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"Porgy & Bess" (1959), "The Negro Soldier" (1944) Among 25 films Inducted Into 2011 National Film Registry

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by Tambay A. Obenson
December 27, 2011 10:30 PM
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Otto Preminger's 1959 big screen adaptation of the Gershwin/DuBose Heyward opera Porgy and Bess will rest among the nation’s treasures in the world’s largest archive of film, TV and sound recordings.

The 1959 film is one of 25 films to be inducted Wednesday for preservation in the 2011 National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, selected because they are deemend “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant.

These films are selected because of their enduring significance to American culture... Our film heritage must be protected because these cinematic treasures document our history and culture and reflect our hopes and dreams,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington

Preminger's Porgy And Bess, which starred Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge, will be inducted with a 2011 group of 25 films that were released between 1912 and 1994, bringing the number of films in the registry to 575

The film's 1950s production was controversial, as you might expect (its upcoming Broadway revival starring Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis in the title roles also wasn't without its share of controversy); the 1959 film was made during some very sensitive times in this country's history, and several black American actors reportedly turned down roles in the film because they were considered demeaning. Notably, Harry Belafonte who was offered the role of Porgy (before Poitier), turned it down, stating, “in this period of our social development, I doubt that it is healthy to expose certain images of the Negro. In a period of calm, perhaps this picture could be viewed historically.”  

I can't say that we're in a period of *calm* yet but, as Sergio noted in a previous post on the film, this "overlooked masterpiece" (as some consider it) has rarely been screened in recent years, thanks to some rights issues.

Maybe today's induction will assist... maybe not.

Joining Preminger's film will be the Frank Capra-produced 1944 work The Negro Soldier - a World War II film that highlighted the contributions black people made to this countery and the wars it fought in, portraying them in a dignified, realistic manner that was counter to the stereotypical images seen in previous Hollywood films.

Carlton Moss, a young black writer, penned the script, and Stuart Heisler directed the film that's considered "a watershed in the use of film to promote racial tolerance,” produced in reaction to discrimination faced by African American soldiers stationed in the South, highlighting the role the church played within the black community, and following the progress of a black soldier through basic training and after, before he's sent into combat.

The Negro Soldier became mandatory viewing for all soldiers in American replacement centers from spring 1944 until the end of WWII.

The library works with film archives and movie studios to ensure original copies are kept safe. It also acquires a copy for preservation in its own vaults. Congress established the registry in 1989.

For more information or to nominate films for next year, go to http://www.loc.gov.

The full list of 2011 inductees follows below:

“Allures” (1961) Director Jordan Belson was dubbed the master of “cosmic cinema” who created abstract imagery with color, light and moving patterns and objects. “Allures” is a five-minute film that Belson said “was probably the space-iest film that had been done until then. It creates a feeling of moving into the void.”

“Bambi” (1942) Disney’s personal favorite follows the adventures of a fawn named Bambi and his friends Flower the skunk and Thumper the bunny.

“The Big Heat” (1953) Fritz Lang directed this film noir starring Glenn Ford, Lee Marvin and Gloria Grahame.

“A Computer Animated Hand” (1972) Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, created a program nearly 40 years ago to digitally animate a human hand. This one-minute film displays the animated hand.

“Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment” (1963) Filmmaker Robert Drew and several other documentary directors including D.A. Pennebaker and Richard Leacock chronicled Alabama Gov. George Wallace’s attempts to stop two African American students from enrolling at the University of Alabama and President John F. Kennedy’s response.

“The Cry of Children” (1912)  This silent drama about child labor helped instigate labor reform.

“A Cure for Pokeritis” (1912) Rotund comic John Bunny, who died in 1915, was one of the biggest comedy stars between 1910 and 1915. In this farce, he plays a henpecked husband.

“El Mariachi” (1992) Robert Rodriguez’s first feature, which he made for $7,000 while a film student at the University of Texas.

“Faces” (1968) John Cassavetes' masterwork offers a razor-sharp critique of middle-class America. Gena Rowlands, John Marley, Lynn Carlin and Seymour Cassel star.

“Fruit Cake Factory” (1985) Chick Strand’s documentary on young Mexican women who make ornamental papier-mache fruits and vegetables.

“Forrest Gump” (1994) Robert Zemeckis directed this box-office hit, which went on to win several Academy Awards including best picture, director and lead actor for Tom Hanks as a sweet everyman who encounters all the major events of the 1960s and '70s.

“Growing Up Female” (1971) Ohio college students Julia Reichart and Jim Klein follow six girls and women from the ages of 4 to 34 at home, work and school.

“Hester Street” (1975) Director Joan Micklin Silver’s feature, which was financed by her husband, looks at Eastern European Jewish life in American in the early 1900s. Carol Kane earned an Oscar nomination as an immigrant who arrives in New York to marry.

“I, an Actress” (1977) The late underground filmmaker George Kuchar’s comedy about his directing techniques.

“The Iron Horse” (1924) John Ford’s seminal western focuses on how the country was united after the Civil War with the building of the transcontinental railroad.

“The Kid” (1921) Charlie Chaplin’s first feature length comedy-drama, about the Little Tramp taking in a foundling (Jackie Coogan).

“The Lost Weekend” (1945) Billy Wilder’s Oscar-winning social problem drama that examined the effects of alcoholism with a realism that hadn’t been shown on screen. Ray Milland, who was known more for his lighter roles, won an Oscar for his performance as the young writer who loses everything when he turns to alcohol. The film also won Academy Awards for best picture, director and screenplay.

“The Negro Soldier” (1944) Frank Capra’s World War II U.S. Army filming unit produced this film that looked at the contributions of African Americans in society as well as their heroic contributions in the war. The film was produced as a response to discrimination against African Americans who were stationed in the South during the war

“Nicholas Brothers Family Home Movies” (1930s-1940s) Legendary tap dancing brothers Fayard and Harold Nicholas, who graced such films as 1948’s “The Pirate,” also shot home movies that feature one-of-a-kind footage of Broadway, Harlem and Hollywood.

“Norma Rae” (1979) Sally Field won her first Oscar as a single mother working at a textile mill in the South who attempts to organize the workers. Martin Ritt directed.

“Porgy and Bess” (1959) Otto Preminger directed this lavish version of George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward’s folk opera, starring Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge, Sammy Davis Jr., Pearl Bailey and Diahann Carroll. There are very few prints of the film in existence, so it has rarely been seen in recent decades.

“The Silence of the Lambs" (1991) The horror thriller based on the book by Thomas Harris swept the Academy Awards, winning best picture, director (Jonathan Demme), adapted screenplay (Ted Tally), best actress for Jodie Foster as rookie FBI agent Clarice Starling and best actor for Anthony Hopkins as the cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter.

“Stand and Deliver” (1988) Edward James Olmos earned an Oscar nomination in the inspiring true story of an East Los Angeles high school teacher, Jaime Escalante.

“Twentieth Century” (1934) Howard Hawks directed this breathlessly funny screwball comedy adapted by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur from their Broadway play about a egomaniacal director (John Barrymore) and his temperamental leading lady (Carole Lombard).

“War of the Worlds” (1953) George Pal produced this lavish, Oscar-winning, special effects laden sci-fi thriller based on H.G. Wells’ novel about Martian aircraft landing on Earth. Gene Barry and Ann Robinson star in this box-office hit. 

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