyche and a change in the films it produced. Film noir defined the 1940s and "Gilda" defined the Hollywood glamorization of film noir—long on sex appeal but short on substance. Director Charles Vidor capitalizes on the voyeuristic and sadomasochistic angles of film noir—and who better to fetishize than Rita Hayworth, poured into a strapless black satin evening gown and elbow-length gloves, sashaying to "Put the Blame on Mame." George Macready and Glenn Ford round out the tempestuous triangle, but "Gilda" was and, more than 65 years later, still is all about Hayworth.
"Judgment at Nuremberg" (1961) Selecting as its focus the "Justices Trial" of the post-World War II Nuremberg war crimes tribunal, rather than the more publicized trials of major Nazi war criminals, "Judgment at Nuremberg" broadened its scope beyond the condemnation of German perpetrators to interrogate the concept of justice within any modern society. Conceived by screenwriter Abby Mann during the period of McCarthyism, the film argues passionately that those responsible for administering justice also have the duty to ensure that human-rights norms are preserved even if they conflict with national imperatives. Mann's screenplay, originally produced as a Playhouse 90 teleplay, makes "the value of a single human being" the defining societal value that legal systems must respect. "Judgment at Nuremberg" startled audiences by including in the midst of its narrative seven minutes of film footage documenting concentration camp victims, thus using motion-picture evidence to make its point both in the courtroom and in movie theaters. Mann and actor Maximilian Schell received Academy Awards and the film boasted fine performances from its all-star cast.
"The Magnificent Seven" (1960) The popularity of this Western, based on Akira Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai" (1954), has continued to grow since its release due in part to its role as a springboard for several young actors on the verge of successful careers: Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn and Horst Buchholz. The film also gave a new twist to the career of Yul Brynner. Brynner bought the rights to Kurosawa's original story and hand-picked John Sturges as its director. Sturges had earned a reputation as a solid director of Westerns such as "Bad Day at Black Rock" (1955) and "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" (1957). Transporting the action from Japan to Mexico, where it was filmed on location, the story portrays a gang of paid gunslingers hired by farmers to rout the bandits pillaging their town. Contributing to the film's popular appeal through the decades is Elmer Bernstein's vibrant score, which would go on to become the theme music for Marlboro cigarette commercials from 1962 until cigarette advertising on television was banned in 1971.
"Mary Poppins" (1964) Alleged to be Walt Disney's personal favorite from all of his many classic films, "Mary Poppins" is based upon a book by P.L. Travers. With Travers' original tale as a framework, screenwriters Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi, with the aid of songwriters the Sherman Brothers (Richard M. and Robert B.), fashioned an original movie musical about a most unusual nanny. Weaving together a witty script, an inventive visual style and a slate of classic songs (including "A Spoonful of Sugar" and "Chim Chim Cher-ee"), "Mary Poppins" is a film that has enchanted generations. Equal parts innocent fun and savvy sophistication, the artistic and commercial success of the film solidified Disney's knack for big-screen, non-cartoon storytelling and invention. With its seamless integration of animation with live action, the film prefigured thousands of later digital and CGI-aided effects. With its pitch-perfect cast, including Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, Jane Darwell, Glynis Johns and Ed Wynn, "Mary Poppins" has remained a "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" achievement.
"Midnight" (1939) Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche and John Barrymore light up the screen in this Mitchell Leisen romantic comedy. Liesen is often described as a "studio contract" director—a craftsman with no particular aesthetic vision or social agenda who is efficient, consistent, controlled, with occasional flashes of panache. Leisen's strength lay in his timing. He claimed he established the pace of a scene by varying the tone and cadence of his voice as he called "ready…right…action!" This technique served to give the actors a proper "beat" for the individual shot. In addition to Leisen's timing, "Midnight" also boasts a screenplay by the dynamic duo of Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett. Hilarity ensues when penniless showgirl Colbert impersonates a Hungarian countess, aided by the aristocratic Barrymore, until, despite her best efforts, she falls for a lowly taxi driver (Ameche) —all this amidst a Continental sumptuousness abundant in Paramount pictures of that era. The staggering number of exceptional films released in 1939 has caused this little gem to be overlooked. However, in its day, the New York Times called "Midnight" "one of the liveliest, gayest, wittiest and naughtiest comedies of a long hard season." Reportedly unhappy with Leisen’s script changes, Wilder found the motivation to assert more creative control by becoming a director himself.
