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‘The Big Lebowski,’ Pixar’s ‘Luxo Jr.’ Named to National Film Registry

'The Big Lebowski,' Pixar's 'Luxo Jr.' Named to National Film Registry

The National Film Registry, whose board includes critics Dave Kehr and Leonard Maltin, has released its annual list of 25 titles to be permanently preserved by the Library of Congress. As is normally the case, it’s a wide-ranging bunch, from recent favorites like “The Big Lebowski” and “Saving Private Ryan” to Hollywood classics like “Rio Bravo” and “Rosemary’s Baby.” It includes “Bert Fields Lime Kiln Club Field Day,” a recently assembled collection of footage from 1913 that now constitutes the earliest known feature film starring black actors, and “Felicia,” a 13-minute documentary shot in Watts before the riots of that same year. (Sadly, Ice Cube does not make an appearance.) The complete list is:

Films Selected for the 2014 National Film Registry

13 Lakes (2004)
Bert Williams Lime Kiln Club Field Day (1913)                 
The Big Lebowski (1998)                                                    
Down Argentine Way (1940)                                              
The Dragon Painter (1919)                                                  
Felicia (1965)                                                                       
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)                                                                     
The Gang’s All Here (1943)                                                
House of Wax (1953)                                                           
Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport (2000)
Little Big Man (1970)
Luxo Jr. (1986)
Moon Breath Beat (1980)
Please Don’t Bury Me Alive! (1976)
The Power and the Glory (1933)
Rio Bravo (1959)
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Ruggles of Red Gap (1935)
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Shoes (1916)
State Fair (1933)
Unmasked (1917)
V-E + 1 (1945)
The Way of Peace (1947)
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

13 Lakes (2004)
James Benning’s feature-length film can be seen as a series of moving
landscape paintings with artistry and scope that might be compared to
Claude Monet’s series of water-lily paintings. Embracing the concept of
“landscape as a function of time,” Benning shot his film at 13 different
American lakes in identical 10-minute takes. Each is a static
composition: a balance of sky and water in each frame with only the very
briefest suggestion of human existence. At each lake, Benning prepared a
single shot, selected a single camera position and a specific moment.
The climate, the weather and the season deliver a level of variation to
the film, a unique play of light, despite its singularity of
composition. Curators of the Rotterdam Film Festival noted, “The power
of the film is that the filmmaker teaches the viewer to look better and
learn to distinguish the great varieties in the landscape alongside him.
[The list of lakes] alone is enough to encompass a treatise on America
and its history. A treatise the film certainly encourages, but
emphatically does not take part in.” Benning, who studied mathematics
and then film at the University of Wisconsin, currently is on the
faculty at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts).

Bert Williams Lime Kiln Club Field Day (1913)
In 1913, a stellar cast of African-American performers gathered in the
Bronx, New York, to make a feature-length motion picture. The troupe
starred vaudevillian Bert Williams, the first African-American to
headline on Broadway and the most popular recording artist prior to
1920. After considerable footage was shot, the film was abandoned. One
hundred years later, the seven reels of untitled and unassembled footage
were discovered in the film vaults of the Museum of Modern Art, and are
now believed to constitute the earliest surviving feature film starring
black actors. Modeled after a popular collection of stories known as Brother Gardener’s Lime Kiln Club,” the
plot features three suitors vying to win the hand of the local beauty,
portrayed by Odessa Warren Grey. The production also included members of
the Harlem stage show known as J. Leubrie Hill’s Darktown Follies.” Providing
insight into early silent-film production (Williams can be seen
applying his blackface makeup), these outtakes or rushes show white and
black cast and crew working together, enjoying themselves in unguarded
moments. Even in fragments of footage, Williams proves himself among the
most gifted of screen comedians.           

