Back to the Future, Close Encounters Enter National Archives

Great Scott! Back to the Future, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Oklahoma! and 12 Angry Men were among the 25 selections entered into the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry this year.

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington announced the entries this morning. “Even as Americans fill the movie theaters to see the latest releases, few are aware that up to half the films produced in this country before 1950—and as much as 90 percent of those made before 1920—are lost forever,” said Mr. Billington in a press release. “The National Film Registry seeks not only to honor these films, but to ensure that they are preserved for future generations to enjoy.”

This year’s selections bring to 475 the number of "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant films selected by the librarian of Congress to be preserved for all time, according to the Hollywood Reporter. "We’re always a little short on the science fiction genre, and this year we wanted to get more entries from the 1970s," Stephen Leggett, National Film Preservation Board staff director, told the Reporter.

The films selected for inclusion in the list aren’t necessarily the "best" or most popular films made, but are selected because of their artistic character, their historical significance or their reflection of both the good and bad sides of the American culture.

Full list of films selected after the jump.


Back to the Future (1985)
Before "Beowulf" or "The Polar Express," writer/director Robert Zemeckis explored
the possibilities of special effects with the 1985 box-office smash
"Back to the Future." With his writing partner Bob Gale, Zemeckis
tells the tale of accidental time-tourist Marty McFly. Stranded in the year 1955,
Marty (Michael J. Fox)—with the help of Dr. Emmett Brown (played masterfully
over-the-top by Christopher Lloyd)—must not only find a way home, but
also teach his father how to become a man, repair the space/time
continuum and save his family from being erased from existence.
All this, while fighting off the advances of his then-teenaged
mother. It's “The Twilight Zone” meets Preston Sturges.

Bullitt (1968)
For his first American film, British director Peter Yates made an inspired
decision: shoot a crime drama on location in San Francisco, rather than
on the usual streets of L.A. or New York City. The pitched streets and
stunning vistas of San Francisco, backed by a superb Lalo Schifrin score,
play a central role in this film renowned for its exhilarating 11-minute
car chase, arguably the finest in cinema history. Steve McQueen as the
cop in the title role romances Jacqueline Bisset and solves a murder case
while fighting off the mob and a sleazy district attorney, played by Robert

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
After his 1975 blockbuster “Jaws,” Steven Spielberg produced this intelligent
sci-fi film in which the climactic scene is set far from an ocean: Devil’s Tower
National Monument in Wyoming. Long a sacred place in Native American folklore,
the monument served as an iconic image around which to construct this film about
the quest for extraterrestrial life and UFOs. Also making the film effective and
believable is Richard’s Dreyfuss’ Everyman character Roy Neary: “I wanna speak to
the man in charge." The five-tone musical motif used for communication with the
aliens has become as quotable as any line of movie dialogue.

Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)
Although there were numerous women filmmakers in the early decades of silent cinema,
by the 1930s directing in Hollywood had become a male bastion—with one exception.
Dorothy Arzner graduated from editing to directing in the late 1920s, often exploring
the conflicted roles of women in contemporary society. In “Dance, Girl, Dance,” her most
intriguing film, two women (Lucille Ball and Maureen O’Hara) pursue life in show business
from opposite ends of the spectrum: burlesque and ballet. The film is a meditation on the
disparity between art and commerce. The dancers strive to preserve their own feminist
integrity, while fighting for their place in the spotlight and for the love of male lead
Louis Hayward.

Dances With Wolves (1990)
A personal project for star Kevin Costner, “Dances with Wolves” disproved a reputation
Western films had acquired in the latter years of the 20th Century for being money-losers.
The film also became the second Western to win the Academy Award for Best Film. The movie
presents a fairly simple, intimate story (the quest of a cavalry soldier to get to know a
nearby Sioux tribe and his resulting spiritual transformation) in an epic fashion, with
sweeping cinematography and a majestic John Barry score. The film marks one of the more
sympathetic portraits of Native-American life ever shown in American cinema, and introduced
the American public to Lakota Sioux folklore, traditions and language.

Days of Heaven (1978)
Often called one of the most beautiful films ever made (acknowledging the sublime
cinematography of Nÿstor Almendros and Haskell Wexler), “Days of Heaven” is an impressionist
painting for the screen. The wheat fields and prairies of the Texas Panhandle—filmed in Alberta—
shine and undulate in wind currents and storms, framing the tale of a love triangle (Richard
Gere, Brooke Adams and Sam Shepard)fated to end badly. The dialogue is spare, punctuating
an elegiac score by Ennio Morricone and haunting narration by Linda Manz, who speaks from
a child’s point of view. After this film (his second after “Badlands”), director Terrence
Malick disappeared from public view for 20 years, returning
in 1998 with “The Thin Red Line.”

Glimpse of the Garden (1957)
Though Marie Menken’s volatile marriage to Willard Mass served as the inspiration for
playwright Edward Albee in his 1962 play, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” her surprisingly
joyful and simple films rate among the more accessible works of avant-garde filmmakers.
The beautifully lyrical “Glimpse of the Garden” is a serendipitous visual tour of a flower
garden set to a soundtrack of bird calls.

Grand Hotel (1932)
Termed “The Lion Tamer” by critics for his skill in dealing with temperamental Hollywood
stars, director Edmund Goulding (“Dark Victory,” “Razor’s Edge,” and “Nightmare Alley”)
earned the plaudit many times over in “Grand Hotel.” This film put much of the MGM star
factory—Greta Garbo, Wallace Beery, John and Lionel Barrymore, Joan Crawford—into a single
film with multiple plots, arguably the first use of the all-star formula later seen in
“Airport,” “Dinner at Eight,” and “The Towering Inferno.” Crawford is reported to have
told the Barrymores: “All right, boys, but don’t forget that the American
public would rather have one look at my back than watch both your faces for an hour.” In
this film Garbo uttered the line, “I want to be alone.”

The House I Live In (1945)
This short film directed by Mervyn LeRoy pleads for religious tolerance and won an honorary
Academy Award in 1946. Singer Frank Sinatra takes a break from a recording session to tell
kids that in America, there are a hundred different ways of talking and going to church—but
they are all American ways. The film ends with Sinatra performing the title tune, an
inspiring paean to America’s diverse cultural mosaic.

In a Lonely Place (1950)
“Rebel Without a Cause” is often given the nod as Nicholas Ray's greatest film, but his
earlier scathing Hollywood satire, “In a Lonely Place,” may well rate that honor. Screenwriter
Humphrey Bogart, brilliant at his craft yet prone to living with his fists, undergoes scrutiny
as a murder suspect while romancing insouciant starlet Gloria Grahame. Their tempestuous
on-screen romance mirrors the real-life deteriorating marriage of Grahame and director
Ray, who divorced shortly after the film was completed. With jaded passion
and paranoid force of character, Bogart perfectly plays the talented but psychologically
unstable artist who will not accept his society, proving it with periodic violent,
self-destructive confrontations. The film’s cynical, fatalistic script marries film-noir
themes and doomed romance: "I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived
a few weeks while she loved me."

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
John Ford, a filmmaker since 1914, already had given the movie-going public such classics as
“The Iron Horse,” “Stagecoach,”“My Darling Clementine,” “Fort Apache,” “She Wore A Yellow
Ribbon,” and “The Searchers”. Ford’s last great Western, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,”
makes explicit everything that was implicit in the genre which Ford himself shaped so
heavily. By clearly showing that the conquest of the west meant the triumph of civilization
(embodied in Jimmy Stewart) over wild innocence (John Wayne) and evil (Lee Marvin), this
elegiac film serves as a film coda for Ford and also meditates on what was lost as
progress and statehood marched across the West. The film’s concluding aphorism has
entered the American lexicon: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

Mighty Like a Moose (1926)
Actor/director/screenwriter Charley Chase is underappreciated in the arena of early comedy
shorts. Chase began his film career in the teens, working for Mack Sennett with the likes of
Charlie Chaplin and Fatty Arbuckle. Moving on to the Hal Roach Studios,
Chase starred in his own series of shorts. “Mighty Like a Moose,” directed by Leo McCarey,
is one of the funniest of his silents. A title card at the beginning tells us this is “a
story of homely people—a wife with a face that would stop a clock—and her husband
with a face that would start it again.” Unbeknownst to each other Mr. and Mrs. Moose
have surgery on the same day to correct his buckteeth and her big nose. They meet on the
street later, but don’t recognize each other; they flirt and arrange to meet later at
a party. A side-splitting series of sight gags follows including Charley’s “fight with

The Naked City (1948)
During the oral narration of the credits at the opening, we are told this is a different
kind of movie; not filmed on a Hollywood back lot but on actual locations in New York
City. Winning Oscars for best photography (William Daniels) and editing (Paul Weatherwax)
and nominated for best writing (Malvin Wald), this cutting-edge, gritty crime procedural
introduced a new style of film-making. “The Naked City” offers up slices of several stories,
building and dove-tailing into a logical solution with a heart-pounding resolution.
Based on six months of interviews with the NYPD and using three-dimensional characters,
it changed the way police were portrayed in film and how crimes were solved. Another unique
aspect of Mark Hellinger’s production and Jules Dassin’s direction was to hire local radio
and theater actors new to film – it launched several character-acting careers.

Now, Voyager (1942)
The film’s title comes from Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass:” “The untold want, by life
and land ne’er granted/Now, Voyager, sail thou forth, to seek and find.” A resonant
woman’s picture, “Now, Voyager” features Bette Davis as a dowdy spinster terrorized by
her possessive mother and on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Psychiatrist Claude Rains
cures Davis and suggests a cruise, where she falls in love with married Paul
Henreid. The impossible romance does not depress Davis but rather transforms her into
a confident, independent woman. Davis’ final words electrify one of the most famous
endings in romantic cinema: “Oh Jerry, don't let's ask for the moon. We have the stars.”

Oklahoma! (1955)
The publicity campaign said it all: “A motion picture as big as all outdoors.” In this
beloved musical, an idealized vision of a turn-of-the-century small town, chicks and
ducks and geese scurry right across the wide screen. The literalized film treatment
appeared a dozen years after the Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway premiere. The film
eliminated two songs and substituted breathtaking Technicolor vistas and stereo sound
for theatrical innovation. Set shortly before Oklahoma statehood, the movie features such
Western-film staples as the cowman/farmer feud (subject of a memorable song sung by
Gordon MacRae). As choreographer Agnes de Mille noted: “It’s different, but I find it
very beautiful to look at.”

Our Day (1938)
Wallace Kelly of Lebanon, Kentucky, made this exquisitely crafted amateur film at home
in 1938. "Our Day" is a smart, entertaining day-in-the-life portrait of the Kelly household,
shown in both idealized and comic ways. This silent 16mm home movie uses creative editing,
lighting and camera techniques comparable to what professionals were doing in Hollywood.
His amateur cast was made up of his mother, wife, brother and pet terrier.
"Our Day" also contains exceptional images of small-town Southern life, ones that counter
the stereotype of impoverished people eking out a living during the Depression. The 12-minute
film documents a modern home inhabited by adults with sophisticated interests (the piano,
literature, croquet) and simple ones (gardening, knitting, home cooking). Kelly was also
an accomplished photographer, painter, and writer. He began shooting film in 1929 and
continued until the 1950s.

Peege (1972)
Director Randal Kleiser (“Grease”) crafted this renowned, extremely moving student film
while at the University of Southern California. Members of a family visit their blind,
dying grandmother Peege at a nursing home, but leave in despair at her condition. Remaining
behind, the grandson recounts memories to Peege and manages to connect emotionally with
the lonely woman and bring a smile to her face.

The Sex Life of the Polyp (1928)
Humorist Robert Benchley’s career was both varied and distinguished: essayist, member of
the Algonquin Round Table, writer for Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, actor in Hollywood
features ( “Foreign Correspondent”) and several dozen short comedy subjects. “The Sex Life
of the Polyp,” Benchley’s second short (following “The Treasurer’s Report”) features him
as a daft doctor delivering a droll but earnest lecture on polyp reproductive habits to
a women’s club.

