I have a love/hate relationship with lists. Particularly movie lists. On one hand my movie watching experiences for the past couple of years have primarily been the result of trying to complete the TSPDT 1000 Greatest Films list, with the result being that I’ve stoked my passion for film, and been inspired to pursue a career path (that of film archivism). I’ve also learned a lot about the world, about history, and even daresay a few things about myself.
So in general the list has been a good thing. But conversely, lists have become the framework by which I watch movies. The films I seek out now are listed somewhere by someone, so whether it be the Silentera.com list of the top 298 silent films, or the films listed in the wikipedia pre-code article, or Jonathan Rosenbaum’s Alternative American 100, or even something as logical and unarbitrary as watching all of Myrna Loy’s existing films, virtually every film I watch is dictated by a list I’ve got going on.
It’s alternately enriching and restricting. Hell it’s addicting. It’s the most seductive form of bondage I can envision…and that includes real live bondage.
Currently the list that’s captured my interest as of late is the 500 films that have been deemed significant and worthy of preservation by the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress. I should explain a bit about the NFR. Every year for the past 20 years (I think that’s right), the NFR has listed 25 American films to be slated for preservation. What makes the NFR fascinating is that alongside the standard Hollywood canon, you have exploitation films like the notorious Mom & Dad (wanna see this so bad), or corny but endearing home movies like Disneyland Dream, or films that were only recently discovered like Evidence of the Film and The Making of An American. They also single out films made on the margins of the industry by minorities, so 1940’s Chicano flicks (Verbena tragica), Asian-American silents (Curse of Quon Gwon) and the work of black directors like Oscar Micheaux and Gordon Parks are given legitimacy and recognition alongside Hollywood legends like William Wyler and John Ford.
I really admire what the NFR does, because it manages to cover all aspects of American film, while raising awareness about issues of lost films, orphan films, home movies, and the general issues surrounding preservation and film archives.