There are really three stories in this adorably engaging documentary about “industrial musicals,” the wildly elaborate in-house productions big corporations used to motivate their employees in the 1950’s-70’s. The first is the story of our guide to this world, Steve Young, a writer for David Letterman’s Late Show who describes himself as comedically “damaged” after years of evaluating everything in the world as comedy material. There was almost nothing that made him laugh anymore. The best he could muster was an analytic, “that’s funny.” “We’ve become hard laughs,” he tells us. Over the course of the film, he will lose the job he has had for two decades when Letterman decides to retire. The second, as in many documentaries, is the story of a tiny sub-culture of people who are deeply passionate about something the rest of the world considers odd or quirky or has never heard of. This one lives “at the far horizon where the adjectives of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ don’t apply anymore.” Young may have found them as something to laugh at but he soon develops affection and then passion for them, and by the end of the movie, we can understand why and feel some of it ourselves.
“How can there be something so large and so crazy in the world that we had no idea of?” Young asks. But the answer we get is to a different question: How can an “eccentric adventure” soothe and enlarge a “comedy-damaged” soul? By the end of the film, Young tells us that delving into this odd world has “opened up my ability to be receptive to people.” Anyone he meets can have this kind of history.
And the third is the story of the musicals themselves, often produced, directed, and performed by actual or future Broadway stars, making a very good living doing something they loved and could learn from instead of waiting tables. Just to give you an idea: one of these musicals had a budget of three million dollars. The original production of “My Fair Lady,” which opened the same season on Broadway, had a budget of $466,000. Were they works of art? Well, no, they had singing and dancing spark plugs and ballads about toilets and an opera about spaghetti sauce called “Raguletto.” But they were very professionally done, often quite clever, astonishingly elaborate, and in their own way artifacts of an era of corporate optimism that saw endless possibilities for itself as providers of consumer goods and great jobs. Of course those jobs were for white males, and the glimpses we get of the audience, all wearing near-identical suits and ties.
“I played a trick on history,” Young tells us. These shows were created for the most specific of audiences and were never intended to be seen by outsiders. The biggest surprise is that these most commercial of enterprises are so free from any kind of cynicism. There’s an innocence about them because they come from the post-WWII era, when America seemed unbeatable, and technology seemed thrilling. The “man in a grey flannel suit” corporate employees were “being shown a version of their world where they’re heroes.” If a marvelous new substance called silicone had 180 uses, why not create a song about it? What better way to introduce fabulous new products to the sales team than a catchy musical number? It may have been the “strangest dead end of show business,” with the idea of “What shouldn’t we write a musical about? Let’s write it and make it good and not let anyone see it!” But companies with lavish budgets created souvenir records for their employees to take home and that is how Young began to discover this world of unseen, un heard entertainment. Over the course of the film he tracks down some of the creators and performers, including Susan Stroman (“The Producers”), who explains that she learned a lot from choreographing industrial shows, Martin Short and Florence Henderson, who talk about the pleasures of performing for wildly enthusiastic audiences (Henderson compares it to a revival meeting), and composer Sid Siegel, who specialized in industrial musicals — and who kept a treasure trove of an archive. They were “selling Tupperware but also selling America,” and their unabashed boosterism makes it impossible to be snarky or condescending, leaving us entertained, and perhaps a little wistful.
Parents should know that this film includes brief strong language and a sad death.
Family discussion: If you were going to create a musical about your job or school, what would you sing about? Which production was your favorite?
Rated PG-13 for sequences of futuristic violence and action
Some mild language
Extended and intense fantasy/action peril and violence, bombs, explosions, knives, many characters injured and killed including parents, some grisly images
Date Released to Theaters:
December 14, 2018
Well, it looks amazing. Producer Peter Jackson has brought the same artistic vision to “Mortal Engines” that he did to the “Lord of the Rings” films. But this time the visual splendor is just too sharp a contrast with a story that is a long, long way from the deeply imagined world of Tolkien. It is based on a seven (so far) series of books by Philip Reeve about a post-apocalyptic world in which cities roll around on enormous, ravenous monster steampunk vehicles. The vehicles are pretty cool. The story is not. It’s just another derivative post-apocalyptic story about utter catastrophe and corruption, where the only hope is a small group of hot teenagers, a lesser “Hunger Games/Divergent/Maze Runner/Ender’s Game” knock-off, with a touch of “Battlefield Earth,” “Terminator,” and even a hint of the original “Star Wars” trilogy (now episodes IV and V).
We’re informed at the beginning that it took just an hour to destroy life as we know it, literally, geographically remaking the map of the world, with super-weapons that shattered the surface of the planet. Humanity has reverted to survival of the fittest, which means that there is only a very thin veneer of any kind of social structure beyond “might makes right.” London is might, and in the opening scene we see the London literal ship of state take over a smaller city/vehicle absorbing its resources, including its residents, who are “welcomed” by being turned into slave labor.
