On Dec. 13, 2017, the Library of Congress announced the latest additions to the National Film Registry, its compendium of motion pictures that have been judged to be culturally, aesthetically or historically important and worthy of preservation for future generations. In addition to Hollywood studio classics and box office hits, the Registry also protects independent films, documentaries, experimental works, cartoons, music videos, educational and training films, ads, and even home movies, in what is the most democratic, and American, of all film lists.
Among the 25 films added this year: "Titanic."
By CBSNews.com senior producer David Morgan
Decaying Nitrate Film
Left: Nitrate decay in the 1923 Clara Bow film "Maytime," which was recently restored.
In addition to spotlighting cinematic achievements of the past, the National Film Registry helps protect our nation's film heritage, by mandating preservation copies of each Registry title be stored at the Library. This is imperative, given the fragility of motion picture film. About 70 percent of films from the early years of cinema are lost - damaged, deteriorated, destroyed by fire, or uncared for by the studios that created them.
This year's additions bring the Registry's total to 725.
Click through our gallery to see the latest Registry films:
"Ace in the Hole"
Directed and co-written by Billy Wilder with the same acid misanthropy that he brought to such classics as "Sunset Boulevard" and "Double Indemnity," "Ace in the Hole" (1951) is a riveting story of a down-on-his-heels reporter (Kirk Douglas) who thinks he's hit on the story that will revive his lagging career: a man is trapped in a cave, with only a short time available to free him. The sensational life-and-death predicament (which Douglas manipulates to prolong the man's jeopardy) only fuels the cynicism and greed of all concerned. A bitter film? You bet. Audiences couldn't take it, leading the studio to re-release it with a happier title: "The Big Carnival," for the carnival-like atmosphere that surrounds the cave. (Which actually makes it an even more cynical title.)
Employing mostly non-professional actors, director Michael Pressman's "Boulevard Nights" (1979) used documentary-style filmmaking to capture life in East Los Angeles, in which the futures and fortunes of Chicano youth are determined by gang culture. Upon its release, some activists protested the film as an example of non-Hispanics painting an unflattering portrait of their community. But critic Roger Ebert praised the movie, calling it "a sensitive and thoughtful film about the tragedy of gang warfare in the barrio, [which is] clearly anti-gang, with none of the pseudo-romantic posturing 'The Warriors' employed to make killing look great."
A slick and entertaining example of the action genre, "Die Hard" (1988) stars Bruce Willis as a New York City police detective whose holiday trip to Los Angeles to work out things with his estranged wife lands him in the middle of a terrorist takeover of a Japanese banking concern's towering office complex. Turns out those heavily-armed German terrorists, led by the wonderfully wily Alan Rickman, aren't who they say they are, but they're still no match for the resourceful and quick-with-a-quip Willis. Is it a coincidence that both perpetrators and targets of a heist worth hundreds of millions of dollars are former Axis powers? Never mind - leave it to the lone wolf American, with a wisecrack and feet that withstand broken glass, to butt in and save the day - just in time for Christmas!
The fourth-feature length animated film from Walt Disney, "Dumbo" (1941) took a perfectly silly premise - a baby elephant whose over-sized ears gift the pachyderm with the power of flight - and created a tender and emotional story of a mother and son, friendship, and the power of self-actualization. You, too, can fly! Frank Churchill and Oliver Wallace shared an Oscar for Best Original Music Score.
"Field of Dreams"
"If you build it, he will come."
A cryptic message from a disembodied voice - a sign of insanity? Or a call for hope to a man in a hopeless situation? When Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) faces the loss of his family farm, he does appear crazy to his family and neighbors when he plows up part of his cornfield to construct a baseball diamond. And who comes to play? Why, the ghosts of the Chicago "Black Sox" of 1919, forever damned for corrupting the game of baseball. Based on W.P. Kinsella's novel "Shoeless Joe," Phil Alden Robinson's "Field of Dreams" (1989) is an emotional tale of dreams deferred or stolen because of life's injustices or one's own moral failures, and how redemption can be sought - and earned - based on a belief in others and oneself.
And the film's lessons continue outside of the movie theater; the original diamond used by the production, outside Dyersville, Iowa, has been preserved, and is visited by dreamers to this day.
"4 Little Girls"
Filmmaker Spike Lee has challenged sensibilities and coaxed indignation over his dramas, from "She's Gotta Have It" and "Do the Right Thing" to "Malcolm X" and "Jungle Fever." But his documentaries have also expressed his own indignation over injustice and inequities facing minority communities in America, from police brutality and the civil rights movement to the government's response to Hurricane Katrina. The Oscar-nominated "4 Little Girls" (1997) recounts the 1963 firebombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., in which four young girls (Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley) perished. Not merely an ugly act by white supremacists, the terrorist bombing was just one in a series of arson attacks on black churches in the South which has unfortunately never quite abated. Lee interviews family members and witnesses, and examines the 1977 trial of one of the killers, Ku Klux Klan member Robert Chambliss.
