Motion Painting No. 1 (1947) – Film #0214

Directed by Oskar Fischinger 
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 1997 
I first watched it on Aug. 8th, 2020 

[edits, including the removal of references to a low-quality version of the film that was uploaded to a popular video streaming site, have been made to this post at the request of the copyright holder]

What It’s About:

Motion Painting No. 1 is a short experimental film that was created by Oskar Fischinger. Created over a period of several months, Fischinger used oil paint on glass, and photographed his work after each individual brushstroke. The film is comprised of each photograph in order, creating the appearance of the painting happening before your eyes. It is accompanied by Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto no. 3, BWV 1048. 

My experience with the film:

You know those times when you were bored in class, and you would start doodling random spirals, lines, and other patterns? Did you ever think to yourself, “I should make this into a movie, and throw in some classical music for good measure?” If so, you might be named Oskar Fischinger. 

I am underselling his work with that facetious comment, since if you read about his creative process at the links below, you’ll know that what he did is significantly more impressive than that. I’ve got to respect his hard work and his dedication to his craft. … But, in the end, this film really does feel like: “Notebook Doodles: In Living Color.” 

I first watched this back in August. Knowing that it was one of the more difficult-to-find NFR films, I was pleased to find that my university library had it on VHS … or so they thought. It turns out, they lost their copy, so I was able to put in a request for the DVD pictured above through their interlibrary loan system. I had originally hoped to obtain and watch this on my trip to campus earlier in the summer (mentioned here, here, and here), but it did not arrive in time for me to do so, requiring me to make one additional visit. (Since it was short, only 11 minutes, I watched it on campus and returned it immediately.) 

I meant to write this entry shortly after watching the film, but in the early days of my enthusiasm for this new project, I watched several NFR films more quickly than I had time to write about them, so I am just now getting around to this one (along with a few other films that I watched in that time, which I intend to write about soon.)

Availability:

You can buy it on DVD here: https://centerforvisualmusic.squarespace.com/cvmshop/dvd-oskar-fischinger-ten-films 

Or, as I mentioned, I was able to obtain the DVD through my university library’s interlibrary loan system, so that may be an option worth trying as well. (Regular public libraries often participate in interlibrary loan also.) 

To learn more about the history and significance of this film, I recommend the following resources:

For the complete list of films in the National Film Registry, including information on how you can view each film, and links to every entry that I have written, please see my NFR Directory

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Die Hard (1988) – Film #0719

Directed by John McTiernan 
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 2017 
I first watched it on December 25th, 2018 

What It’s About:

On Christmas Eve, a cop from New York (played by Bruce Willis) flies to L.A. to try to reconnect with his estranged wife at her office Christmas party, located at the still-partially-under-construction skyscraper, the Nakatomi Plaza. However, terrorists arrive to occupy the building and take the partygoers hostage. Bruce Willis’ character manages to escape the initial takeover, and now must single-handedly stop the terrorists and save the hostages (including his wife), all while being seriously out-manned and out-gunned. 

My experience with the film:

I first saw this film two years ago, on Christmas Day. For various reasons, I was unable to afford a trip home for the Christmas holiday, so I decided to use Christmas Day to do a back-to-back-to-back Christmas movie marathon, and knock off three different Christmas movies that I had never seen before from my to-watch list. Those three films were: A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and Die Hard. Of the three, Die Hard was easily my favorite (I was not a fan of A Christmas Story, something I’m sure I’ll discuss whenever I eventually write its NFR entry, and I only mildly enjoyed Christmas Vacation.) 

Die Hard’s inclusion in my marathon may be controversial to some, as it is still hotly debated by many whether or not it is a Christmas movie. Personally, I’m somewhat “agnostic” on the issue. I like to boil it down to what I call the “It’s a Wonderful Life rule”: other than the fact that it happens to be set at Christmastime, It’s a Wonderful Life doesn’t have much to do with Christmas. I feel that you could remove the Christmas setting, and the film would be relatively unchanged. If you consider It’s a Wonderful Life to be a Christmas film, then so are other “controversial” Christmas films like Die Hard, Gremlins, and Iron Man 3. If you argue that only movies that are explicitly about Christmas should be Christmas films, that’s fine too, as long as you’re willing to admit that It’s a Wonderful Life doesn’t fit that criteria. 