That thin veneer includes some superficial trappings of the civilization that preceded it, including “historians” who operate a “museum,” where they try to parse the meaning of the shards of 21st century life, especially the technology as it appears written records did not survive. But we will learn that the real reason for this supposed interest in the past is to get access to the very same weapons that caused the disaster. Santayana said that those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it. In this case, the only history that is studied is by those who intend to repeat it.
The real star of the film is production designer Dan Hennah. The machinery is wonderfully intricate and detailed. The settings are so gorgeously done that they just point up the under-imagined quality of the script, which is basically: A rebel girl with a scar on her face (Hera Hilmar as Hester Shaw) and a “historian” from the museum (Robert Sheehan as Tom Natsworthy) are on the run from the evil Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving), who killed Hester’s mother and tried to kill Tom. He is the one whose interest in the museum’s artifacts was just a cover for tracking down all the missing pieces to reconstruct the big blaster, but he has a nice blonde daughter named Katherine (Leila George) who gets to find out that her father has been lying to her about pretty much everything. Hester and Tom are also on the run from a Terminator-type cyborg/zombie who was once a man but is now a single-minded killing machine (Stephen Lang, warming up for “Avatar” sequels or maybe cooling down from them.
Some books are fine as they are. Some are untranslatable to the screen, and some, like this one, should stay between the covers because bringing them to life only shows how lifeless they are.
Parents should know that this movie includes intense and sometimes graphic peril and violence, murder, explosions, knives, guns, bombs, characters injured and killed including parents, and some disturbing images.
Family discussion: Why did Valentine pretend to love history? How were knowledge and ignorance of history both used by different characters?
If you like this, try: “The Maze Runner” and “City of Ember”
Rated PG for frenetic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements, and mild language
Some mild language
Comic book/action peril and violence, characters injured and killed
A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters:
December 14, 2018
The best surprise I got at a movie theater this year was “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse,” the all-around terrific new animated film that perhaps more than any superhero movie I’ve seen translates the jubilant experience of comic books to the screen. It has excitement, it has heart, it has humor, and it has a deep understanding of comics, comic culture, and Spidey himself. I was not excited about seeing yet another radioactive spider bite story, but this wildly imaginative film completely won me over and I can’t wait to see it again.
Just a bit of context: One fascinating element of comic books is that unlike any other story-telling in human history, they portray characters over decades, nearly a century in some cases, with different writers and artists telling their stories and alternative takes like “imaginary stories” with no canonic or precedential import. So, for example, Superman (and Clark Kent) began during the Depression, lived through WWII, the Cold War, the tumult of the 60’s, the yuppie years of the 80’s, went from being a newspaperman to a TV reporter to a blogger, has died and been brought back, has died and been replaced by an alternate version, and has been the subject of several television shows, movies, and even a Broadway musical from the people who brought another comic character to life in “Annie.”
Spider-Man has had one of the most successful superhero movie translations with three starring Tobey Maguire (the terrible third one is tweaked in this film), two with Andrew Garfield, and now another one plus the Avengers movies with Tom Holland. Throughout all of them, he has been the “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man,” the teenager from Queens who lives with his elderly Aunt May, has a crush on Mary Jane, gets bitten by a radioactive spider, and learns that with great power comes great responsibility. Spidey is at the heart of Marvel’s re-imagining of the superhero as young, irreverent, still learning, living in a real place rather than an imagined Gotham or Metropolis, and dealing with real-life problems as well as super-villains. Memorably, he once got paid by check but could not cash it because he had no Spider-Man ID. There are a bunch of alternate versions of Spider-Man, and we get to see many of them work together in this film.
We don’t need to go into the mumbo-jumbo here, do we? Let’s just agree that multiple universes exist and that it is possible that every action or incident splinters off another alternate timeline so that if we could just find a way to hop from one to another, we could find the one where, say, Hitler never assumed power in Germany or where the government regulated sub-prime derivatives and prevented the financial meltdown of 2008. A mob boss in New York known as Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) wants to find the parallel universe, not, for once a super-villain who wants total world domination but because he wants to find the world where his wife was not killed. But his efforts open up portals to other Spider-Men (and a Spider-pig and Spider-girls) who get catapulted into this universe just as our Spidey (Chris Pine) dies (!!!), telling the newest radioactive spider-bite victim, Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) that he has to carry on.
Miles can’t even manage carrying on his regular life. He’s the son of a black cop (Brian Tyree Henry) who considers Spider-Man a lawless disruption and a Puerto Rican nurse mother (Luna Lauren Velez). Miles is under a lot of pressure because has just started at a new magnet school for gifted kids and because he knows his parents would not approve of the time he spends with his uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali) tagging walls with graffiti.
The style of contemporary animation is usually hyper-reality, with every hair on every head moving and shining just as it does in real life. The style of this film is exuberantly stylized, comic-book style, and it is thrilling to see it translated to screen so skillfully. The interactions with the variations of Spidey are clever and exciting and the movie is serious about its world and its story and characters, but never about itself, which is very comic book-y, too. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is the happiest surprise of this season, a gift that will tingle Spidey-senses in the audience.
Parents should know that this film includes extended peril and action/comic-book style violence, with characters injured and killed (it would be a PG-13 if live action), and some brief schoolyard language.
Family discussion: Which version of Spider-Man do you like best and why? What do you imagine would be your parallel in an alternate universe?
If you like this, try: the live action Spider-Man movies and the comic books
According to findings from the Creative Artists Agency and shift7, a company started by the former United States chief technology officer Megan Smith, the top movies from 2014 to 2017 starring women earned more than male-led films, whether they were made for less than $10 million or for $100 million or more.
The research also found that films that passed the Bechdel test — which measures whether two female characters have a conversation about something other than a man — outperformed those that flunked it.
That may be, as one of the study’s authors notes, that it is harder to get financing for a woman-led film, so the extra hurdles mean that only the best get made. It may be that executives are willing to bet on a film with a popular male star, even if the script is weak, but not a female star. It will be interesting to see if this research leads to any changes in the way productions are greenlit.
National Film Registry Adds “Brokeback Mountain,” “My Fair Lady,” and More
Posted on December 12, 2018 at 12:42 pm
The Library of Congress announced Wednesday that the films Jurassic Park, Brokeback Mountain and My Fair Lady are among the 25 movies tapped for preservation this year.
“These cinematic treasures must be protected because they document our history, culture, hopes and dreams,” Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress, said in a statement.
A forbidden love affair, the ravages of alcoholism, an animated classic, a kiss that broke the color barrier and dinosaurs returned from extinction represent the diversity of the class of 2018. This year’s films span 107 years, from 1898 to 2005. They include blockbusters, documentaries, silent movies, animation and independent films. The 2018 selections bring the number of films in the registry to 750, which is a small fraction of the Library’s vast moving-image collection of 1.3 million.
The public can tune into Turner Classic Movies (TCM) at 8 p.m. E.T. tonight to view a selection of motion pictures named to the registry this year. The Librarian joins movie critic Leonard Maltin to discuss the films. Also, select titles from 30 years of the National Film Registry are also freely available online in the National Screening Room. Follow the conversation about the class of 2018 on Twitter at @librarycongress and #NatFilmRegistry.
Among this year’s selections are Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 thriller “Rebecca”; film noir classics “Leave Her to Heaven” (1945) and “The Lady From Shanghai” (1947), which was directed by Orson Welles; Disney’s 1950 animation “Cinderella”; “Days of Wine and Roses,” Blake Edwards’ uncompromising commentary about alcoholism (1962); James L. Brooks’ 1987 treatise on the tumultuous world of television news, “Broadcast News” and Steven Spielberg’s groundbreaking 1993 tale about the rebirth of dinosaurs, “Jurassic Park.”
Two contemporary Western dramas headline this year’s list: the 1961 “One-Eyed Jacks,” Marlon Brando’s only directorial endeavor, and Ang Lee’s critically acclaimed “Brokeback Mountain.” Released in 2005, “Brokeback Mountain” also has the distinction of becoming the newest film on the registry while the 1891 “Newark Athlete” actuality is the oldest.
“I didn’t intend to make a statement with ‘Brokeback Mountain,’” Lee said. “I simply wanted to tell a purely Western love story between two cowboys. To my great surprise, the film ended up striking a deep chord with audiences; the movie became a part of the culture, a reflection of the darkness and light—of violent prejudice and enduring love—in the rocky landscape of the American heart. More than a decade has passed since ‘Brokeback Mountain’ was released, but I hope that this film, a small movie with wide open spaces, continues to express something both fresh and fundamental about my adopted country.”
Music is spotlighted in the popular 1949 musical “On the Town,” starring Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin as three sailors on shore leave in New York City. Also included is the seminal music-festival film “Monterey Pop,” featuring some of the biggest names in music. It was directed by D.A. Pennebaker and produced by John Phillips and Lou Adler.
“I am extremely pleased and proud as I am sure John Phillips would be that ‘Monterey Pop’ has been selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry,” said Adler. “Pleased that the film brings recognition to the artists involved in a cultural explosion of music festivals and celebrates a generation in tune with music and love.
Proud to have collaborated with D.A. Pennebaker who crafted a film that perfectly documented the time, the music and introduced a genre of film making to be honored forever…long after June 16, 17 and 18, 1967 as proven by this selection.”