The Strong Man (1926)
Harry Langdon, widely considered one of the great silent comedians, had a career that
can only be described as meteoric. A vaudevillian for much of his professional life, Harry
Langdon was discovered and brought to Hollywood by Mack Sennett in the early 1920s. But
he languished until lightning struck in 1925, when director Harry Edwards and then-gagman
Frank Capra worked with him on three features and several shorts. The features, “Tramp,
Tramp, Tramp,” “Long Pants” and “The Strong Man” put Langdon solidly into the foursome
Walter Kerr calls “The Four Silent Clowns” —with Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and
Harold Lloyd. “The Strong Man” predated “City Lights” by a decade with its plot of a meek
man in love with a blind woman.

Three Little Pigs (1933)
Voted the 11th-best cartoon of all time in a 1990s poll of animators, “Three Little Pigs” falls
midway through a series of classic shorts (“Skeleton Dance,” “The Band Concert,” “The Old
Mill,”) that Walt Disney produced as he learned and refined the art of animation; each film
marked another development in his path toward the 1937 feature “Snow White and the Seven
Dwarfs.” The wildly popular “Three Little Pigs” proved a landmark in “personality animation”—
each of the three pigs had a different personality—and the title tune “Who’s Afraid of
the Big Bad Wolf” became a Depression-era anthem.

Tol'able David (1921)
Henry King (1886-1982) had a 50-year career in Hollywood, winning a reputation as one of the
most talented directors in capturing the values, culture, history, personality, and character
of the nation. His nostalgia was honest, and often bittersweet. In "Tol'able David,"
King tells a coming-of-age story about a youth who must overcome savage, bullying neighbors
as he takes on his first job delivering mail in rural Virginia. "Tol'able David" was studied
by Russian filmmakers of the 1920s. They were inspired by King's memorable conjunctions
of shots that evoked personalities and emotions without a need for explanatory titles.
"Tol'able David" remains a powerful drama and is also known for its craftsmanship, which
was tremendously influential on subsequent filmmaking.

Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son (1969-71)
Ken Jacobs’ landmark avant-garde film reverently re-photographs an early cinema short of
the fairy tale song to explore the parameters of film art. A “structuralist film”
masterpiece, Jacobs uses techniques ranging from slow and studied examinations of individual
paper print images to probing experiments in manipulation of motion and light.

12 Angry Men (1957)
In the 1950s, several television dramas acted live over the airways won such critical
acclaim that they were also produced as motion pictures; among those already honored by the
National Film Registry is “Marty” (1955). Reginald Rose had adapted his original stage
play “12 Angry Men” for Studio One in 1954, and Henry Fonda decided to produce a screen
version, taking the lead role and hiring director Sidney Lumet, who had been directing for
television since 1950. The result is a classic. Filmed in a spare, claustrophobic
style—largely set in one jury room—the play relates a single juror’s refusal to conform
to peer pressure in a murder trial and follows his conversion of one juror after another
to his point of view. The story is viewed a commentary on McCarthyism, Fascism, or

The Women (1939)
Probably no movie in history has combined more leading Hollywood ladies (Norma Shearer,
Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Mary Boland, Paulette Goddard, Joan Fontaine) without,
as advertising noted, "a man in sight." Yet “It’s all about men." Based on the hit play
by Clare Boothe Luce, “The Women” explores the new options open to women with the possibility
of divorce, following several intertwining paths to the courts in Reno. The characters
learn of the various affairs and entanglements of their husbands with others, and are
forced to decide between "freedom" and surrendering pride for love. "See them with their
hair down, and their claws out!" promised MGM, and delivered. George Cukor secured his
reputation as a women's director with this movie.

Wuthering Heights (1939)
Director William Wyler had great difficulty in convincing Laurence Olivier to leave England
to play the part of Heathcliff in this adaptation of Emily Brontë’s work, especially since
Olivier’s wife Vivien Leigh was not offered the leading- lady role of Cathy, which went to
Merle Oberon. Eventually, Olivier agreed and Leigh, while visiting Olivier during the
filming, managed to get a screen test for what became her greatest role: Scarlett O’Hara
in “Gone With the Wind.” Producer Samuel Goldwyn always claimed credit for the film,
reportedly once saying: “I made “Wuthering Heights;” Wyler only directed it.” Gregg
Toland’s deep-focus cinematography deftly creates the moody, ethereal atmosphere of
haunted love in a film universally acclaimed as one of cinema’s great romances.


  Back to the Future, Close Encounters Enter National Archives