That said, that’s a mostly facetious analysis on my part. Really, I don’t think there is any “objective” definition as to what a Christmas movie is. A Christmas movie, in my opinion, is any movie that puts you in a Christmas mood and/or that you associate with Christmas, which means that the definition is entirely up to the person watching the film. If Die Hard puts you in the Christmas spirit, great, it’s a Christmas movie. If it doesn’t, and you just enjoy it for its genre-redefining action, great, it’s just an action movie that happens to be set at Christmas. Likewise, if there are other movies that aren’t explicitly “Christmassy” that still put you in a Christmas mood (I know several people who say that they associate the Harry Potter films, especially the earlier ones, with Christmas), you can consider those Christmas movies too. I don’t see the need for drawing lines in the sand and definitively deciding whether something is a Christmas film or not. Whether you prefer to watch Die Hard in December, or March, or August, doesn’t particularly matter. Enjoy watching it whenever it feels right. 

Availability:

Die Hard (1988) is available to stream on the services listed here: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/die-hard-1988 

To learn more about the history and significance of this film, I recommend the following resources:

For the complete list of films in the National Film Registry, including information on how you can view each film, and links to every entry that I have written, please see my NFR Directory

How to Watch All 800 Films on the National Film Registry (2020 update)

The 2020 additions to the National Film Registry have been announced! They are: 

  • The Battle of the Century (1927)
  • The Blues Brothers (1980)
  • Bread (1918)
  • Buena Vista Social Club (1999)
  • Cabin in the Sky (1943)
  • A Clockwork Orange (1971)
  • The Dark Knight (2008)
  • The Devil Never Sleeps (1994)
  • Freedom Riders (2010)
  • Grease (1978)
  • The Ground (1993-2001)
  • The Hurt Locker (2008)
  • Illusions (1982)
  • The Joy Luck Club (1993)
  • Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914)
  • Lilies of the Field (1963)
  • Losing Ground (1982)
  • The Man with the Golden Arm (1955)
  • Mauna Kea: Temple Under Siege (2006)
  • Outrage (1950)
  • Shrek (2001)
  • Suspense (1913)
  • Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971)
  • Wattstax (1973)
  • With Car and Camera Around the World (1929)

You may notice that three of these films (“Grease”, “Shrek”, and “The Dark Knight”) are films that I nominated earlier this year. For more information about these 25 films, and why they’re significant, please see this press release from the National Film Registry. If you’d like to watch these 25 films, you’re in luck, as I’ve compiled information about how to watch each film below.

Thirteen of them are easily available to watch through common video-on-demand (VOD) services. Those 13 films are:

Likewise, the film “Kid Auto Races at Venice” is available to view for free on Wikipedia.

Two films (“Outrage” and “Suspense”) are available on YouTube. I should note that sometimes films are uploaded to YouTube illegally and then later taken down. I make no claims as to whether these are legal copies, and if they get taken down, I will endeavor to find out if they are available through other means (for example, whether they are available on DVD/Blu-ray on sites like Amazon).

Speaking of DVDs, it looks like two of the films are only available for purchase on DVD/Blu-ray. The film “The Battle of the Century” is available on the collection “Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations” on both Amazon and eBay. The film “The Devil Never Sleeps” is available through the special online retailer “Women Make Movies”. (Note that the default purchase option on that site is for universities, which is really expensive, but you can change your purchase option to “Home Video”, which is only $20 at current time of writing.) If you’re not keen on purchasing either of these films outright, I would recommend checking to see whether your local library has them. If not, they may be able to obtain them through an interlibrary loan service offered by most libraries (ask your librarian for more information.)

Four of the films are only available on specialty streaming services like The Criterion Channel or Fandor. Those 4 films are:

Most years, it’s not uncommon for some hard-to-find films to be added to the Registry that aren’t available to stream or purchase on DVD/Blu-ray. As far as I could tell after doing some online searches, there are three such films this year:

For information on how to view the other 775 films on the National Film Registry, please see the NFR Directory spreadsheet that I’ve compiled

Rocky (1976) – Film #0445

Directed by John G. Avildsen 
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 2006 
I first watched it on May 14th, 2019 

What It’s About:

Rocky is a small-time boxer who is always short on cash. He lives alone in a dingy apartment, and he regularly visits the neighborhood pet shop to flirt with Adrian, an extremely shy woman who works there. Over time, their relationship blossoms as they begin to see how their personalities complement each other. Oh, and there’s some boxing too. 

My experience with the film:

I somehow managed to go my entire life without seeing Rocky until just last year. There weren’t any memorable or noteworthy circumstances surrounding that first viewing, except that it was to tick another Best Picture winner off of my to-watch list. However, I had technically (kind of) seen a Rocky movie prior to last year. Several years ago (I want to say 2009?, but I could be completely wrong), my good friend Nate invited several friends over to his house for a late-night viewing of Rocky IV. I remember it was after 10pm, and I went directly to his house after working a shift at the movie theater that I worked at at the time (R.I.P. Warren Theaters; we’ll never forgive Bill Warren for selling out to Regal). Anyway, due to the lateness of the hour—and the longness of my shift—I was quite tired, and only lasted about 15 minutes before falling asleep. (I remember being conscious just long enough to wonder why there was a robot before nodding off.) I finally saw Rocky IV in its entirety last year (after watching I-III), and it wasn’t my favorite. Perhaps it’s best that I fell asleep, otherwise it may have affected my perception of the original when I finally watched it.

That said, I went in to my initial viewing with fairly modest expectations. Perhaps because I knew that Rocky was essentially the prototype for the underdog sports movie (and because I’d seen several such underdog movies throughout my life), I went in to my initial viewing of the film expecting to appreciate it for popularizing the tropes that it did, but not expecting anything that I hadn’t already seen before. I was in for a surprise.

Far from being just a typical underdog movie, Rocky is an incredibly heart-felt character-driven drama, with amazing acting, immersive sets and locations, and one of the most stirring film scores of all time (especially when viewed in the context of the film.) I instantly became a huge fan. My love for that initial film continued to increase as I watched each film in the series. While none of them are quite as good as the original (and a couple of them are far from it), they all reinforced how great the core cast of characters is. Likewise, Bill Conti’s theme, already iconic after just one movie, cements its legacy as it is used throughout the series. I couldn’t help but smile every time I heard the fanfare that opens each film. 

I rewatched the original Rocky a few days ago, in preparation for its discussion in my Oscar movie club (which I’ve explained here). It held up on this second watch. My feelings are essentially the same—it’s a fantastic character drama. It’s easily one of my favorite Best Picture winners. 

Availability:

Rocky (1976) is available to stream on the services listed here: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/rocky 

To learn more about the history and significance of this film, I recommend the following resources:

For the complete list of films in the National Film Registry, including information on how you can view each film, and links to every entry that I have written, please see my NFR Directory

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) – Film #0472

Directed by Steven Spielberg 
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 2007 
I don’t recall exactly when I first watched it, but I’m pretty sure it was during my teenage years. I’m guessing I watched it by no later than 2005. 

What It’s About:

When alien spaceships visit Earth, the government tries to cover it up. However, some of the people who have had “close encounters” with the spaceships become obsessed with their experience, and are determined to learn more.

My experience with the film:

[In case you missed my previous post, I’m planning for my future posts, including this one, to be more journal-ish in nature, describing my own personal history with the film. To learn more about the film itself, please see the resources that I’ve linked below.]