“It was for us a vast undertaking,” Pennebaker said. “We were using all five of our homemade cameras, some with twelve hundred foot reels we’d never tried before, praying they’d all work, and that it turned out as wonderful as it did I can still scarcely believe. But every camera was guided by an artist, some for the first time, looking for the poetry of the music and its artists as never before. It was an inspired crew and every member of it earned this selection into the National Film Registry. They were the best.”
Several films on the registry showcased the ethnic diversity of American cinema. Footage from the Dixon-Wanamaker expedition in 1908 provides glimpses into the lives and culture of various Native American tribes. This year’s list also includes a contemporary film showcasing Native Americans in “Smoke Signals” (1998). It was the first feature film to be written, directed and co-produced by American Indians.
The 1997 “Eve’s Bayou” was written and directed by black female director Kasi Lemmons and co-produced by Samuel L. Jackson, who stars in this family drama.
“It’s such an honor to return from production on my fifth film, ‘Harriet,’ to find that my first, ‘Eve’s Bayou,’ is being included in the National Film Registry,” Lemmons said. “As a Black woman filmmaker it is particularly meaningful to me, and to future generations of filmmakers, that the Library of Congress values diversity of culture, perspective and expression in American cinema and recognizes ‘Eve’s Bayou’ as worthy of preservation. I’m thrilled that ‘Eve’s Bayou’ is being included in the class of 2018!”
The short animated film, “Hair Piece: A Film for Nappy-Headed People,” was produced by one of the first black female animators, Ayoka Chenzira. “For my independently produced animated experimental film to be included in the National Film Registry is quite an honor,” said Chenzira. “I never imagined that ‘Hair Piece’ would be considered to have cultural significance outside of its original intent, which was a conversation and a love letter to Black women (and some men) about identity, beauty and self-acceptance in the face of tremendous odds.”
African-Americans are also shown kissing in a 29-second silent film. Shot in 1898, it is the earliest known footage of black intimacy on screen. Other silent film titles include the 1917 “The Girl Without a Soul” and Buster Keaton’s 1924 “The Navigator.” In 2013, the Library of Congress released a report that conclusively determined that 70 percent of the nation’s silent feature films have been lost forever and only 14 percent exist in their original 35 mm format.
“The Informer,” the 1935 drama that takes place during the Irish Rebellion of 1922, becomes the 11thfilm directed by John Ford to be named to the registry, the most of any other director. Other titles on the registry include the 1953 “Pickup on South Street,” the 1955 “Bad Day at Black Rock” and the Academy Award-winning Vietnam documentary “Hearts and Minds” (1974), directed by Peter Davis.
Under the terms of the National Film Preservation Act, each year the Librarian of Congress names to the National Film Registry 25 motion pictures that are “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant. The films must be at least 10 years old. More information about the National Film Registry can be found at loc.gov/film.
The Librarian makes the annual registry selections after conferring with the distinguished members of the National Film Preservation Board (NFPB) and a cadre of Library specialists. Also considered were more than 6,300 titles nominated by the public. Nominations for next year will be accepted through the fall at loc.gov/programs/national-film-preservation-board/film-registry/nominate/.
In addition to advising the Librarian of Congress on the annual selection titles to the National Film Registry, the NFPB also provides counsel on national preservation planning policy. In that capacity, it issued the following statement: “In addition to its preservation message, the NFPB encourages colleges and universities to enhance their focus on the history of cinema as an original and integrated art. Visual storytelling has grown from its early 20th-century origins to become a literary medium that needs more recognition.”
Many titles named to the registry have already been preserved by the copyright holders, filmmakers or other archives. In cases where a selected title has not already been preserved, the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation works to ensure that the film will be preserved by some entity and available for future generations, either through the Library’s motion picture preservation program or through collaborative ventures with other archives, motion picture studios and independent filmmakers.
The Packard Campus is a state-of-the-art facility where the nation’s library acquires, preserves and provides access to the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of films, television programs, radio broadcasts and sound recordings (loc.gov/avconservation/). It is home to more than 7 million collection items.
The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States — and extensive materials from around the world — both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov; access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov; and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov.
2018 National Film Registry (alphabetical order)
Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) Though only 81 minutes in length, “Bad Day” packs a punch. Spencer Tracy stars as Macreedy, a one-armed man who arrives unexpectedly one day at the sleepy desert town of Black Rock. He is just as tight-lipped at first about the reason for his visit as the residents of Black Rock are about the details of their town. However, when Macreedy announces that he is looking for a former Japanese-American Black Rock resident named Komoko, town skeletons suddenly burst into the open. In addition to Tracy, the standout cast includes Robert Ryan, Anne Francis, Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine and Dean Jagger. Director John Sturges displays the western landscape to great advantage in this CinemaScope production.
