Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, drugs, hippies, the open road, protests, long–hair, nonconformity, backlash.
“Easy Rider” picked up the beat of the 1960s at the end of that turbulent decade. It also fueled a developing urge to make personal films that could be done on budgets low enough to deal with subjects of little or no interest to conventional Hollywood.
The French New Wave already had its influence, and now it was the turn of American filmmakers. True, a major Hollywood company, Columbia, released “Easy Rider,” but the deal was struck only after the independent venture had been completed.
Independent filmmakers in succeeding decades owe a debt to “Easy Rider” as one of several 1960s films that inspired others to work outside the mainstream.
Every month, films from the Library of Congress’s collection are shown at the Mary Pickford Theater in the Library’s James Madison Building in Washington, DC. They range from titles newly preserved by the National Audio Visual Conservation Center film lab to classics from the National Film Registry to lesser known titles worthy of discovery.
Eighty-three years ago, on October 19, 1939, the Capra classic “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” had its debut in–where else?–Washington, DC. Named by the Librarian of Congress to the Library’s National Film Registry in 1989, “Mr. Smith” is, for better or worse, as timely today as it ever was. In the essay below, the late film scholar Robert Sklar looks back at one of America’s greatest films.
In the late 1930s, more securely atop the pinnacle of American cinema than the Hollywoodland sign, Frank Capra could afford to be bold. Over a five–year span he had won three Academy Awards as best director, for “It Happened One Night” (1934), “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” (1936) and “You Can’t Take It With You” (1938). The First and last of these titles had also been picked as best picture. In 1939 he ended a four–year term as Academy president and assumed leadership of the new Screen Directors Guild. Ambitious and apparently unassailable, he was able to launch a project that others had tried but failed to get off the ground: a controversial story involving corruption in the United States Senate, released in 1939 as “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”
Years later, in his 1971 autobiography “The Name Above the Title,” Capra related a tale about a visit he supposedly received, when he had fallen ill follow[sic] his first Academy Award, from a mysterious “little man … completely bald, wearing thick glasses” who admonished him to his artistry for higher purposes than screwball comedy. “Mr. Deeds” was the first of the more serious endeavors that followed. Then came, among others, “Mr. Smith,” “Meet John Doe” (1941) and “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946). These are among the most honored and cherished works in America’s film heritage. Yet they also strike many viewers as ambiguous and troubling.
Among Hollywood’s most significant filmmakers, Capra’s reputation is surely the most contested. His four major titles on political and social themes – “Deeds,” “Smith,” “Doe,” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” – are instantly recognizable for similarities of style, story, and character that, taken together, add up to a unique signature. What some call “Capraseque,” however, others not so flatteringly label “Capricorn.” The films feature naïve, small–town idealists fighting against the ruthless power of political machines, media barons, capitalist predators, and urban elites. Defeated and humiliated, these over-matched innocents are rescued by the moral might on an aroused community, but the otherwise powerless little people whose united support acclaims the downcast heroes as natural leaders. Uplifting and sentimental, Capra’s political films seem to offer a consoling myth of national character that has captivated audiences over generations. At the same time, they’ve been attacked as conformist, demagogic, manipulative, phony.
Editor’s Note: Read more, see link below for original item…
The late Robert Sklar was a member of the National Film Preservation Board as well as a film scholar and author of the 1975 book “Movie-Made America.”
I am happy to say that I work with some of the most fascinating, brilliant and passionate people that I’ve ever known. The halls here at the Library of Congress National Audio-Video Conservation Center are abuzz every day with discussions about movies, directors, cinematography, casting decisions, and opinions about what is the greatest film of all time. (You can add your thoughts in the comments).
The most-lively debates revolve around the National Film Registry.
Second to Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden, I think I have one of the greatest jobs at the Library. An important part of my role is working with the National Film Preservation Board to research and recommend works to the Librarian for induction into the National Film Registry.
“Top Gun: Maverick” took your breath away, did it?
The sequel to the 1986 blockbuster is, if anything, a bigger hit than the original. The film, in which Tom Cruise reprises his role as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, took in a Memorial Day weekend record of an estimated $156 million at the box office.
Fighter jets, “Danger Zone” and popcorn. Good times.
Your friendly national library is making sure this cinematic love affair is preserved on several fronts, particularly with the first film. We were mildly surprised at just how many.
First, the Library’s National Film Registry’s class of 2015 added the original to the the Library’s list of “culturally, historically or aesthetically” important films worthy of national preservation. Second, it turns out the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center has the original 35mm movie film print. The real reels!
Third, the Music Division has the commercial sheet music for the film’s songs, which might be expected, but also (unexpectedly) has the gold-record award given to Tom Whitlock for cowriting, among other hits on the soundtrack, “Take My Breath Away.”
Yesterday we learned of the passing of William Hurt, and today, internet, cable and even broadcast news will be filled with stories of his award-winning career spanning over 50 years and over 100 credits.
Hurt holds a respected place in cinema for being nominated for the best actor Oscar for three consecutive years; “Kiss of the Spider Woman” in 1986, “Children of a Lesser God” in 1987 and “Broadcast News” in 1988.
“Broadcast News” was added to the Library of Congress National Film Registry in 2018.
In honor of William Hurt, we look back on “Broadcast News” with an essay from Brian Scott Mednick. Ask anyone that’s ever worked in a newsroom, especially in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and they will tell you that the performances by William Hurt, Holly Hunter, Albert Brooks and Jack Nicholson are flawless.
Broadcast News (1987
With the 24/7 news cycle we’ve become accustomed to over the last several decades, the 1980s seems like a lifetime ago with respect to how television news was both reported and consumed. “Broadcast News,” released in December 1987, is a time capsule of that period, which was a simpler, less volatile era when we trusted three guys named Dan, Tom, and Peter to give us a half-hour recap of the day’s pivotal events at dinnertime.
“Broadcast News,” written, produced, and directed by James L. Brooks, is one the smartest films ever made about show business and the media, a savagely funny, sophisticated, and poignant story about three people who are as ambitious and determined as they are diffident and vulnerable.
Editor’s Note: Read more, see link below for original item…