Blazing Saddles
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2 items from 2006

Handheld filmers caught history

27 December 2006 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

WASHINGTON -- What people can now do with ease using digital cameras, Julien Bryan, Jonas Mekas and Dwight Core did when it was much more difficult and seemed to matter more.

What people might post on YouTube or MySpace today, they did with film as Bryan, Mekas and Core documented ordinary people going about their daily lives in extraordinary circumstances.

Movies shot by the three were added to the National Film Registry on Wednesday, joining such boxoffice giants as Rocky, Halloween and Blazing Saddles on the 450-film roster.

In Siege Bryan filmed the citizens of Warsaw going about their daily lives amid the horrors of war as the Nazis battled to take over the city.

"You just sort of see people going one way and soldiers going the other," said Raye Farr, director of the Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive at the U.S. Holocaust Museum. It's just mind-boggling.

Bryan's name has largely slipped from the public mind, but he was an influential writer and documentary filmmaker in the 1930s and '40s, one of the first public figures to spotlight the menace of the Third Reich. In excerpts from a book about the movie published in Reader's Digest in 1940, he described the eerie nature of the siege.

"A strange aspect of life was that the siege of Warsaw was a commuter's war. The front lines were at the edge of the city," Bryan wrote. "Soldiers kept coming back from the front each day to share their food with their families, or at least to make sure their families were provided for. Losses among civilians were greater than among soldiers, and often it was not so much a question of a husband returning alive from battle as of a family remaining alive at home."

Raye said it was unclear exactly why Bryan was in Poland at that particular moment, other than having a nose for news. »

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'Rocky,' 'Fargo,' 'Saddles' join Nat'l Film Registry

27 December 2006 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

WASHINGTON -- As Rocky Balboa makes his big-screen comeback, the movie that launched the franchise 30 years ago and made Sylvester Stallone a household name was among 25 films named to the National Film Registry by the Librarian of Congress on Wednesday.

Rocky, the Oscar winner for best picture of 1976, joined Mel Brooks' outrageous comedy Blazing Saddles (1974), John Carpenter's slasher classic Halloween (1978), the Coen brothers' black comedy Fargo (1996) and Steven Soderbergh's groundbreaking "sex, lies, and videotape" (1989) on this year's selection of treasures that are guaranteed to be preserved forever.

The 2006 entrants span the years 1913-96 and feature performances by Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Bill Murray, Ingrid Bergman, John Wayne and late soul great James Brown and directors Alfred Hitchcock, Rouben Mamoulian and Raoul Walsh.

The National Film Registry list, begun in 1989, now numbers 450.

While the choices by Librarian of Congress James Billington spotlights some well-known films, it also features many lesser-known lights of the filmmakers' art, including the only film recording of pioneering blues artist Bessie Smith, a 1913 exploitation film about the white slave trade, one of the first rock concert movies and even a home movie.

"The annual selection of films to the National Film Registry involves far more than the simple naming of cherished and important films to a prestigious list," Billington said. "The registry should not be seen as the Kennedy Center Honors, the Academy Awards or even America's most beloved films. Rather, it is an invaluable means to advance public awareness of the richness, creativity and variety of American film heritage and to dramatize the need for its preservation."

Billington made his selections from more than 1,000 titles nominated by the public after lengthy discussions with the library's motion picture division staff and members of the National Film Preservation Board.

Congress created the registry in 1989 to preserve films of cultural, historical and artistic significance. Selection in the National Film Registry singles out films for preservation either in the Library of Congress' own archive or facilities elsewhere.

Big studio releases usually are cared for by their own archives or other variants of public and private film archives. Entry in the registry often puts a priority on the films named; if they aren't being preserved, their inclusion often moves them up on the list.

Rocky also won Oscars for best director (John Avildsen) and film editing and received 10 nominations. Stallone was nominated as best actor and for his original screenplay. Rocky Balboa, the sixth film in the franchise, opened last week.

" 'Rocky' is an important film," said Steve Leggett, staff coordinator for the National Film Preservation Board. "And it's a great story (in real life): An out-of-work actor watches a fight on TV and whips out a screenplay, and there you go."

While Billington already has picked a pair of Brooks films, The Producers and Young Frankenstein, for the list, he said the registry wouldn't be complete without Blazing Saddles.

It's an iconic film, Leggett said. "(Brooks is) an equal opportunity basher. He bashes everyone, and there are a lot of very funny scenes. It's over-the-top comedy with a civil rights theme. It would be very difficult movie to make today. Just look at what's happened with the Kazaks (and 'Borat'). Mel Brooks had a small window of opportunity."

Halloween might not have the artistic chops of two other films on this year's list -- The Last Command, director Josef von Sternberg's 1928 story that starred Emil Jannings in an Oscar-winning performance, or 1946's Notorious, arguably Hitchcock's best black-and-white American film -- but it launched a genre, Leggett noted.

" 'Halloween' launched Carpenter's career and started the slasher genre," he said. "Some people may say that's good or bad, but it's really a good film."

Von Sternberg's silent drama, about an exiled Russian general who is reduced to working as a Hollywood extra, is seen by film critic Leonard Maltin as another genre-making film.

"It shows that even in the '20s, people were interested in the inner workings of Hollywood and (seeing) Hollywood mythicize itself," said Maltin, a member of the library's film preservation board. "Eventually, (Jannings' character) finds himself in a battle scene wearing his old uniform. It sounds contrived, but it works out."

The bulk of the choices are obscure films such as St. Louis Blues, the 1929 RKO sound experiment that captured Smith singing in a two-reeler; Think of Me First as a Person, a home movie about a child with Down syndrome that was put together over 15 years; and the avant-garde "Early Abstractions #1-5, 7, 10," Harry Smith's compilation of seven of his films from 1939-56.

Billington noted that films like these, as well as documentaries and silent movies, are disappearing at an alarming rate as nitrate deterioration, color fading and the recently discovered "vinegar syndrome" (which threatens the acetate-based "safety film" stock) take their toll.

"This key component of American cultural history is an endangered species," he said.

Complete list:

Applause (1929)

This early sound-era masterpiece was the first film for stage director Rouben Mamoulian and cabaret star Helen Morgan. Many have compared Mamoulian's debut to that of Orson Welles' Citizen Kane because of their flamboyant use of cinematic innovation to test technical boundaries. The tear-jerking plot boasts top performances from Morgan as the fading burlesque queen, Fuller Mellish Jr. as her slimy paramour and Joan Peers as her cultured daughter. However, the film is remembered today chiefly for Mamoulian's audacious style. While most films of the era were static and stage-bound, Mamoulian's camera reinvigorated the melodramatic plot by prowling relentlessly through sordid backstage life.

The Big Trail (1930)

The story goes that director Raoul Walsh was seeking a male lead for his new Western and asked his friend John Ford. He recommended an unknown actor named John Wayne because he "liked the looks of this New Kid with a funny walk, like he owned the world." When Wayne professed inexperience, Walsh told him to just "sit good on a horse and point." The plot of a trek along the Oregon Trail is aided immensely by the majestic sweep provided by the experimental Grandeur widescreen process used in filming. »

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