The Big Lebowski (1998)
From the unconventional visionaries Joel & Ethan Coen (the
filmmakers behind “Fargo” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”) came this
1998 tale of kidnapping, mistaken identity and bowling.  As they would
again in the 2008 “Burn After Reading,” the Coens explore themes of
alienation, inequality and class structure via a group of hard-luck,
off-beat characters suddenly drawn into each other’s orbits.  Jeff
Bridges, in a career-defining role, stars as “The Dude,” an LA-based
slacker who shares a last name with a rich man whose arm-candy wife is
indebted to shady figures.  Joining Bridges are John Goodman, Tara Reid,
Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Steve Buscemi and, in a
now-legendary cameo, John Turturro.  Stuffed with vignettes—each staged
through the Coens’ trademark absurdist, innovative visual style—that are
alternately funny and disturbing, “Lebowski” was only middling
successful at the box office during its initial release.  However,
television, the Internet, home video and considerable word-of-mouth have
made the film a highly quoted cult classic.

Down Argentine Way (1940)
Betty Grable’s first starring role in a Technicolor musical happened
only because Alice Faye had an attack of appendicitis, but Grable took
advantage of the situation and quickly made herself as important to 20th
Century-Fox as Faye. Released just over a year before America entered
World War II, this film and others starring Grable established her as
the pinup queen.  The title explains much, with Grable traveling to
South America and falling in love with Don Ameche.  Carmen Miranda makes
her American film debut, and the Nicolas Brothers’ unparalleled dance
routines dazzle.

The Dragon Painter (1919)
After becoming Hollywood’s first Asian star, Japanese-born Sessue
Hayakawa, like many leading film actors of the time, formed his own
production company—Haworth Pictures (combining his name with that of
director William Worthington)—to gain more control over his films. “The
Dragon Painter,” one of more than 20 feature films his company produced
between 1918 and 1922, teamed Hayakawa and his wife Tsuru Aoki in the
story of an obsessed, untutored painter who loses his artistic powers
after he finds and marries the supposed “dragon princess.” His passion
and earlier pursuit of her had consumed him with the urge to create.
Reviewers of the time praised the film for its seemingly authentic
Japanese atmosphere, including the city of Hakone and its Shinto gates,
built in Yosemite Valley, California.

Felicia (1965)
This 13-minute short subject, marketed as an educational film, records a
slice of life in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles prior to the
rebellions of 1965. Filmmakers Trevor Greenwood, Robert Dickson and Alan
Gorg were UCLA film students when they crafted a documentary from the
perspective of the unassuming-yet-articulate teenager Felicia Bragg, a
high-school student of African-American and Hispanic descent. Felicia’s
first-person narrative reflects her hopes and frustrations as she
annotates footage of her family, school and neighborhood, creating a
time capsule that’s both historically and culturally significant. Its
provenance as an educational film continues today as university courses
use “Felicia” to teach documentary filmmaking techniques and cite it as
an example of how non-traditional sources, as well as mainstream
television news, reflect and influence public opinion.


Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
The late John Hughes, the king of both 1980s family comedy (“Home
Alone”) and teen angst (“Sixteen Candles”), achieved a career highpoint
with this funny, heartfelt tale of a teenage wiseacre (Matthew
Broderick) whose day playing hooky leads not only to a host of comic
misadventures but also, ultimately, to self-realization for both him and
his friends.  Hughes’ manner of depicting late-20th-century youth—their
outward and inward lives—finds a successful vehicle in the “everyman”
appeal of lead Broderick, whose conning of his parents is really an
honest and earnest attempt to help his best friend.  With the city of
Chicago serving as backdrop and a now-iconic street performance of
“Twist and Shout” serving as the film’s centerpiece, Ferris Bueller
emerged as one of film’s greatest and most fully realized teen heroes. 
Alan Ruck, Mia Sara, Jennifer Grey and Jeffrey Jones co-starred in the
film.  This is Hughes’ first film on the registry.

The Gang’s All Here (1943)
Although not remembered as well today as those put out by MGM, 20th
Century-Fox’s big Technicolor musicals stand up well in comparison. 
Showgirl Alice Faye, Fox’s No. 1 musical star, is romanced by a soldier
who uses an assumed name and then turns out to be a rich playboy. 
Carmen Miranda is also featured and her outrageous costume is
highlighted in the legendary musical number “The Lady in the Tutti
Frutti Hat.”  Busby Berkeley, who had just finished a long stint
directing musicals at MGM and an earlier one at Warner Bros., directs
and choreographs the film.

