Watch This: 2011 National Film Registry

Yesterday the Library of Congress announced its picks for the 2011 National Film Registry. One thing I learned recently about the Registry is that being listed as ‘culturally, historically or aesthetically significant’ makes no difference to the archival status of the films on the list and no funds are earmarked for their preservation or restoration. I had always assumed that the list ensured their safekeeping, but rather the list draws attention to the American canon of moving images in order to promote preservation more generally. Of course, the National Film Preservation Board works hard to preserve all listed titles, but in reality all film is fragile and we archivists can never assume any title is safe.

Every year’s list is controversial, but I’m steering clear of critiquing the choices of the LoC. Instead, here are some clips illustrating a few of the selected titles, which I think demonstrate the breadth and scope of the Registry.

Here’s a complete video of The Cry of the Children (George Nichols, 1912), a Thanhouser film calling for child labour reform. More can be found at the thanhouser.org official Vimeo group.

Surely all the Disney classics have a place in the Registry, but this year was Bambi‘s turn for recognition. Here’s Walt in 1957 explaining how the studio used the multiplane camera to dazzling effect. NB. Discussion of Bambi begins around 04:45.

Another one for animation aficionados: Ed Catmull’s graduate student project A Computer Animated Hand (1972) is one of the world’s first CGI 3d animations.  Catmull went on to become one of the founding members of Pixar and is now also president of Walt Disney.

I would give my right arm to see the home movies of Fayard and Harold Nicholson, including their superhuman synchronisation on stage. In lieu of actual footage from their amateur films, here they are in *that* dance sequence from Stormy Weather (Andrew L. Stone, 1943).

Porgy and Bess (Otto Preminger, 1959) is a classic example of why film preservation is so important and often tragically overlooked. This Youtube rip off a bootleg VHS cannot possibly convey the spectacle of 70mm Todd-AO widescreen. However, with only one known 35mm theatrical copy in circulation, and unknown amounts of master material surviving in dubious condition, one can only hope its inclusion in the Registry will prompt a preservation and restoration effort soon.

From glorious 1950s widescreen Technicolor to low-fi 1970s grunge. I hadn’t seen George Kuchar’s short film from 1977 I, an Actress before, so this is one instance where the Registry has broadened my cinematic experience. The film is a curious portrayal of the artifice of screen acting, and its inclusion in the Registry is a timely nod to Kuchar, who died earlier this year. RIP George.