Library of Congress to preserve movies
WASHINGTON -- The documentary "Hoop Dreams" and footage of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake are among the 25 movies picked this year for the National Film Registry, a compilation of significant films being preserved by the Library of Congress.
Also being preserved is a film of the July 4, 1910, heavyweight title fight between champion Jack Johnson and former champion James J. Jeffries.
Fictional films chosen by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington range from Buster Keaton's last comedy, "The Cameraman," to the Christmas classic "Miracle on 34th Street" to the 1982 teen comedy "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."
The 2005 selections bring to 425 the total number of films being preserved by the Library of Congress or other institutions involved in the project.
"Sadly, our enthusiasm for watching films has proved far greater than our commitment to preserving them," Billington said.
Half the movies made before 1950 and 80 percent to 90 percent of those produced before 1920 have disappeared, he said. He added that more are lost each year, partly because of the recently discovered "vinegar syndrome" that attacks the safety film used to preserve most of them.
The most recent movie making the list is 1995's "Toy Story," the first full-length computer-animated feature.
The oldest film selected this year is a documentary from 1906 of the San Francisco earthquake and the fire that followed. The disaster, which destroyed much of the city, was one of the first recorded on film.
"Hoop Dreams," from 1994, follows the lives of two inner-city Chicago kids vying for college basketball scholarships, illustrating the limited opportunities for lower-class black families in America.
An intense discourse on racial identity engulfed press coverage of "white hope" Jeffries' attempt to unseat the first African-American heavyweight champion. The feature-length motion-picture recording of Johnson's victory remained the subject of debate and press coverage for two years.
The $100,000 production was widely exhibited internationally, but also often censored. Congress took up a bill to ban the traffic prizefight pictures in 1910, ultimately making it a federal crime from 1912 until 1940.
Another selection this year is a set of field recordings of music and services at the Commandment Keeper Church in Beaufort, S.C., in 1940. A team working under novelist Zora Neale Hurston recorded the songs and services of South Carolina's Gullah community. Recently rediscovered sound recordings are being reunited with the film.
Popular successes on the list include "The French Connection," an action-packed film in which Gene Hackman plays a cop tracking down international drug smugglers. The three-hour dramatization of Edna Ferber's novel "Giant" portrays life on the great Texas plains and stars Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean.
Also on the list is "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," a still popular "midnight movie" that changed Hollywood's ideas about audience participation.
Then there's "Baby Face," in which Barbara Stanwyck plays a siren seducing her way up the social ladder. The 1933 film was initially banned for its sexual content before Warner Bros. released an expurgated version. An uncensored version was discovered last year.
"The films we choose are not necessarily the 'best' American films ever made or the most famous, but they are films that continue to have cultural, historical or aesthetic significance," Billington said.
Billington made his selections from more than 1,000 titles nominated by the public. He held lengthy discussions with the library's motion picture division staff and members of the National Film Preservation Board.
The registry was created by Congress in 1989.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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