House of Wax (1953)
A remake of 1933’s “Mystery of the Wax Museum,” the 1953 “House of Wax”
expanded upon the earlier horror tale of a mad sculptor who encases his
victims’ corpses in wax.  It added the dark talents of Vincent Price and
helped introduce 3-D visual effects to a wide audience.  “House of
Wax,” produced by Warner Bros. and released in April 1953, is considered
the first full-length 3-D color film ever produced and released by a
major American film studio.  Along with its technical innovations,
“House of Wax” also solidified Vincent Price’s new role as America’s
master of the macabre, and his voice resonated even more with the
emerging stereophonic sound process.  Though he had flirted with the
fear genre earlier in his career in the 1946 “Shock,” “Wax” forever
recast him as one of the first gentlemen of Hollywood horror.  Along
with Price, Phyllis Kirk, Frank Lovejoy and Carolyn Jones (as one of
Price’s early victims) complete the cast.  André de Toth directed the
film.

Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport  (2000)
Just prior to World War II, a rescue operation aided the youngest
victims of Nazi terror when 10,000 Jewish and other children were sent
from their homes and families to live with foster families and in group
homes in Great Britain. This Oscar-winning film was directed by Mark
Jonathan Harris, writer and director of another Oscar winner, “The Long
Way Home,” and was produced by Deborah Oppenheimer, whose mother was
among the children evacuated. The film examines the bond between parent
and child, uncovering the anguish of the parents who reluctantly
acknowledged they could no longer protect their children, but through
their love saw a chance to protect them, by proxy if not proximity.
Interviews with the surviving children reveal feelings of abandonment
and estrangement that often took years to overcome. The film is a
tribute not only to the children who survived, but to the people of
England who agreed to rescue the refugees when U.S. leadership would
not.

Little Big Man (1970)
In this Arthur Penn-directed Western, Dustin Hoffman (with exceptional
assistance from make-up artist Dick Smith) plays a 121-year-old man
looking back at his life as a pioneer in America’s Old West.  The film
is ambitious, both in its historical scope and narrative approach, which
interweaves fact and myth, historical figures and events and fanciful
tall tales.  “Little Big Man” has been called an epic reinvented as a
yarn, and the Western reimagined for a post-1960s audience, one already
well-versed in the white hat-black hat tradition of the typical
Hollywood Western saga.  Against a backdrop that includes the cavalry,
old-time medicine shows, life on the frontier and a climax at Custer’s
Last Stand, Penn, Hoffman and scriptwriter Calder Willingham (from the
novel by Thomas Berger) upend Western motifs while also still skillfully
telling a series of remarkable human stories filled with tragedy and
humor.

Luxo Jr. (1986)
The iconic living, moving desk lamp that now begins every Pixar motion
picture (from “Finding Nemo” to “Monsters, Inc.” to “Up”) has its
genesis in this charming, computer-animated short subject, directed by
John Lasseter and produced by Lasseter and fellow Pixar visionary Bill
Reeves.  In the two-minute, 30-second film, two gray balance-arm
lamps—one parentally large and one childishly small (the “Junior” of the
title)—interact with a brightly colored ball.  In strikingly vivid
animation, Lasseter and Reeves manage to bring to joyous life these two
inanimate objects and to infuse them both with personality and
charm—qualities that would become the norm in such soon-to-be Pixar
productions as “Toy Story,” “Cars” and “WALL-E.”  Nominated for an Oscar
in 1986 for best-animated short, “Luxo Jr.” was the first
three-dimensional computer-animated film ever to be nominated for an
Academy Award.


