This will be the tenth year the National Registry, in the guise of Mr.
James Billington, the Librarian of Congress, has selected titles of films
designated as national treasures. In the first nine years from 1989 to
1996, our own national "movie buff", as Mr. Billington likes to call
himself (according to *Our Movie Heritage*), selected:
178 Hollywood commercial films
22 documentaries (of which
14 avant-garde films
10 ethnic/ independents
Now, please don't quibble with the exact numbers, because classification
is always tricky. My point is, that the view of film history previously
taken by our Librarian of Congress is more than heavily weighted towards
mainstream, feature filmmaking. Merely 21% of all the titles chosen are not
products of the commercial film industry. Even more obvious, fully 102
titles (45 %) are fiction features, produced in Hollywood's "golden age",
the three decades between 1930/1959. What is wrong with this picture? Not
only are avant-garde, independent, and documentary films scandalously
under-represented, given the proportional numbers of titles produced in
these genres (in comparison to Hollywood) over the course of 100 years of
filmmaking, other genres are completely missing: advertising films,
industrial films, travelogues, medical films, amateur films (except
Zapruder), educational films, etc. As a movie buff, Mr. Billington, of
course, has a right to his personal opinions about what constitutes cinema.
As a representative of the people, however, he should be making a much
broader selection, worthy of the depth and breath of American filmmaking in
In fairness to Mr. Billington, his track record has been improving
slightly. Of the 25 films chosen in 1997, only 16 (64%) were Hollywood
features, five were documentaries, two were avant-garde films, and two were
independent fiction features.
I would therefore like to suggest that everyone in the film archive and
film academic community contribute to the film historical education of Mr.
Billington. Please help him make a respectable showing. Send your
suggestions for National Registry titles to the Librarian of Congress.
My own suggestions for 1998:
FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (1928), directed by James Sibley Watson and
THE TELL-TALE HEART (1928), directed by Charles Klein.
These two American avant-garde adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe stories
utilize stylized sets in the manner of German expressionism, as well as
extremely elliptical narratives, to create densely poetic images, thus
translating Poe's claustrophobia into an immanently visual medium.
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