Quick — blurt out the first thing that comes to your head when you think about the Library of Congress. Stuffy and silent? Display cases filled with untouchable relics? People in funny-looking white wigs? I don’t know about you, but those were my first thoughts.
Before now, I had not realized that the Library of Congress is so much more than that. Built for Congress (what a surprise) in 1800, the library has expanded to become the largest library in the world, by measure of both shelf space and number of books, and is housed in three buildings in Washington, D.C. In addition to books, however, the library houses other things. It is home to massive collections of materials relevant to the cultural, political and social history of the United States. To date, this includes more than 32 million catalogued books and other print materials in 470 languages, a Gutenberg Bible (one of only four copies known to exist), a rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, one million issues of newspapers from around the world spanning the past 300 years, over 6,000 comic book titles, 5.3 million maps and more than 14.7 million prints and photographic images. All preserved and stored over the last 200 years so that future generations may learn from the past.
The National Film Registry of the Library of Congress preserves and stores culturally, historically and aesthetically significant films. This year, a total of 25 films were selected for preservation, including well known films like Forrest Gump, Bambi, and Silence of the Lambs as well as other, lesser known documentaries, home movies, avant-garde shorts and experimental films. The films chosen span a total of 82 years, from 1912 to 1994, and represent the rich creative and cultural diversity of American cinema. This year’s selections increase the number of films in the registry to 575.
Under the National Film Preservation Act, the Librarian of Congress — this year, James H. Billington — names 25 films to the National Film Registry each year.
“These films are selected because of their enduring significance to American culture,” said Billington. “Our film heritage must be protected because these cinematic treasures document our history and culture and reflect our hopes and dreams.”
The task of nominating films each year goes to the public. This year Billington had his work cut out for him — 2,228 films were nominated. These nominated films are reviewed and then finalized by the Librarian after conferring with library curators and members of the National Film Preservation Board.
After the titles named to the registry are finalized, the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation works to immortalize the films for future generations. This is accomplished through the library’s huge motion-picture preservation program and through collaboration with other motion-picture studios, archives and independent filmmakers. Currently, over six million collection items are housed at the Packard Campus, including three million sound recordings.
The National Film Registry has been preserving films since 1989. The entire list of 575 films includes a vast array of incredibly diverse films and videos, from WW2 and Hindenburg disaster footage to Groundhog Day and Toy Story. Among some of the more recognizable films in the registry are It’s a Wonderful Life, Elvis Presley’s Jailhouse Rock, Citizen Kane, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Back to the Future and The Pink Panther (the original 1963 version). Along with all the classics that definitely deserve to be preserved, there were some that I personally found to be questionable.
Nominations are currently being sought for next year’s registry and take note: nowhere does it say that you have to be an American citizen to have your say. Go to http://www.loc.gov/film/vote.html to view registry criteria and to cast your vote!
Films selected to the 2011 National Film Registry
1. Allures (1961)
2. Bambi (1942)
3. The Big Heat (1953)
4. A Computer Animated Hand (1972)
5. Crisis: Behind A Presidential Commitment (1963)
6. The Cry of the Children (1912)
7. A Cure for Pokeritis (1912)
8. El Mariachi (1992)
9. Faces (1968)
10. Fake Fruit Factory (1986)
11. Forrest Gump (1994)
12. Growing Up Female (1971)
13. Hester Street (1975)
14. I, an Actress (1977)
15. The Iron Horse (1924)
16. The Kid (1921)
17. The Lost Weekend (1945)
18. The Negro Soldier (1944)
19. Nicholas Brothers Family Home Movies (1930s-40s)
20. Norma Rae (1979)
21. Porgy and Bess (1959)
22. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
23. Stand and Deliver (1988)
24. Twentieth Century (1934)
25. War of the Worlds (1953)