"Pulp Fiction" (1994) By turns utterly derivative and audaciously original, Quentin Tarantino's mordantly wicked Möbius strip of a movie influenced a generation of filmmakers and stands as a milestone in the evolution of independent cinema in the United States, making it one of the few films on the National Film Registry as notable for its lasting impact on the film industry as its considerable artistic merits. Directed by Tarantino from his profane and poetic script, "Pulp Fiction" is a beautifully composed tour-de-force, combining narrative elements of hardboiled crime novels and film noir with the bright widescreen visuals of Sergio Leone. The impact is profound and unforgettable.
"The Quiet Man" (1952) Never one to shy away from sentiment, director John Ford used "The Quiet Man" with unadulterated adulation to pay tribute to his Irish heritage and the grandeur of the Emerald Isle. With her red hair ablaze against the enveloping lush green landscapes, Maureen O'Hara embodies the mystique of Ireland, as John Wayne personifies the indefatigable American searching for his ancestral roots, with Victor Young's jovial score punctuating their escapades. The film and the locale are populated with characters bordering on caricature. Sly, whiskey-loving matchmaker Michaleen O'Flynn (Barry Fitzgerald), the burly town bully Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen) and the put-upon but patient Widow Tillane (Mildred Natwick) are the most vivid. Beautifully photographed in rich, saturated Technicolor by Winton C. Hoch, with picturesque art direction by Frank Hotaling, "The Quiet Man" has become a perennial St. Patrick's Day television favorite.
"The Right Stuff" (1983) At three hours and 13 minutes, Philip Kaufman's adaptation of Tom Wolfe's novel is an epic right out of the Golden Age of Hollywood, but thanks to its assortment of characters and human drama, it rarely drags. Director/screenwriter Kaufman ambitiously attempts to boldly go where few epics had gone before as he recounts the nascent Space Age. He takes elements of the traditional Western, mashes them up with sophisticated satire and peppers the concoction with the occasional subversive joke. As a result, Kaufman (inspired by Wolfe) creates his own history, debunking a few myths as he creates new ones. At its heart, "The Right Stuff" is a tribute to the space program's role in generating national pride and an indictment of media-fed hero worship. Remarkable aerial sequences (created before the advent of CGI) and spot-on editing team up to deliver a movie that pushes the envelope.
"Roger & Me" (1989) After decades of product ascendancy, American automakers began facing stiff commercial and design challenges in the late 1970s and 1980s from foreign automakers, especially the Japanese. Michael Moore's controversial documentary chronicles the human toll and hemorrhaging of jobs caused by these upheavals, in this case the firing of 30,000 autoworkers by General Motors in Moore's hometown of Flint, Michigan. As a narrative structure, Moore uses a comic device sometimes found in political campaign commercials, weaving a message around trying to find the person responsible for a wrong, in this case General Motors Chairman Roger Smith. "Roger & Me" is take-no-prisoners, advocacy documentary filmmaking, and Moore makes no apologies for his brazen, in-your-face style—he would argue the situation demands it. The themes of unfairness, inequality and the unrealized attainment of the American Dream resonate to this day, while the consequences of ferocious auto-sector competition continue, playing a key long-term role in the city of Detroit's recent filing for bankruptcy protection.
"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1966) Edward Albee's 1962 stage triumph made a successful transfer to the screen in this adaption written by Ernest Lehman. The story of two warring couples and their alcohol-soaked evening of anger and exposed resentments stunned audiences with its frank, code-busting language and depictions of middle-class malaise-cum-rage. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton—who were both Academy Award nominees for their work (with Taylor winning)—each achieved career high-points in their respective roles as Martha and George, an older couple who share their explosive evening opposite a younger husband and wife, portrayed by George Segal and Sandy Dennis. "Woolf's" claustrophobic staging and stark black-and-white cinematography, created by Haskell Wexler, echoed its characters' rawness and emotionalism. Mike Nichols began his auspicious screen directing career with this film, in which he was already examining the absurdities and brutality of modern life, themes that would become two of his career hallmarks.
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