Broadcast News (1987) James L. Brooks wrote, produced and directed this comedy set in the fast-paced, tumultuous world of television news. Shot mostly in dozens of locations around the Washington, D.C. area, the film stars Holly Hunter, William Hurt and Albert Brooks. Brooks makes the most of his everyman persona serving as Holly Hunter’s romantic back-up plan while she pursues the handsome but vacuous Hurt. Against the backdrop of broadcast journalism (and various debates about journalist ethics), a grown-up romantic comedy plays out in a smart, savvy and fluff-free story whose humor is matched only by its honesty.
Brokeback Mountain (2005) “Brokeback Mountain,” a contemporary Western drama that won the Academy Award for best screenplay (by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana) and Golden Globe awards for best drama, director (Ang Lee) and screenplay, depicts a secret and tragic love affair between two closeted gay ranch hands. They furtively pursue a 20-year relationship despite marriages and parenthood until one of them dies violently, reportedly by accident, but possibly, as the surviving lover fears, in a brutal attack. Annie Proulx, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the short story upon which the film was based, described it as “a story of destructive rural homophobia.” Haunting in its unsentimental depiction of longing, lonesomeness, pretense, sexual repression and ultimately love, “Brokeback Mountain” features Heath Ledger’s remarkable performance that conveys a lifetime of self-torment through a pained demeanor, near inarticulate speech and constricted, lugubrious movements. In his review, Newsweek’s David Ansen wrotes that the film was “a watershed in mainstream movies, the first gay love story with A-list Hollywood stars.” “Brokeback Mountain” has become an enduring classic.
Cinderella (1950) It would take the enchanted magic of Walt Disney and his extraordinary team to revitalize a story as old as Cinderella. Yet, in 1950, Disney and his animators did just that with this version of the classic tale. Sparkling songs, high-production value and bright voice performances have made this film a classic from its premiere. Though often told and repeated across all types of media, Disney’s lovely take has become the definitive version of this classic story about a girl, a prince and a single glass slipper. Breathtaking animation fills every scene, including what was reportedly Walt Disney’s favorite of all Disney animation sequences: the fairy godmother transforming Cinderella’s “rags” into an exquisite gown and glass slippers.
Days of Wine and Roses (1962) “Days of Wine and Roses” marked another in a series of Hollywood classics on the touchy subject of alcoholism. Previous examples on the theme include “The Lost Weekend” and “Come Back, Little Sheba.” Though his career prior to “Days” had been noted for a deft touch in light comedy, in this Academy Award-nominated performance, Jack Lemmon plays a hard-drinking San Francisco public-relations man who drags his wife Lee Remick into the horrific descent into alcoholism. Director Blake Edwards pulls no punches in this uncompromisingly bleak film. Henry Mancini composed the moving score, best remembered for the title song he and Johnny Mercer wrote, which won an Academy Award for best original song.
Dixon-Wanamaker Expedition to Crow Agency (1908) The original nitrate footage that comprises the 1908 “Dixon-Wanamaker Expedition to Crow Agency” was discovered in a Montana antique store in 1982 and subsequently donated to the Human Studies Film Archives, Smithsonian Institution. It is the only known surviving film footage from the 1908 Rodman Wanamaker-sponsored expedition to record American Indian life in the west, filmed and produced both for an educational screening at Wanamaker’s department store in Philadelphia and to document what Wanamaker and photographer Joseph K. Dixon considered a “vanishing race.” Dixon and his son Roland shot motion picture film as well as thousands of photographs (most of the photographs are archived at Indiana University). This film captures life on Crow Agency, Crow Fair and a recreation of the Battle of Little Big Horn featuring four of Custer’s Crow scouts. Films from later Wanamaker expeditions are archived at the National Archives and the American Museum of Natural History. The original film was photochemically preserved at Cinema Arts in 1983.
Eve’s Bayou (1997) Written and directed by Kasi Lemmons and co-produced by co-star Samuel L. Jackson, “Eve’s Bayou” proved one of the indie surprises of the 1990s. The film tells a Southern gothic tale about a 10-year-old African-American girl who, during one long, hot Louisiana summer in 1962, discovers some harsh truths beneath her genteel family’s fragile façade. The film’s standout cast includes Jackson, Lynn Whitfield, Debbi Morgan, Diahann Carroll, Lisa Nicole Carson, Branford Marsalis and the remarkable Jurnee Smolett, who plays the lead. The tag line of this film was very apropos: “The secrets that hold us together can also tear us apart.”