Fuentes Family Home Movies Collection
In addition to movies made by studios and independent artists, the National Film Registry also features actualities and home movies by amateurs, representing how the motion picture camera came to document American life and culture, and the ephemera of a rapidly-progressing social landscape. One new entry to the Registry is the Fuentes Family Home Movies Collection, preserved by the Texas Archive of the Moving Image and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. Including films shot on a long-abandoned 9.5mm-gauge film format, the movies (beginning in the 1920s) capture public events and the intimacies of daily life, as experienced by a Mexican-American family in Texas near the U.S.-Mexico border.
The insidious poison of racism is the subject of the 1947 Academy Award-winner for Best Picture, "Gentleman's Agreement." Gregory Peck stars as a Gentile magazine writer who investigates anti-Semitism by posing as a Jew, and discovers bigotry in countless guises, even within those closest to him. Directed by Elia Kazan, the film co-starred Oscar-winner Celeste Holm, and John Garfield as a Jewish Army vet who faces housing discrimination.
Despite its critical and popular success, the film's controversial message made some people nervous; several creatives behind "Gentleman's Agreement" were called before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Garfield was blacklisted after refusing to "name names," and Anna Revere's career was practically destroyed for refusing to testify. Kazan, however, did names names, casting a pall upon his reputation even as he later went on to direct several Hollywood masterpieces, including "A Streetcar Named Desire," "On the Waterfront" and "East of Eden."
Mix Steven Spielberg (executive producer), "Gremlins" screenwriter Chris Columbus, and "Superman" director Richard Donner, throw in some mischievous kids, a pirate's treasure map, and a family of crooks out to capture the loot, and you get "The Goonies" (1985), a high, somewhat offbeat adventure that caters to the kid in anyone.
"Guess Who's Coming to Dinner"
When daughter Katharine Houghton brings her fiancé Sidney Poitier home to meet her parents, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn find that their progressive politics espoused in theory might come under reconsideration when one's own flesh-and-blood is at stake. Stanley Kramer's "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" (1967) opens up the sores of prejudice in ways both serious and comedic, and not just in the abstract; while the movie was being filmed, interracial marriage was still illegal in 17 states, until the Supreme Court's decision in Loving v. Virginia. And 50 years later, with the recent release of Jordan Peele's satire "Get Out," the conflict doesn't feel so anachronistic. Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, the film won two Oscars, including for Hepburn.
"He Who Gets Slapped"
A tragedy directed by Victor Sjöström, "He Who Gets Slapped" (1924) stars Lon Chaney as a scientist and cuckolded husband, whose rival steals his scientific plans and presents them as his own. Humiliated, Chaney is reduced to performing as a clown, repeatedly getting slapped in a masochistic circus act. A surreal experience, this landmark silent film co-starred Norma Shearer and John Gilbert, and marked the first major production of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio. Another first: the inaugural appearance of MGM's mascot, Leo the Lion.
"Interior New York Subway, 14th Street to 42nd Street"
This silent short film by cameraman G.W. "Billy" Bitzer (who photographed many of D.W. Griffith's early works) documents a subway train ride under the streets of New York City in 1905. In addition to the subway train he was filming and the one on which he was riding, Bitzer smartly employed a third train, running on a parallel track, pulling a bank of lights to illuminate the tunnels.
Directed by Luis Valdez, "La Bamba" (1987) is a biopic of Ritchie Valens, a talented Mexican-American musician whose life was tragically cut short just as his career was on the rise. Lou Diamond Phillips stars as Valens, who was killed at age 17 in a plane crash that also claimed the lives of Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper. The critically-praised film - admired for its sentimentality and affecting performances - also helped launch Valens' signature tune, "La Bamba," back onto the charts, in a new recording by Los Lobos.
"Lives of Performers"
Yvonne Rainer's art was provocative in many different forms. A student of both ballet and the modernist style of Martha Graham, and a co-founder of the Judson Dance Theater in New York, Rainer's choreography features repetitive motions and patterns that evoke the limitless possibilities of the human body more so than narrative or emotion. By the 1970s she began incorporating the camera lens into her work, producing several films in which dancers were objectified in unusual ways. Her first film, "Lives of Performers" (1972), features a man torn between two women.
The breakthrough hit by filmmaker Christopher Nolan, "Memento" (2000) is a murder mystery that plays with time and perception, by telling its story through the perspective of its addled protagonist in reverse. Because Leonard (Guy Pearce) suffers a form of short-term memory loss, he must rely on notes, Polaroid snapshots and tattoos to remind himself of information germane to his hunt for his wife's killer. The reverse chronology (which is presented in both color and black-and-white sequences) only makes Leonard's quest - and his stability - more and more untenable. Nolan has often played with the elasticity and warped perspectives of time (from "Interstellar" to "Dunkirk"), but never with such a sad outcome. Nominated for two Academy Awards (for Original Screenplay and Editing).
"Only Angels Have Wings"
Don't look too closely for sense in this wonderfully entertaining melodrama from director Howard Hawks (whose films include the nearly inscrutable "The Big Sleep"). After all, why do the pilots of a mail courier service in the Andes insist on flying through fog, storms, or at night, when they're much more likely to crash into mountains? But when you have romantic turmoil with sparkling dialogue involving Cary Grant and Jean Arthur, suddenly the dangers of flying seem small compared to the hazards of a broken heart.
