National Registry 2017 Inductees
The Hollywood Reporter recently had an article on some of the 2017 National Registry inductees. Joining the list compiled by the Library of Congress is a very prestigious honor, reserved for films that are considered to be prime examples of excellence in cinema. Among the twenty-five motion pictures selected this year the additions include Die Hard, Titanic, Superman, Field of Dreams, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, The Goonies and two classics starring Kirk Douglas. Some how that sentence doesn't quite read right, does it? I mean, who would have ever thought that The Goonies would be mentioned in the same sentence as Kirk Douglas? Well, according to the Library of Congress they have a lot more in common than you would think. Excellence being a shared quality.
Under the terms of the National Film Preservation Act, the Librarian of Congress each year selects for posterity twenty-five motion pictures that are at least ten years old. The picks are made after the librarian confers with the National Film Preservation Board, and also examines titles nominated by the public (last year there were 5,200 suggestions). Films must be "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant in order to make the grade. This year two films starring Kirk Douglas, who just had his 101st birthday, made the cut: Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole and Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus. One film deals with "Yellow" journalism and the other slavery. Also making the cut is the Gregory Peck classic Gentleman's Agreement, directed by Elia Kazan, which is a study of anti-Semitism during the post WWII era. All three of these particular selections, culturally and historically significant, indeed!
The inductees span the years 1905-2000, with Christopher Nolan's tantalizing Memento becoming the most recently produced of the 725 films already in the Registry. Also in the class of 2017 are movies showcasing the work of Spike Lee, Thelonious Monk, and Lon Chaney. Several films this year represent the ethnic diversity of American cinema, including new honorary Oscar recipient Charles Burnett's To Sleep With Anger, which centers on the cultural and generational conflicts within a black family; Boulevard Nights, about the struggles facing Chicano kids in Los Angeles; and 1987's La Bamba, the biopic of Mexican-American rock 'n' roll icon Ritchie Valens.
So, lets now take a look at the elephants in the room, specifically Die Hard and The Goonies. Some may have an automatic reaction of negativity when it comes to the idea of including pop culture successes on such a prestigious list. After all, there are less than eight hundred films currently recognized by the National Registry, and only twenty-five added each year. Is there really room for such light-hearted fair that caters to the less than discerning taste of the masses? Of course there is. No, I don't want the latest mega-hit at the multiplex to muscle its way in to heralded company. But we don't have to worry about so-called "instant classics" gaining undo recognition because of the ten year waiting period - a truly wise condition for consideration due to the need for time and distant to judge the impact a film has made on culture. What I do want is a balanced representation of the cinema that has greatly impacted the collective medium that follows it. Die Hard has undoubtedly made a huge impact on the genre of the "Action" film. There is no doubt about that. However, I'm still unclear about the selection of The Goonies. Guess I still need a little more time and distance to understand its "cultural, historical or aesthetic" impact. Overall, I'm just glad this is a thing we do in America at all. Having an insight into the past can only be a good thing, especially if we want to understand our path to the future.
To nominate a film, see a complete list of the National Film Registry, or learn more about the organization itself go to the official website.