Every year, the Librarian of Congress selects twenty-five American films – each “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant – for addition to the National Film Registry. The selection of films is based on suggestions from the library’s National Film Preservation Board along with those made by the general public.
Today, the Library announced twenty-five new inductees to the National Film Registry. This year’s selection includes silent era masterpieces The Kid (1921) and The Iron Horse (1924), as well as a child labor exposé The Cry of the Children (1912).
Spanning the years 1912-1994, the twenty-five films named to the registry include Hollywood classics, documentaries, animation, home movies, avant-garde shorts and experimental motion pictures. Representing the rich creative and cultural diversity of the American cinematic experience, this year’s selections bring the total number of films in the registry to 575. More than a handful of the silent era entries have been shown at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.
From the Library of Congress website, here are the four films dating from the silent era – along with their LOC descriptions.
The Cry of the Children (1912)
Recognized as a key work that both reflected and contributed to the pre-World War I child labor reform movement, the two-reel silent melodrama The Cry of the Children takes its title and fatalistic, uncompromising tone of hopelessness from the 1842 poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The Cry of the Children was part of a wave of “social problem” films released during the 1910s on such subjects as drugs and alcohol, white slavery, immigrants and women’s suffrage. Some were sensationalist attempts to exploit lurid topics, while others, like The Cry of the Children, were realistic exposés that championed social reform and demanded change. Shot partially in a working textile factory, The Cry of the Children was recognized by an influential critic of the time as “The boldest, most timely and most effective appeal for the stamping out of the cruelest of all social abuses.”
A Cure for Pokeritis (1912)
Largely forgotten today, actor John Bunny merits significant historical importance as the American film industry’s earliest comic superstar. A stage actor prior to the start of his film career, Bunny starred in over 150 Vitagraph Company productions from 1910 until his death in 1915. Many of his films (affectionately known as “Bunnygraphs”) were gentle “domestic” comedies, in which he portrayed a henpecked husband alongside co-star Flora Finch. A Cure for Pokeritis exemplifies the genre, as Finch conspires with similarly displeased wives to break up their husbands’ weekly poker game. When Bunny died in 1915, a New York Times editorial noted that “Thousands who had never heard him speak…recognized him as the living symbol of wholesome merriment.” The paper presciently commented on the importance of preserving motion pictures and sound recordings for future generations: “His loss will be felt all over the country, and the films, which preserve his humorous personality in action, may in time have a new value. It is a subject worthy of reflection, the value of a perfect record of a departed singer’s voice, of the photographic films perpetuating the drolleries of a comedian who developed such extraordinary capacity for acting before the camera.”
The Iron Horse (1924)
John Ford’s epic Western The Iron Horse established his reputation as one of Hollywood’s most accomplished directors. Intended by Fox studios to rival Paramount’s 1923 epic The Covered Wagon, Ford’s film employed more than 5,000 extras, advertised authenticity in its attention to realistic detail, and provided him with the opportunity to create iconic visual images of the Old West, inspired by such master painters as Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell. A tale of national unity achieved after the Civil War through the construction of the transcontinental railroad, The Iron Horse celebrated the contributions of Irish, Italian and Chinese immigrants although the number of immigrants allowed to enter the country legally was severely restricted at the time of its production. A classic silent film, The Iron Horse introduced to American and world audiences a reverential, elegiac mythology that has influenced many subsequent Westerns.
The Kid (1921)
Charles Chaplin’s first full-length feature, the silent classic The Kid, is an artful melding of touching drama, social commentary and inventive comedy. The tale of a foundling (Jackie Coogan, soon to be a major child star) taken in by the Little Tramp, The Kid represents a high point in Chaplin’s evolving cinematic style, proving he could sustain his artistry beyond the length of his usual short subjects and could deftly elicit a variety of emotions from his audiences by skillfully blending slapstick and pathos.
Annual selections to the registry are finalized by the Librarian after reviewing hundreds of titles nominated by the public (including some 2,228 films nominated by the public) and conferring with Library film curators and the distinguished members of the National Film Preservation Board (NFPB).
The public is urged to make nominations for next year’s registry at the NFPB’s website (www. loc.gov/film).
These Amazing Shadows, a documentary about the National Film Registry, will air nationally on the award-winning PBS series “Independent Lens” on Thursday, December 29 at 10 p.m (check local listings). Written and directed by Paul Mariano and Kurt Norton, this critically acclaimed documentary has also been released on DVD and Blu-ray.
Thomas Gladysz is an arts journalist and early film buff. He is also the founding director of the Louise Brooks Society, and online archive and international fan club devoted to the legendary silent film star. Gladysz has organized exhibits, contributed to books, appeared on television, and introduced the actress’s films around the world.