Moon Breath Beat (1980)

Lisze Bechtold created “Moon Breath Beat,” a five-minute color short
subject, in 1980 while a student at California Institute of the Arts
under the tutelage of artist and filmmaker Jules Engel, who founded the
Experimental Animation program at CalArts. Engel asked, hypothetically,
“What happens when an animator follows a line, a patch of color, or a
shape into the unconscious? What wild images would emerge?” “Moon Breath
Beat” reveals Bechtold responding with fluidity and whimsy. Her
two-dimensional film was animated to a pre-composed rhythm, the
soundtrack cut together afterward, sometimes four frames at a time, to
match picture with track, she says. The dream-like story evolved as it
was animated, depicting a woman and her two cats and how such forces as
birds and the moon impact their lives. Following graduation, Bechtold
was the effects animator for the Disney short “The Prince and the
Pauper” (1990) and principal effects animator for “FernGully: The Last
Rainforest” (1992). Now primarily an author and illustrator, she claims
many of her characters were inspired by pets with big personalities,
including “Buster the Very Shy Dog,” the subject of her series of
children’s books.

Please Don’t Bury Me Alive! (1976)
The San Antonio barrio in the early 1970s is the setting for writer,
director and star Efraín Gutiérrez’s independent piece, considered by
historians to be the first Chicano feature film. A self-taught
filmmaker, Gutiérrez not only created the film from top to bottom on a
shoestring, he also acted as its initial distributor and chief promoter,
negotiating bookings throughout the Southwest where it filled theaters
in Chicano neighborhoods. He tells his story in the turbulent days near
the end of the Vietnam War, as a young Chicano man questioning his and
his people’s place in society as thousands of his Latino brethren return
from the war in coffins. Chon Noriega, director of the UCLA Chicano
Studies Research Center, wrote, “The film is important as an instance of
regional filmmaking, as a bicultural and bilingual narrative, and as a
precedent that expanded the way that films got made. …” Cultural
historians often compare Gutiérrez to Oscar Micheaux, the pioneering
African-American filmmaker who came to prominence in the 1920s.

The Power and the Glory (1933)
Preston Sturges’ first original screenplay, “The Power and the Glory,”
is a haunting tragedy in sharp contrast to the comedies of the 1940s
that established him as one of America’s foremost writer-directors.
Contrary to common practice of the time, Sturges wrote the film as a
complete shooting script, which producer Jesse L. Lasky, believing it
“the most perfect script I’d ever seen,” ordered director William K.
Howard to film as written. Compared favorably to novels by Henry James
and Joseph Conrad for its extensive mix of narration with dramatic
action (Fox Studios coined the word “narratage” to publicize Sturges’
innovative technique), “The Power and the Glory” introduced a
non-chronological structure to mainstream movies that was said to
influence “Citizen Kane.” Like that film, “The Power and the Glory”
presents a fragmented rags-to-riches tale of an American industrial
magnate that begins with his death, in this case a suicide, and
sensitively proceeds to produce a deeply affecting, morally ambivalent
portrayal.  The Nation magazine called Spencer Tracy’s performance in
the lead role “one of the fullest characterizations ever achieved on
screen.”

Rio Bravo (1959)
As legend goes, this Western, directed by Howard Hawks, was produced in
part as a riposte to Fred Zinnemann’s “High Noon.”  The film trades in
the wide-open spaces for the confines of a small jail where a sheriff
and his deputies are waiting for the transfer of a prisoner and the
anticipated attempt by his equally unlawful brother to break the
prisoner out.  John Wayne stars as sheriff John T. Chance and is aided
in his efforts to keep the law by Walter Brennan, Dean Martin and Ricky
Nelson.   Angie Dickinson is the love interest and Western regulars
Claude Akins, Ward Bond and Pedro Gonzalez are also featured.  A smart
Western where gunplay is matched by wordplay, “Rio Bravo” is a terrific
ensemble piece and director Hawks’ last great film.


Rosemary’s Baby
(1968)
With “Rosemary’s Baby,” writer-director Roman Polanski brought his
expressive European style of psychological filmmaking to an intricately
plotted, best-selling American novel by Ira Levin, and created a
masterpiece of the horror-film genre. Set in the sprawling Dakota
apartment building on New York’s Central Park West, the film conveys an
increasing sense of unease, claustrophobia and paranoia as the central
character, convincingly played by Mia Farrow in her first starring role,
comes to believe that a cult of witches in the building is implementing
a plot against her and her unborn child. The supporting cast that
Polanski assembled—John Cassavetes as Rosemary’s husband, Ruth Gordon
and Sidney Blackmer as their neighbors, and Ralph Bellamy as her
doctor—portray believably banal New Yorkers who gain nearly total
control over Rosemary’s daily life during her pregnancy. Insistent that
“a thread of deliberate ambiguity runs throughout the film,” Polanski
maintains that the film’s denouement can be understood in more than one
way.

Ruggles of Red Gap (1935)
Charles Laughton, known for such serious roles as Nero, King Henry XIII
and later as the 1935 Captain Bligh, takes on comedy in this tale of an
English manservant won in a poker game by American Charlie Ruggles, a
member of Red Gap, Washington’s extremely small social elite. Laughton,
in understated valet fashion, worriedly responds: “North America, my
lord. Quite an untamed country I understand.” However, once in America,
he finds not uncouth backwoodsmen, but rather a more egalitarian society
that soon has Laughton reciting the Gettysburg Address, catching the
American spirit and becoming a successful businessman.  Aided by comedy
stalwarts ZaSu Pitts and Roland Young, Laughton really shows his acting
range and pulls off comedy perfectly.  It didn’t hurt that Leo McCarey,
who had just worked with W.C. Fields and would next guide Harold Lloyd,
was in the director’s chair.  McCarey, who could pull heartstrings or
touch funny bones with equal skill, started his long directorial career
working with such comedy icons as Laurel & Hardy and created several
beloved American films.

Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Through the years, Hollywood’s take on war, honor and heroism has taken
many conflicting forms.  “Saving Private Ryan” drops ordinary soldiers
into a near-impossible rescue mission set amid the carnage of World War
II’s Omaha Beach landing.  The film’s beginning scenes vividly show us
“war is hell,” as William T. Sherman said. Spielberg conveyed
ultra-realism with harrowing intensity. “Omaha Beach was actually an ‘X’
setting,” says Spielberg, “even worse than ‘NC-17,’ and I just kind of
feel that (I had) to tell the truth about this war at the end of the
century, 54 years later. I wasn’t going to add my film to a long list of
pictures that make World War II ‘the glamorous war,’ ‘the romantic
war.’”

Shoes (1916)
Renowned silent era writer-director Lois Weber drew on her experiences
as a missionary to create “Shoes,” a masterfully crafted melodrama
heightened by Weber’s intent to create, as she noted in an interview, “a
slice out of real life.” Weber’s camera empathetically documents the
suffering her central character, an underpaid shopgirl struggling to
support her family, endures daily—standing all day behind a shop
counter, walking in winter weather in shoes that provided no protection,
stepping on a nail that pierces her flesh. Combining a Progressive era
reformer’s zeal to document social problems with a vivid flair for
visual storytelling, Weber details Eva’s growing desire for the pair of
luxurious shoes she passes each day in a shop window, her
self-examination in a cracked mirror after she agrees to go out with a
cabaret tout to acquire the shoes, her repugnance as the man puts his
hands on her body, and her shame as she breaks down in tears while
displaying her newly acquired goods to her mother. The film, which opens
with pages from social worker Jane Addams’s sociological study of
prostitution, was acclaimed by “Variety” as “a vision of life as it
actually is … devoid of theatricalism.”

State Fair (1933)
For director Henry King to create a film that celebrated an institution
as beloved and indomitable as the State Fair, it required the presence
of a cherished and steadfast star—in this case, icon, philosopher and
America’s favorite cowboy, Will Rogers.  Rogers found a superlative
vehicle for his homespun persona in this small town slice-of-life
setting.  He is assisted by Janet Gaynor (already the Academy’s very
first best-actress winner), Lew Ayres and Sally Eilers.  Enhancing the
fair’s festivities, which include the making of mom’s entry for the
cook-off and the fattening-up of the family pig, are diverse storylines
rich with Americana and romance—some long-lasting and some ephemeral,
rife with fun but fleeting as the fair itself.  The film’s authenticity
owes much to its director, widely known as the “King of Americana”
through films such as “Tol’able David,” “Carousel” and “Wait till the
Sun Shines, Nellie.”

Unmasked (1917)
At the time “Unmasked” was released, Grace Cunard rivaled daredevils Pearl White (“The Perils of Pauline”) and Helen Holmes (“The Hazards of Helen”)
as America’s Serial Queen. In the film, Cunard is a jewel thief
pursuing the same wealthy marks as another thief played by Francis Ford,
brother of director John Ford and himself a director and character
actor. Cunard, in the mode of many women filmmakers of that era, not
only starred in the film, but also wrote its script and parlayed her
contributions into a directorial role as well. Produced at Universal
Studios, the epicenter of female directors during the silent era,
“Unmasked” reflected a style associated with European filmmakers of the
time: artful and sophisticated cinematography comprised of complex
camera movements and contrasting depths of field. With a plot rich in
female initiative and problem-solving, Cunard fashioned a strong
character who does not fit the image of traditional womanhood: she
relishes her heists, performs unladylike physical exploits, manipulates
court evidence, carries on with a man who is not her husband and yet
survives the film without punishment. In essence, the character Cunard
created echoed the woman behind the camera. Today, “Unmasked” serves as a
succinct but illustrative example of the role of women in film history,
as depicted in fact and fiction.

V-E +1 (1945)
The silent 16 mm footage that makes up “V-E +1” documents the burial of
beaten and emaciated Holocaust victims found by Allied forces in the
Nazi concentration camp at Falkenau, Czechoslovakia, as World War II
ended in Europe. According to Samuel Fuller, who shot the footage while
in the infantry unit that liberated the camp, the American commander in
charge ordered leading civilians of the town who denied knowledge of the
death camp to “prepare the bodies for a decent funeral,” parade them on
wagons through the town, and bury them with dignity in the town’s
cemetery. Fuller later became an acclaimed maverick writer-director
known for crafting films that entertained, but nevertheless forced
audiences to confront challenging societal issues. After making “The Big
Red One,” a fictionalized version of his war experiences that included
scenes set in Falkenau, Fuller unearthed his “V-E + 1” footage and
returned to Falkenau to comment on the experience for the French
documentary “Falkenau: The Impossible Years.”

The Way of Peace (1947)
Frank Tashlin, best known for making comedies with pop icons like Jerry
Lewis or Jayne Mansfield, directed this 18-minute puppet film sponsored
by the American Lutheran Church. Punctuated with stories from the Bible,
the film’s purpose was to reinforce Christian values in the atomic age
by condemning the consequences of human conflict with scenes of the
crucifixion, lynching and Nazi fascism. Wah Ming Chang, a visual-
effects artist who specialized in designing fantastic models, characters
and props, created the puppets for the stop-motion animation and also
produced the film, which reportedly took 20 months to complete. The film
is narrated by actor Lew Ayres, who starred in the anti-war film “All
Quiet on the Western Front” (1930).  He was so influenced by that
experience, that he became a vocal advocate for peace and famously
declared himself a conscientious objector during World War II.  The
Reverend H. K. Rasbach, a frequent adviser on big-budget films such as
“The Ten Commandments” and “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” provided
technical supervision and story concept.  The film premiered at
Constitution Hall in Washington D.C., with more than  2,700 in
attendance, including members of Congress, representatives of the
Supreme Court and 750 leaders from various branches of government.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Author Roald Dahl adapted his own novel, Leslie Bricusse and Anthony
Newley wrote a memorable musical score, and producer David Wolper wisely
cast Gene Wilder as Wonka in this film musical about a contest put on
by an often-sadistic candymaker.   Harkening back to the classic
Hollywood musicals, “Willy Wonka” is surreal, yet playful at the same
time, and suffused with Harper Goff’s jaw-dropping color sets, which
richly live up to the fanciful world found in one of the film’s
signature songs, “Pure Imagination.”   Wilder’s brilliant portrayal
of the enigmatic Wonka caused theatergoers to like and fear Wonka at the
same time, while the hallucinogenic tunnel sequence has traumatized
children (and adults) for decades, their nightmares indelibly emblazoned
in memory like the scariest scenes from “The Wizard of Oz.”

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