Local movie buff Hunter Hale feels vindicated - "Sunrise" was chosen as one of the first 25 films to make up the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.
Hale is a dyed-in-the-wool film freak whose movie passion encompasses the silent era. He collects films and videos, along with memorabilia, of course . . . but he doesn't just hoard. He's a vocal advocate.Hale loves the art of so-called "silent movies," the pre-1927 (and some post-1927) motion pictures that used title cards instead of spoken dialogue and were accompanied by music, ranging from honky-tonk pianos to full orchestras, and even sound effects. And he likes to share his love for these films with others.
He often shows the old silents in his home theater to family, friends and anyone else who has an interest, and several years ago Hale coaxed me into seeing for the first time what he considers the best of the best - "Sunrise."
Though we had known each other for a while, I was a bit skeptical about Hale's raves for this film. After all, we all have our favorites - but that doesn't mean someone else will be as enthusiastic as you are about a particular film.
Since "Sunrise" was a movie I had always wanted to see, I went. And I was pleasantly surprised and rather mesmerized by the power of F.W. Murnau's deceptively simple tale of a man driven to murder his wife, then repenting at the last minute and attempting to win her forgiveness.
"I had read about it for years, and I finally got a (16mm) copy in 1972," Hale says. "Now a lot of films that you look forward to like that turn out to be kind of a disappointment. But the minute I saw `Sunrise' I saw that it was everything I had read about."
He also found that word-of-mouth was extraordinary - everyone he showed it to wanted to share it with someone else.
A year later Hale talked Art Proctor into running "Sunrise" at his Avalon Theater. Proctor was also skeptical, since silents traditionally do not play as well as sound films in Salt Lake's favorite "golden oldies" theater.
But "Sunrise" was a huge success.
Finally, as local movie fans are well-aware, "Sunrise" was chosen by the Sundance Institute to open the 1989 United States Film Festival in January, complete with a new musical score by David Newman, who conducted the Utah Symphony.
What you may not know is that Hale is the one who introduced "Sunrise" to Sundance.
Since Hale has been touting "Sunrise" for years, and the world is just coming to rediscover it in 1989, I can't help but feel he is, at least to some extent, responsible for the renewed interest in this fine film. (And if you'd like an opportunity to see it, mark next year's calendar for April, when the Organ Loft's silent film series will give "Sunrise" another public showing.)
And he is, of course, grinning from ear to ear, knowing that one of his absolute favorite films is receiving the national recognition it deserves.
But Hale is even happier knowing that more people will be anxious to see it, which can only lead to its being made more available.
Can a quality video release be far away?
MOST OF THE OTHER films in the National Registry are no surprise, safe bets ranging from "Citizen Kane" to "Gone With the Wind" to "The Wizard of Oz" to "Star Wars" to "Singin' in the Rain," etc.
But some are certainly curious choices.
First, let's understand what this recognition means and how the films were chosen.
These are American films that are "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant," according to James H. Billington, librarian of Congress. Some 1,000 films were nominated by the public, then members of the National Preservation Board submitted ballots. Then Billington himself made the final selections.
The idea is to generate public interest in film preservation and promote movies as an art form, and 25 more will be chosen next year and the following year.
But Billington said last week, "Make no mistake, this list of 25 films is not a list of the best 25 American films. This is not Academy Awards night."
He said these films "should suggest to the American public the breadth of great American filmmaking," at least as determined by Congress.
The oldest movie on this list is "Intolerance," the D.W. Griffith epic that followed "Birth of a Nation." "Intolerance" has been the subject of a recent massive restoration project, but it was probably chosen over "Birth of a Nation" because the latter film is so controversial (because it portrays the Ku Klux Klan sympathetically).
The newest movie on the list is "Star Wars," the second-biggest moneymaker of all time. The No. 1 moneymaker - "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" - isn't eligible since films for the registry must be more than 10 years old.
In addition to "Sunrise" and "Intolerance," other silent movies on the list are "The Crowd," "Nanook of the North" and two classic comedies, Buster Keaton's "The General" and Charlie Chaplin's "Modern Times."
Most film critics and historians would agree that "The General" is Keaton's finest and best-known film, but "Modern Times," though perhaps his most accessible, may not be first choice for Chaplin buffs. "City Lights," perhaps. "The Kid," maybe. Or "The Gold Rush." If not Chaplin's peak, however, "Modern Times" is certainly a worthy choice.
The Hitchcock choice is "Vertigo." No arguments there.
Two Billy Wilder films made it - "Sunset Boulevard" and "Some Like It Hot," though one could wish for "Double Indemnity," "The Apartment" or any number of others.
There are two Westerns - "High Noon" and "The Searchers." Arguments could be made for others, but again, these are worthy choices.
"The Maltese Falcon" is the John Huston choice, though some would vote for "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" or "The African Queen."
Frank Capra's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" is great, of course, but where's "It's a Wonderful Life"? (That film is available in so many butchered public domain versions it's certainly worthy of preservation consideration.)
And "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" may not be Disney's best animated feature, but it was the first animated feature. Historically, it is most significant.
The others are hard to argue with, though one definitely seems an odd selection: "The Learning Tree," which is not very well known by the public and certainly not as favored by critics as the other films on this list. The 1969 film is, however, a fine autobiographical effort by Gordon Parks, based on his own experiences of growing up black in Kansas. Social significance does mean something after all.
The absentees are noticeable, of course - the two "Godfather" films, "To Kill a Mockingbird," "Ben-Hur," "Stagecoach," "Rebecca," "Top Hat," "It Happened One Night," "Fantasia," and many others. Not to mention representation by Laurence Olivier, Katharine Hepburn, Fred Astaire, Laurel & Hardy, Bette Davis, James Cagney, the Marx Brothers, Elizabeth Taylor, Greta Garbo, etc.
But then there's always next year.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Veteran director Norman Jewison ("Moonstruck," "In the Heat of the Night," the upcoming "In Country"):
"I think it's great to draw attention to the need for preservation, but how are you going to choose the movies? I mean, you wouldn't make it a popularity contest or base it on commercial success. I sure wouldn't put `Gone With the Wind' on a list like that."
QUOTE OF THE WEEK II: Veteran director Stanley Donen ("Singin' in the Rain," "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," "Charade"):
"I'm delighted to be one of the 25, but I'm horrified at the necessity of the act."
QUOTE OF THE WEEK III: Veteran director Billy Wilder, whose two films on the list are "Some Like It Hot" and "Sunset Boulevard," complaining about editing movies for commercial interruptions:
"The television people call in a butcher, who has failed at Ralph's grocery store, to supervise the cutting of pictures so they can slip in the Noxema commercials."
Film Registry selections
WASHINGTON (UPI) - An alphabetical list of the first 25 films to be placed in the National Film Registry, and the year of release:
1. The Best Years of Our Lives, 1946
2. Casablanca, 1942
3. Citizen Kane, 1941
4. The Crowd, 1928
5. Dr. Strangelove, 1964
6. The General, 1927
7. Gone With the Wind, 1939
8. The Grapes of Wrath, 1940
9. High Noon, 1952
10. Intolerance, 1916
11. The Learning Tree, 1969
12. The Maltese Falcon, 1941
13. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, 1939
14. Modern Times, 1936
15. Nanook of the North, 1922
16. On the Waterfront, 1954
17. The Searchers, 1956
18. Singin' in the Rain, 1952
19. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1937
20. Some Like It Hot, 1959
21. Star Wars, 1977
22. Sunrise, 1927
23. Sunset Boulevard, 1950
24. Vertigo, 1958
25. The Wizard of Oz, 1939