Recently I watched a documentary entitled “These Amazing Shadows.” It focused on the National Film Registry’s efforts to preserve American films that are considered “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” Every year the Library of Congress chooses 25 films that are at least 10 years old for preservation so that future generations can enjoy (and study) them.
I have always believed that films that are considered great should be preserved. They are windows – and sometimes mirrors – of culture at any given point of time. The best ones are timeless and they can be enjoyed by anyone. What comes to mind for me is the work of Buster Keaton. I remember watching “The General” in full and when it finished I knew that there was never a funnier movie. It was pure physical comedy that had a wit to it. I have since made it my goal to watch all of his films.
But the reason why I think of Keaton is because my sisters, 13 and 10, had never heard his name until I forced them to watch a collection of Keaton’s best scenes. To see them laugh at the work of a man who they will never get the chance to meet proved to me that Keaton was truly one of the funniest people to ever live.
The fact that a nearly century old movie can still touch the hearts of millions show just how beautiful film (and art in general) can be. The list includes the obvious titles: “Citizen Kane,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Gone with the Wind” and “Star Wars.” But it also includes movies that reflect the diversity of this country.
Look at “Topaz,” a home movie made by a Japanese-American during World War II. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japanese-Americans were forced out of their homes and made to live in internment camps usually in the middle of nowhere. “Topaz” doesn’t show the evil of the camps or the plight of the Japanese-American, it just documents daily life in the camp. The bigotry and prejudice are clear because at some point in recent time, we chose to discriminate against a people simply for the way they looked and we hid our ignorance behind the safety of security and freedom.
Even if some argue that “Boyz N the Hood” has aged terribly in the past decades, I still see it as a perspective of what it means to be an American. Yet in the same state, “The Endless Summer” shows the California that most believe to be real. But then “Chinatown” also takes place in Southern California. How could these three films that all take place in the same state be — and feel — so different?
The very fact that movies like “Topaz” and “Boyz N the Hood” are on a list of films that have been chosen to represent American culture, is beautiful. We do not have national epics or prose that can define the entire country. We have to break down into regions and learn about their individual history. When woven together it’s proof that what makes America unique is the fact that people of different races, backgrounds and upbringings can still find a way to stand together.
Now I wonder what films will be chosen this year. What about “Sideways?” A single line from that movie devastated the Merlot industry. “Dazed and Confused” is quite possibly one of the most accurate portrayals of teenage life. What about “Milk” or “The Laramie Project?” Would YouTube videos go into the registry? Television pilots? Entire series? “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” “Game of Thrones,” “The Office” and “Cheers” have earned the same merits of film. What about the documentary “107 Minutes that Changed America?” For those who have not seen the film, it is a collection of found footage from around New York that show the World Trade Center attack in real-time. To watch the film and to be reminded of the sacrifice that was made by that brave little island has such a great power.
It’s a long ways until the next 25 film titles are released. Surely the board will choose the right films and so we must all wait until they are announced. Below are a list of my nominations for this year’s selection:
- Baraka (1992)
- Dazed and Confused (1993)
- The Debut (2000)
- Finding Nemo (2003)
- The Laramie Project (2002)
- Lilo and Stitch (2002)
- Mean Girls (2004)
- Sideways (2004)
- Tortilla Soup (2001)