"The Sinking of the Lusitania"
With no newsreel cameras nearby to capture the fatal moment when a German submarine torpedoed and sank the RMS Lusitania in 1915, sending nearly 1,200 people to a watery grave, it took newspaper cartoonist and animator Winsor McCay (the man behind "Gertie the Dinosaur") to produce this animated reconstruction of the tragedy. The 12-minute film, a powerful piece of propaganda, took nearly two years to produce. Once released, it was of little commercial interest (it premiered in the summer of 1918, after an isolationist America had already entered World War I), but it signaled a new landmark in cel animation.
When Kirk Douglas hired blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo to adapt Howard Fast's bestseller about a slave revolt against the Roman Empire (choosing to credit Trumbo by name rather than use a pseudonym, helping to break the blacklist for good), it signified that the resulting film would be anything but an ordinary Hollywood sand-and-sandal epic. As Spartacus, trained to fight to the death as a gladiator for the entertainment of the Roman elite, Douglas raises an army that successfully, for a time, sweeps aside the mightiest military on Earth. Directed by Stanley Kubrick (taking over for a fired Anthony Mann), and costarring Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov, Tony Curtis and Jean Simmons, "Spartacus" (1960) is a triumph of battle scenes and political intrigue. Censorship cuts forced upon Douglas to assuage the Catholic Legion of Decency, and later cuts to shorten the three-hour running time, were later reinserted when Robert Harris beautifully restored the 70mm movie to its full glory in 1991.
This was no campy comic strip hero in a kids' TV show, ducking into phone booths to change into his flying costume. Director Richard Donner's epic origin story of "Superman" (1978) stretched across the galaxy, from the dying planet Krypton (where an infant escapes a cataclysmic end in a crystalline spaceship) to Midwest America on Earth, where the baby Kal-El grows up to become the guardian of his adopted home. As both Superman and as his undercover identity, mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent, Christopher Reeve made the magic believable. So do the Oscar-winning special effects ("You will believe a man can fly!" the ads announced, truthfully for once) and John Williams' buoyant score, one of his very best. Add a stellar cast, including Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder, Ned Beatty and Valerie Perrine, and you have the superhero movie to which all others aspire.
"Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser"
Jazz fan Clint Eastwood was executive producer of this remarkable documentary about the pianist and composer. Directed by Charlotte Zwerin, "Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser" (1988) is an intimate look into the bebop artist's genius, featuring archive performances and rare interviews.
"Time and Dreams"
Then a student at Temple University, Mort Jordan designed the documentary "Time and Dreams" (1976) as a personal document of the civil rights movement, filmed during a journey back to his home in Greene County, Alabama, where he finds people caught between two societies - one of the nostalgic past, and one a present of deferred ambitions.
It seemed no one in Hollywood believed director James Cameron ("The Terminator") could pull off his passion project, a $200 million historical romance set on the first and only voyage of the RMS Titanic, which struck an iceberg on April 14, 1912 and sunk. But his story of love and disaster, filmed on a gargantuan replica of the ocean liner, captivated audiences, melding stunning, emotional visuals (a doll's face briefly illuminated on the ocean floor by a submersible's lights, followed soon after by a little girl in 1912 holding the same doll) with exquisite artistic detail. It also enshrined stars Leonardo diCaprio and Kate Winslet into the pop culture firmament. "Titanic" (1997) won 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and became the highest-grossing film of all time - a title it held until Cameron's next feature: "Avatar."
"To Sleep with Anger"
Independent filmmaker Charles Burnett (this year a recipient of a lifetime achievement Oscar from the Academy) began the neo-realist classic "Killer of Sheep" as a student film while at UCLA. His output over the following decade-and-a-half was sadly sporadic, but included "To Sleep With Anger" (1990), a riveting character study and domestic drama. It stars Danny Glover as a man whose arrival among old acquaintances after many years stirs divisions, jealousies and violence during his stay - a storm cloud that tests the bonds of family.
A rarity at the time - an independent film written and directed by a woman -"Wanda" (1970) tells the story of an uneducated wife and mother in Pennsylvania's coal country who abandons her family to wander aimlessly from one one-night stand to another, drifting to the side of lawlessness. Barbara Loden, the wife of director Elia Kazan, used a skeleton crew on a threadbare budget to shoot what was a partly autobiographical narrative. It would win a prize at the Venice Film Festival, and while Loden never directed another feature film (she died in 1980), her work foreshadowed the independent film movement of the late 1970s.
"With the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain"
Directed by famed photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson with Herbert Kline, and incorporating photography by Jacques Lemare and Robert Capa, this documentary was created to raise funds for the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, a militia of North Americans fighting against fascists during the Spanish Civil War. About 2,800 Americans had enlisted in the International Brigades to fight in defense of the Spanish Republic.
Want to nominate a movie to the National Film Registry? Visit the Library of Congress' nomination page here.
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By CBSNews.com senior producer David Morgan