Many Americans spend their holiday season at the movies, enjoying some of the latest Hollywood blockbusters that are traditionally released at the end of the year.
But older films were also making news this holiday season, as the Librarian of Congress, James Billington, announced the latest additions to the U.S. National Film Registry. It's estimated that 50 percent of the films produced before 1950, and 80 to 90 percent of those made before 1920, have disintegrated, or been lost. That's not the fate of the movies on the National Film Registry.
Gregory Lukow, head of the Motion Picture Division at the Library, says the Registry is more than a list of America's favorite movies. It was set up by lawmakers to call attention to and preserve the nation's
cinematic heritage, and each year, the Librarian of Congress adds 25 more titles. "Selections are eligible by being cultural, historically or esthetically significant to the history of the United States and its citizens," he explains as he outlines the criteria used to choose new inductees. "A title has to be at least 10 years old. And we have material going back all the way to the 1890's, the birth of film."
Two of this year's inductees come from those early days, including Traffic in Souls, a 1913 expose of forced prostitution, and what Lukow believes is the very first Chinese-American produced film, from 1916.
"That's an astonishing discovery," he says of The Curse of Quon Gwon, "to have a community-produced, family-produced feature film starring a Chinese-American population that early in the American cinema. Most people would not have heard of that, it was only recently rediscovered, but we wanted to recognize that kind of diversity in American filmmaking."
That diversity extends to the types of films in the Registry. Although there are many well-known hits, from Hollywood's Golden Era to recent years, Lukow stresses that the Registry reflects more than just the best of American feature film-making. "It's also documentaries, newsreels, amateur productions, ethnographic footage, material that represents the full range of the kinds of films that were produced in this country, and that's far, far more than just Hollywood films."
Still, this year's inductees include some of those Hollywood hits. There's John Carpenter's Halloween, which ushered in the dawn of the so-called "slasher movie"; Steven Soderbergh's sex, lies and videotape, which launched the independent film renaissanc; and a film that captured America's heart 30 years ago: Sylvester Stallone's Rocky.
The story of a million-to-one-shot fighter spawned a number of sequels, including a film hitting theaters this holiday season. Stallone has brought his character out of retirement to go in the ring once again, in Rocky Balboa. But, we'll have to wait a few rounds to see if he joins his younger self on the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress.