There is a news story making the rounds today that states that Jerry Lewis’s legendarily unreleased film The Day The Clown Cried has been added to the National Film Registry. Unfortunately, it isn’t exactly true and serves as one of those occasional reminders that sometimes reporters need to do a bit of basic research and not just copy another’s mistakes.
Yesterday, the New York Post ran a story headlined “‘Wort Movie Ever Made’ to join National Film Registry” in which they reported that The Day The Clown Cried would be added to the Library of Congress’ National Film Register. It is true that it was announced that Lewis has gifted his entire personal film to the Library of Congress back in August. The Post even reported on it themselves. And reportedly the actual film print was handed over to the Library of Congress today. But that doesn’t mean that The Day The Clown Cried will go on the National Film Registry.
The Registry is self-described as a list of American films that are “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” According to the Library of Congress’s website, to get a film onto the Registry “The Librarian of Congress makes the annual selections to the Registry after reviewing hundreds of titles nominated by the public and conferring with Library film curators and the distinguished members of the National Film Preservation Board (NFPB).” Twenty-five films are selected annually.
Donating your own films doesn’t automatically get them on the Registry. It just puts them into the possession of the Library of Congress. Nothing more.
So, how did the Post make such a rookie mistake? Well, we can’t blame a specific writer for the error because the post is merely credited to “Post Staff Report.” However, within the story they reference a report from the Sunday Times of London. A portion of their story is hidden behind a paywall (How very 2004 of them), but their misinterpretation of the facts is right in the lead paragraph which reads “AMERICA’S National Film Registry, held in the Library of Congress, will accept custody of possibly its most unusual movie tomorrow.” The Times writer, John Harlow, appears to be the one who conflated the National Film Registry, a program of the National Film Preservation Board within the Library of Congress with the actual Library of Congress itself. A mistake that could have been revealed by either 30-seconds worth of fact checking by either Harlow or the anonymous Post reporter.
What makes this mistake even worse, is that the Library of Congress only just announced this year’s twenty-five films that have been named to the National Film Registry just two weeks ago. And when that story hits, virtually every outlet who writes about it takes the time to define exactly what the Registry is and how it works. It’s a pity that the Post’s regular film writer Lou Lemenick wasn’t the one who was assigned to follow up on this. He would have known better and we could all be talking about something else instead.