2003 National Film Registry Picks

The Library of Congress has announced its 25 picks for this year’s addition to its list of “Culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant films on the National Film Registry. This year’s titles span the length of film history from the earliest experiment in combining image with synchronized sound to one of the earliest computer generated animated shorts, from epic war films like Patton (1970) to classic cartoons like animator Chuck Jones’ One Froggy Evening.

The list was announced by Librarian of Congress James Billington on Wednesday, December 17, 2003, who states that the Registry is designed to reflect the full diversity of American film history and to help increase the public’s awareness of and the need to preserve that history.

“Our film heritage is America’s living past,” Billington states. “It celebrates the creativity and inventiveness of diverse communities and our nation as a whole. By preserving American films, we safeguard a significant element of our cultural history.”

The Library of Congress works to ensure that every film named to the list is preserved either through the Library’s own motion picture preservation program or through collaboration with other archives, film studios and independent film makers.

“In spite of the heroic efforts of archives, the motion picture industry and others, America’s film heritage, by any measure, is an endangered species,” Billington adds. “Fifty percent of the films produced before 1950 and 80-90% made before 1920 have disappeared forever. Sadly, our enthusiasm for watching films has proved far greater than our commitment to preserving them.”

The earliest film on this year’s list is the Dickson Experimental Sound Film. Shot at the Edison laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey by William Kennedy Laurie Dickson this 17-second is the first attempt to match synchronized sound with a moving image. It shows Dickson himself playing violin into a large cylindrical megaphone that was acting as a microphone, while two unidentified men danced. The sound was captured on a wax cylinder, which was meant to be played in conjunction with the film. The film was restored only recently by film editor Walter Murch and funded through a donation from George Lucas’s Skywalker Sound company.

Other silent films on the list include 1924’s The Chechahcos, the first feature film shot on location in Alaska and silent screen legend Rudolph Valentino’s last film The Son of the Sheik (1926).

Tarzan and His Mate (1934), the second in the long running Johnny Weissmuller-starring series, was named as a racy nude swimming scene featuring a body double for star Maureen O’Sullivan was a contributing factor to the introduction of the Hayes Code and early film censorship. After objections from conservative groups, MGM studios, the producers of the film, removed the scene. The missing footage was restored in the early 1990s.

“It’s a very sexy scene,” states Steve Leggett, staff coordinator for the National Film Presentation Board. “But it was one of those things where people started saying that Hollywood was getting out of control. After this, Tarzan and Jane are sleeping in separate beds- like that would ever happen in a tree house in the jungle.”

This year’s list also includes many famous pairings, including Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy in Naughty Marietta (1935), Mickey Rooney and Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet (1944) and Paul Newman and Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). George C. Scott’s tour de force performance in the 1970 bio-pic Patton helped to secure that film’s place on the list this year.

The most recent film named to the list is the computer generated animated short Tin Toy (1988) directed by John Lasseter, who would later direct the classic Toy Story (1995). The film won an Academy Award for “Best Animated Short Film” for its studio Pixar.

The complete list of films on the National Film Registry can be found here. The films on the list range from silent classics Intolerance (1919) and It (1927) to popular block busters like Star Wars (1977) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) to historically important film footage as the Hindenburg Disaster Newsreel Footage (1937) and Abraham Zapruder’s infamous home movie footage of the John F Kennedy assassination.

The complete chronological list of films named to the list this year is as follows-

  • Dickson Experimental Sound Film (1894-95)
  • Princess Nicotine; or the Smoke Fairy (1909)
  • Matrimony’s Speed Limit (1913)
  • The Chechahcos (1924)
  • The Son of the Sheik (1926)
  • Fox Movietone News: Jenkins Orphanage Band (1928)
  • Show People (1928)
  • The Wedding March (1928)
  • Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)
  • Tarzan and His Mate (1934)
  • Naughty Marietta (1935)
  • Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)
  • National Velvet (1944)
  • White Heat (1949)
  • One Froggy Evening (1956)
  • The Hunters (Kalahari Desert tribe anthropological film) (1957)
  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
  • Medium Cool (1969)
  • Film Portrait (1970)
  • Patton (1970)
  • Nostalgia (1971)
  • Antonia: A Portrait of the Woman (1974)
  • Young Frankenstein (1974)
  • Atlantic City (1980)
  • Tin Toy (1988)
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About Rich Drees 6950 Articles
A film fan since he first saw that Rebel Blockade Runner fleeing the massive Imperial Star Destroyer at the tender age of 8 and a veteran freelance journalist with twenty years experience writing about film and pop culture. He is a member of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle.
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