The Girl Without a Soul (1917) George Eastman Museum founding film curator James Card was a passionate devotee of silent film director John H. Collins’ work. It is through his influence that the museum is the principal repository of the director’s few extant films. As the expert on Collins’ legacy, the museum said he is “one of the great ‘What if…?’ figures of American cinema—a brilliantly creative filmmaker who went from being a costume department assistant to a major director within four short years, before dying at the age of 31 in the 1918 influenza pandemic. Collins’ films show both a subtle understanding of human nature and often breathtakingly daring cinematography and editing. The ‘Girl Without a Soul’ stars Viola Dana (to whom Collins was married) in a dual role as twin sisters, one of whom is a gifted violinist, and the other, a deeply troubled girl jealous of her sister’s abilities and the love bestowed upon her by their violinmaker father. This jealousy and the violinist sister’s unworldliness lead both into turbulent moral conflict, which takes considerable fortitude from both to overcome.” “The Girl Without a Soul” has been preserved by George Eastman Museum.
Hair Piece: A Film for Nappy-Headed People (1984) “Hair Piece” is an insightful and funny short animated film examining the problems that African-American women have with their hair. Generally considered the first black woman animator, director Ayoka Chenzira was a key figure in the development of African-American filmmakers in the 1980s through her own films and work to expand opportunities for others. Writing in the New York Times, critic Janet Maslin lauded this eccentric yet jubilant film. She notes the narrator “tells of everything from the difficulty of keeping a wig on straight to the way in which Vaseline could make a woman’s hair ”sound like the man in ‘The Fly’ saying ‘Help me!’”
Hearts and Minds (1974) Director Peter Davis describes his Academy Award-winning documentary “Hearts and Minds” (1974) as “an attempt to examine why we went to Vietnam, what we did there and what the experience did to us.” Compared by critics at the time to Marcel Ophuls’ acclaimed documentary “The Sorrow and the Pity” (1971), “Hearts and Minds,” similarly addressed the wartime effects of national myths and prejudices by juxtaposing interviews of government officials, soldiers, peasants and parents, cinéma vérité scenes shot on the home front and in South Vietnam, clips from ideological Cold War movies, and horrific archival footage. Author Frances FitzGerald praised the documentary as “the most moving film I’ve ever seen on Vietnam, because, for the first time, the camera lingers on the faces of Vietnamese and one hears their voices.” Author David Halberstam said it “brilliantly catches … the hidden, unconscious racism of the war.” Others from both ends of the political spectrum chided it as manipulative propaganda that oversimplified complexities.
Hud (1963) Paul Newman received his third Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the title character, the handsome, surly and unscrupulous bad-boy son of a Texas rancher who locks horns with his father over business and family matters. Loosely based on Larry McMurtry’s debut novel, “Horseman, Pass By,” the film received seven Academy Award nominations, winning three: Patricia Neal (best actress), Melvyn Douglas (best supporting actor) and James Wong Howe (black-and-white cinematography). Motion Picture Academy President John Bailey in 2017 chronicled the production of the film and summed up some of his impressions of the film’s relevance 55 years after its release: “Naked and narcissistic self-interest have always been a dark undercurrent to the limpid surface stream of American optimism and justice, but it is not a reach to see the character of Hud as an avatar of the troubling cynicism of that other side of American Populism — the side that espouses a fake concern for one’s fellow man while lining one’s own pockets. Hud, a lothario at the wheel of his crashed convertible, raising a shroud of dust clouds in its trail, is nothing more than a flimflam 19th century snake-oil salesman and carnival barker. His type erupts over and over onto America’s psyche like a painful pustule.”
The Informer (1935) This marks the 11th film directed by John Ford to be named to the National Film Registry, the most of any director. “The Informer” depicts with brutal realism the life of an informant during the Irish Rebellion of 1922, who turns in his best friend and then sees the walls closing in on him in return. Critic Andre Sennwald, writing in the New York Times, praised Ford’s direction: “In his hands ‘The Informer’ becomes at the same time a striking psychological study of a gutter Judas and a raw impressive picture of the Dublin underworld during the Black and Tan terror.” Ford and cinematographer Joseph August borrowed from German expressionism to convey the Dublin atmosphere. To this point, Ford had compiled a solid workmanlike career as he learned his craft. “The Informer” placed him in the top echelon of American film directors and over the next 20 years he crafted numerous other classics, from the 1939 “Stagecoach” through the 1962 “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”
Jurassic Park (1993) The concept of people somehow existing in the age of dinosaurs (or dinosaurs somehow existing in the age of people) has been explored in film and on television numerous times. No treatment, however, has ever been done with more skill, flair or popcorn-chomping excitement than this 1993 blockbuster. Set on a remote island where a man’s toying with evolution has run amok, this Steven Spielberg classic ranks as the epitome of the summer blockbuster. “Jurassic Park” was the top public vote-getter this year.
