top of page
  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Selections From the National Film Registry on TCM

On December 11, 2019, the Library of Congress announced the latest additions to its Registry, which brings the number of films deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant in the collection to 775. The National Film Registry selects just 25 films each year that showcase the range and diversity of American film heritage in order to increase awareness for preservation. While most of the films added this year are narrative features, others are historical, documentary or experimental by nature. In honor of the work the Registry provides toward the preservation of cinema Turner Classic Movies will air six of the new entries Thursday, January 9.

Since 1988 thousands of titles have been nominated by the public, with the final selections being made by the National Film Preservation Board. The Board's stated mission is to "ensure the survival, conservation, and increased public availability of America's film heritage." On December 11, 2019, the Library of Congress announced the latest 25 additions to the Registry, which include films ranging from Disney's Sleeping Beauty (1959) to Oliver Stone's Platoon (1986).

Now that the 2019 additions to the Registry have been announced, nominations are being accepted for the 2020 Registry with the deadline for nominations being September 15, 2020. The Library of Congress invites submissions of the public's recommendations as it considers the public nominations to play a key role in the Librarian and Film Board consideration of the final selections. The only rule is that to be eligible for the Registry, a film must be at least 10 years old and be "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

All should keep in mind that the Registry is intended to reflect American society and the rich tapestry of American cinema since its inception around 1890. To that end, they strongly encourage the nomination of the full-range of American film-making. This means that it's not just Hollywood classics or other well-known works in which they are interested in preserving. It's the entire history of film that concerns the preservationist, so that includes silent era titles, documentaries, avant-garde, educational and industrial films, as well as films representing the vibrant unmatched diversity of American culture. This concern is for the content of the films as well as for the creators, such as directors, writers, actors and actresses, cinematographers, and other crafts.

Registry criteria does not specifically prohibit television programs, commercials, music videos or foreign productions. However, the original intent of the legislation that established the Registry was to safeguard U.S. films. No one is saying you can't do otherwise, but, consequently the National Film Preservation Board and the Librarian of Congress will give first consideration to American motion pictures.

Here is a breakdown of the films airing on TCM, followed by the rest of the list of the 2019 Registry inductees.

Body and Soul (1925) is a dramatic "race" film produced, written, directed and distributed by legendary filmmaker, Oscar Micheaux. Micheaux is by all accounts, the first major African-American feature filmmaker in silents as well as sound. Body and Soul was the filmmaker's thirteenth film, and is set in a predominantly black town in Georgia. The film stars the highly charismatic Paul Robeson, one of the foremost interpreters of Eugene O'Neill's plays and one of the most treasured names in song during the first half of the twentieth century (his version of "Ol' Man River" will give you chills). In this, his movie debut, he plays a double role as a scheming minister and the his upstanding twin brother. The minister is a malevolent and sinister man who betrays an honest girl, eventually driving them both to ruin.

The 1944 version of Gaslight (1944) is a suspense thriller directed by George Cukor. A duplicitous man (Charles Boyer) slowly manipulates his wife (Ingrid Bergman) into thinking she is losing her mind (the term "gaslighting" comes from this film). Oscars were earned for Best Actress (Bergman) and Production Design. Other nominations included Best Picture, Actor for Boyer and Supporting Actress for an 18-year-old Angela Lansbury in her film debut as an unforgettable, scene stealing saucy maid.

The Phenix City Story (1955) is a film noir directed by Phil Karson, about corruption in an Alabama town where a local criminal holds sway in a notorious "red light" district. John McIntire and Richard Kiley star as a father-son duo attempting to clean up the town. It's not a noir like you might expect in the usual sense. It's really more of a crime story, but there are plenty of dark and nefarious dealings going on to keep the intriguing running high. I enjoy watching this film every time it comes on TCM. It's worth checking out.

I Am Somebody (1970, TCM premiere) is a documentary short, directed and edited by Madeline Anderson. It focuses on black hospital workers on strike in Charleston, South Carolina. At a swift 28-minutes, Anderson became the first female African-American filmmaker to create a documentary of this length. Her film is considered one of the first to link black women with the fight for civil rights. Thanks to TCM, the film is getting the fresh exposure it deserves.

Girlfriends (1978) is a comedy-drama, produced and directed by Claudia Weill, that considers the loneliness of a Jewish woman (Melanie Mayron before Thirty-something) after her roommate moves out of their New York City apartment. Like many low budget independent productions, the film took years to shoot before it was picked up by a major distributor. Fortunately, the hard work paid off and the movie won honors at various film festivals and was nominated for Golden Globe and BAFTA awards.

Before Stonewall (1984) is a feature-length documentary, directed by Greta Schiller and Robert Rosenberg. It's about the LGBT community prior to the 1969 Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village. The documentary won several film festival awards and, after being shown on television, an 1987 Emmy Award for Best Historical/Cultural Program and Best Research. Co-producer John Scagliotti would years later direct a companion piece, After Stonewall (1999).

Amadeus (1984)

Becky Sharp (1935)

Boys Don’t Cry (1999)

Clerks (1994)

Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980)

Emigrants Landing at Ellis Island (1903)

Employees Entrance (1933)

Fog of War (2003)

George Washington Carver at Tuskegee Institute (1937)

The Last Waltz (1978)

My Name Is Oona (1969)

A New Leaf (1971)

Old Yeller (1957)

Platoon (1986)

Purple Rain (1984)

Real Women Have Curves (2002)

She’s Gotta Have It (1986)

Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Zoot Suit (1981)


bottom of page