As I mentioned above, I’m not entirely sure when I first watched this film, though I’m pretty sure I was in my teens. Growing up, I was one of those nerdy kids who loved going to the library (so much so that I volunteered there for a few summers in my early teen years.) I was lucky enough that my closest library was within walking distance from my house, and me and my family would often take walks there, rather than drive, when the weather permitted it. As I got older, I was allowed to walk there by myself, often accompanied by my younger sister, or sometimes my oldest sister’s kids (who are relatively close to me in age). That particular library branch (the Orchard Park branch) was a relatively small one, being one large(ish) room inside a multi-purpose recreation center. (It eventually closed, though it does still get a one-sentence mention in the Wikipedia page for the Wichita Public Library system). All of this is to say that since it was a rather small library, it had a rather limited selection (compared to larger branches, anyway). Of all of its sections, my favorite one to peruse was always the movie section, despite being a voracious reader (a trait that I grew out of, I’m afraid). 

Now, with all this being said, I have to admit that I’m not 100% positive that when I first watched this film that I checked it out from this library. While Orchard Park was the library that we went to the most often growing up, we would visit the much larger downtown Central branch from time to time (usually on special-ish occasions). It’s possible that whenever I first viewed Close Encounters, I obtained the copy from the Central branch, rather than Orchard Park. However, I definitely remember that Orchard Park had a copy, and that I saw it several times while browsing their film collection, so even if I didn’t check it out from Orchard Park (though I’m inclined to think that I did), regularly seeing it there in their collection did inevitably lead to me being curious enough to check it out.

I suppose it’s also worth noting that I’ve been a fan of science-fiction for as long as I can remember. I grew up watching Star Trek (largely because the adults in my family watched it), my favorite “kids shows” were typically the ones with sci-fi elements (Spider-Man, Power Rangers, Beast Wars, Reboot, etc.), and I couldn’t get enough of the book series Animorphs. This section has already been way more long-winded than I intended, so I won’t even get into how strangely formative the movie “Mission to Mars” was in absolutely intensifying my love of sci-fi movies. (Yes, I know it got terrible reviews—I saw it when I was 12, it blew my mind, and I still absolutely love it.) Instead, I’ll probably save that discussion for my eventual 2001: A Space Odyssey entry.

But all of this is to say that, yeah, if I frequently came across a movie at the library that had aliens in it, I was definitely going to check it out at some point. And at some point, indeed I did. … And I remember being rather underwhelmed. I found it weird, boring, and confusing. While I’ve loved movies for about as long as I can remember, it took me a long time to grow out of my “typical Hollywood movie” phase—I preferred to have everything spelled out for me (especially elements like the plot, the conflict, the characters, and the ending), so Close Encounters was a bit too abstract and ambiguous for my tastes at the time. I wrote it off as a weird movie, and didn’t revisit it for quite some time.

And that “quite some time” wasn’t until early this year. It had been on my “need-to-revisit” list for years. The thing that finally pushed it over the edge was when I selected it to compete in the “Best Sci-Fi Film of All Time” tournament on the Facebook page that I run, “Movie Match-ups.” (Which is yet another thing that I’ll have to explain in a future post, as this one is getting way too long.) So I got around to finally rewatching it in January, and then also watched it again just last month (November), since it was selected for my “Blindspot” movie club (which I’ve discussed here.) 

This second (and third) time around, I enjoyed it quite a bit more. I particularly resonated with the obsessive quest for truth that is exhibited by Richard Dreyfuss’ character. I also appreciated that his character’s experience can serve as a metaphor for mental illness, and how it can disrupt the lives of those who experience it, and their loved ones. Additionally, John Williams’ music is superb (those five notes have been stuck in my head for the last couple weeks.) The special effects and overall visuals are also spectacular, but they don’t quite reach the same tier as visual masterpieces such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Blade Runner (in my opinion).