The Lady From Shanghai (1947) The camera is the star in this stylish film noir. “Lady From Shanghai” is renowned for its stunning set pieces, the “Aquarium” scene, “Hall of Mirrors” climax, baroque cinematography and convoluted plot. Director Orson Welles had burst on the scene with “Citizen Kane” in 1941 and “The Magnificent Ambersons” in 1942, but had increasingly become seen as difficult to work with by the studios. As a result, Welles spent most of his career outside the studio sphere. “The Lady From Shanghai” marked one of his last films under a major studio (Columbia) with Welles and the executives frequently clashing over the budget, final editing of the film and the release date.
Leave Her to Heaven (1945) Darkness and claustrophobia mark the visual style of many film noirs: the use of black-and-white or gloomy grays, low-key lighting, striking contrasts between light and dark, shadows, nighttime or interior settings and rain-soaked streets. “Leave Her to Heaven” proves the magnificent exception. Filmed in vibrant, three-strip Technicolor, many pivotal scenes occur in spectacular outdoor locations, shot by famed cinematographer Leon Shamroy in Arizona and California. A classic femme fatale, Gene Tierney stars as Ellen, whose charisma and stunning visage mask a possessive, sociopathic soul triggered by “loving too much.” Anyone who stands between her and those she obsessively loves tend to meet “accidental” deaths, most famously a teen boy who drowns in a chilling scene. Martin Scorsese has labeled “Heaven” as among his all-time favorite films and Tierney one of film’s most underrated actresses. “Leave Her to Heaven” makes a supremely compelling case for these sentiments.
Monterey Pop (1968) This seminal music-festival film captures the culture of the time and performances from iconic musical talent. “Monterey Pop” also established the template for multi-camera documentary productions of this kind, predating both “Woodstock” and “Gimme Shelter.” In addition to director D. A. Pennebaker, Richard Leacock, Albert Maysles and others provided the superb camerawork. Performers include Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, Hugh Masekela, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Simon and Garfunkel, and Ravi Shankar. As he recalled in a 2006 Washington Post article, Pennebaker decided to shoot and record the film using five portable 16mm cameras equipped with synchronized sound recording devices, while producers Lou Adler and John Phillips (Mamas and Papas) sagely had the whole concert filmed and recorded, and further enhanced the sound by hiring Wally Heider and his state-of-the-art mobile recording studio.
My Fair Lady (1964) In the 1950s and 1960s, besieged by shifts in demographics and having much of its audience syphoned off by television, film studios knew they had to go big in their entertainment in order to lure people back to the theater. This film version of the musical “My Fair Lady” epitomized this approach with use of wide-screen technologies. Based on the sparkling stage musical (inspired by George Bernard Shaw’s play “Pygmalion”), “My Fair Lady” came to the big screen via the expert handling of director George Cukor. Cecil Beaton’s costume designs provided further panache, along with his, Gene Allen’s and George James Hopkins’ art and set direction. The film starred Rex Harrison, repeating his career-defining stage role as Professor Henry Higgins, and Audrey Hepburn (whose singing voice was dubbed by frequent “ghoster” Marni Nixon), as the Cockney girl, Eliza Doolittle. Though opulent in the extreme, all these elements blend perfectly to make “My Fair Lady” the enchanting entertainment that it remains today.
The Navigator (1924) Buster Keaton burst onto the scene in 1920 with the dazzling two-reeler “One Week.” His feature “The Navigator” proved a huge commercial success and put Keaton in the company of Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin in terms of audience popularity and films eagerly awaited by critics. Decades after release, Pauline Kael reviewed the film: “Arguably, Buster Keaton’s finest — but amongst the Keaton riches can one be sure?” Keaton plays an inept, foppish millionaire whose idea of a marriage proposal involves crossing the street in a chauffeured car, handing flowers to his girlfriend and popping the question. Later the two accidentally become stranded at sea on an abandoned boat and Keaton proves his worth by conceiving ingenious work-arounds to ensure they survive. The silent era rarely saw films rife with more creativity and imaginative gags.
On the Town (1949) Three sailors with 24 hours of shore leave in New York doesn’t sound like much to build a film around, but when Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin portray them under the sparkling direction of Stanley Donen (and Kelly), movie magic occurs. “On the Town” was based upon the Comden and Green Broadway musical of the same name. Shot on location all over New York City, the film carries over such splendid songs as “New York, New York,” the close-to-opening iconic scene with the sailor trio performing while still in their navy togs. Female song-and-dance pros Vera-Ellen, Betty Garrett and Ann Miller match the guys step for step in the numerous musical numbers. “On the Town” represents the upbeat, post war musicals of the era, which summed up the national optimism of the period.
