Bambi, Forrest Gump Among 2011 National Film Registry Picks
Among the first films to emerge from the women’s liberation movement, “Growing Up Female” is a documentary portrait of America on the brink of profound change in its attitudes toward women. Filmed in spring 1970 by Ohio college students Julia Reichert and Jim Klein, “Growing Up Female” focuses on six girls and women aged 4 to 34 and the home, school, work and advertising environments that have impacted their identities. Through open-ended interviews and lyrical documentation of their surroundings, the film strived, in Reichert’s words, to “give women a new lens through which to see their own lives.” Widely distributed to libraries, universities, churches and youth groups, the film launched a cooperative of female filmmakers that bypassed traditional distribution mechanisms to get its message communicated.
Hester Street (1975)
Joan Micklin Silver’s first feature-length film, “Hester Street,” was an adaption of preeminent Yiddish author Abraham Cahan’s 1896 well-received first novel “Yekl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto.” In the 1975 film, the writer-director brought to the screen a portrait of Eastern European Jewish life in America that historians have praised for its accuracy of detail and sensitivity to the challenges immigrants faced during their acculturation process. Shot in black-and-white and partly in Yiddish with English subtitles, the independent production, financed with money raised by the filmmaker’s husband, was shunned by Hollywood until it established a reputation at the Cannes Film Festival and in European markets. “Hester Street” focuses on stresses that occur when a “greenhorn” wife, played by Carol Kane (nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal), and her young son arrive in New York to join her Americanized husband. Silver, one of the first women directors of American features to emerge during the women’s liberation movement, shifted the story’s emphasis from the husband, as in the novel, to the wife. Historian Joyce Antler has written admiringly, “In indicating the hardships experienced by women and their resiliency, as well as the deep strains assimilation posed to masculinity, ‘Hester Street’ touches on a fundamental cultural challenge confronting immigrants.”
I, an Actress (1977)
Underground filmmaker George Kuchar and his twin brother Mike began making 8mm films as 12-year-old kids in the Bronx, often on their family’s apartment rooftop. Before his death in 2011, George created over 200 outlandish low-budget films filled with absurdist melodrama, crazed dialogue and plots, and affection for Hollywood film conventions and genres. A professor at the San Francisco Art Institute, Kuchar documented his directing techniques in the hilarious “I, an Actress” as he encourages an acting student to embellish a melodramatic monologue with increasingly excessive gestures and emotions. Like most of Kuchar’s films, “I, an Actress” embodies a “camp” sensibility, defined by the cultural critic Susan Sontag as deriving from an aesthetics that valorizes not beauty but “love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration.” Filmmaker John Waters has cited the Kuchars as “my first inspiration” and credited them with giving him “the self-confidence to believe in my own tawdry vision.”
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)