One-Eyed Jacks (1961) Based on the 1956 Charles Neider novel, “The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones” (a loose retelling of the story of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid), this Western marks Marlon Brando’s sole directorial effort. “One-Eyed Jacks” displays his trademark introspection and offbeat quirkiness. Brando’s novel approach to updating the Western film genre marks it as a key work in the transition period from Classic Hollywood (1930s through 1950s) to the new era that began in the 1960s and continues to the present day. As director Martin Scorsese and others have said, this evolution from “Old Hollywood” to “New Hollywood” involved a change from filmmaking primarily being about profit-making to a period when many directors create motion pictures as personal artistic expression.
Pickup on South Street (1953) Samuel Fuller’s films are sometimes compared to the pulp novels of Mickey Spillane, though Fuller’s dynamic style dwarfs Spillane. With films often crass but always provocative, Fuller described his mantra of filmmaking: “Film is like a battleground, with love, hate, action, violence, death … in one word, emotion.” Considered by some as the archetypal Sam Fuller film and a nice summary of the main themes in his work, “Pickup on South Street” is a taut, Cold War thriller. The fast-paced plot follows a professional pickpocket who accidently lifts some secret microfilm from his mark. Patriotism or profit? Soon, the thief is being pursued not only by the woman he stole from, but also by Communist spies and U.S. government agents. The film culminates in a landmark brutal subway-based fight scene. It is arguably the classic anti-Communist film of the 1950s and a dazzling display of the seedy New York underlife. In particular, Thelma Ritter’s excellent tough-yet-nuanced performance as Moe Williams stands out and earned her an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress, which was highly unusual for what was considered at the time a lurid and violent B-movie.
Rebecca (1940) “Rebecca,” Daphne du Maurier’s most famous book (“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…”), found its perfect cinematic interpreter in Alfred Hitchcock, here directing his first American motion picture. Powerhouse producer David O. Selznick had just imported the “master of suspense” from his native England. Laurence Olivier stars as Maxim de Winter and Joan Fontaine in her breakthrough role co-stars as Maxim’s new (and never given a first name) wife. However, it is two other women who dominate the film—the intimidating housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (played by Judith Anderson) and the film’s title woman, the deceased first Mrs. de Winter whose powerful shadow still hangs heavily over this great estate and all its inhabitants. Winner of the Oscar for best picture that year, “Rebecca” is stylish, suspenseful and a classic.
The Shining (1980) Director Stanley Kubrick’s take on Stephen King’s terrifying novel has only grown in esteem through the years. The film is inventive in visual style, symbolism and narrative as only a Kubrick film can be. Long but multi-layered, “The Shining” contains stunning visuals — rivers of blood cascading down deserted hotel hallways, disturbing snowy mazes and a mysterious set of appearing and disappearing twins — with iconic performances by Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall.
Smoke Signals (1998) Native American directors are a rarity in Hollywood. After the early silent film pioneers James Young Deer and Edwin Carewe, the portrayal of Native Americans in cinema turned dark and stereotypical. These social trends started changing with motion pictures like the groundbreaking “Smoke Signals,” generally considered to be the first feature film written, directed and produced by Native Americans. Director Chris Eyre uses the relaxed road-movie concept to create a funny and unpretentious look at Native Americans in the nation’s cinema and culture. The mostly Native American cast features Adam Beach and Evan Adams as the two road warriors who find themselves on a hilarious adventure. Beneath the highly entertaining façade, the film acquainted non-Native American audiences with real insights into the indigenous Americans’ culture. Sherman Alexie penned the witty, droll script based his book “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.” This Miramax release was a big hit on the independent film circuit and won numerous awards, including a Sundance award.
Something Good – Negro Kiss (1898) According to scholars and archivists, this recently discovered 29-second film may represent the earliest example of African-American intimacy on-screen. American cinema was a few years old by 1898 and distributors struggled to entice audiences to this new medium. Among their gambits to find acceptable “risqué” fare, the era had a brief run of “kissing” films. Most famous is the 1896 Edison film “The Kiss,” which spawned a rash of mostly inferior imitators. However, in “Something Good,” the chemistry between vaudeville actors Saint Suttle and Gertie Brown was palpable. Also noteworthy is this film’s status as the earliest known surviving Selig Polyscope Company film. The Selig Company had a good run as a major American film producer from its founding in 1896 until its ending around 1918. “Something Good” exists in a 19th-century nitrate print from the University of Southern California Hugh Hefner Moving Image Archive. USC Archivist Dino Everett and Dr. Allyson Nadia Field of the University of Chicago discovered and brought this important film to the attention of scholars and the public. Field notes, “What makes this film so remarkable is the non-caricatured representation and naturalistic performance of the couple. As they playfully and repeatedly kiss, in a seemingly improvised performance, Suttle and Brown constitute a significant counter to the racist portrayal of African Americans otherwise seen in the cinema of its time. This film stands as a moving and powerful image of genuine affection, and is a landmark of early film history.”