Availability:

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) is available to stream on the services listed here: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/close-encounters-of-the-third-kind 

To learn more about the history and significance of this film, I recommend the following resources:

For the complete list of films in the National Film Registry, including information on how you can view each film, and links to every entry that I have written, please see my NFR Directory

North by Northwest (1959) – Film #0167

First, a quick update:

Initially, I intended for this project to be a collection of posts that I would write for each film detailing things such as what the film was about, the context in which it was made, and why it is considered to be important or influential. After about a dozen such posts, I’ve become somewhat frustrated. Most of my entries feel like watered-down Wikipedia articles, and I feel that I’ve been merely rewriting information and trivia about each film that has already been written elsewhere (and usually written better). I’m quite pleased with the resources that I’ve been finding, but I feel that you all (my readers) would be better served if I merely point you to those resources, rather than trying to simply paraphrase them. 

Back before I had actually written anything, when I was still considering various ways to pursue this project, one option that I considered was more of a memoir/journal writing style. For some reason, I ultimately decided against that, but as I have further considered what exactly I can bring to this project, it has become more apparent to me that this aspect of personalization is the unique thing that I can contribute that doesn’t merely rehash what has already been written (often multiple times) about each film. Expect my future posts to be adjusted accordingly.

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 1995
I first watched it on Nov. 14th, 2020

What It’s About:

When a businessman from NYC is mistaken for a spy, he finds himself on the run from foreign agents, the police, and the F.B.I. It’s one of Hitchcock’s most well-known films, and includes the iconic scene of the main character (on foot) being chased in a field by a plane that is shooting at him (a scene which has been mimicked and parodied dozens of times).

My experience with the film:

I’ve mentioned the movie club that I have with some friends in a few of my past entries. This is the film that we watched in November. As strange as this sounds, I feel like I finally “got” Hitchcock with this film. I’m familiar with the term “master of suspense” that is often used to describe him, but I think that up until now, my viewing of his other films has been heavily influenced by a misunderstanding on my part of what Hitchcock’s filmmaking “style” is.

I’m not (currently) a huge fan of Rear Window or Vertigo (which may be partially due to my anti-Jimmy-Stewart bias that I’ll definitely have to explain in some future post). But I think that my lack of love for them may also have been shaped by the things I heard about Hitchcock while I was growing up. The two films of his that I happened to hear about the most before ever checking him out were Psycho and The Birds. Likewise, when I was younger, I was a big fan of the (early) films of M. Night Shyamalan, and I often heard it mentioned that his films were heavily influenced by Hitchcock. And in addition to that, while I’ve never seen it, I’ve been aware of the TV show “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” for quite some time, and I often hear it compared to The Twilight Zone. When you put all of these together, I suppose I always considered Hitchcock to be more of a psychological/cerebral thriller type of suspense director. Thus, when I finally got around to watching some Hitchcock films, I found that Vertigo and Rear Window didn’t seem to align with what I thought I knew about him, whereas Psycho and Rebecca definitely did. 

However, as I watched North by Northwest, the thought crossed my mind, “this really feels like a proto-James-Bond movie.” Then, the light bulb finally clicked on for me, as I realized that the “suspense” that Hitchcock is known for isn’t confined to one genre. In other words, I realized that Hitchcock’s “style” was much broader than I had initially thought. With that in mind, I am actually looking forward to re-watching Vertigo and Rear Window at some point in time (as I will inevitably do before I write their entries into this project), as I wonder whether I might appreciate them more now that the “lens” through which I view Hitchcock films has been adjusted.

Anyways, my general thoughts on the film: I liked it. Perhaps not as much as I “should” have, given how well-regarded it is, but I definitely found it to be engaging and entertaining. And while I often love good spectacle filmmaking, my favorite scene was actually the auction scene, probably because I really enjoy watching characters out-think their opponents. 

I also would like to point out that I really enjoyed James Mason’s performance in the film. I loved him in A Star Is Born, and I was surprised that I hadn’t really heard of him or seen him in anything else, so I was glad to see him pop up here. I may have to start watching more of his filmography.

Availability:

North by Northwest (1959) is available to stream on the services listed here: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/north-by-northwest 

To learn more about the history and significance of this film, I recommend the following resources:

For the complete list of films in the National Film Registry, including information on how you can view each film, and links to every entry that I have written, please see my NFR Directory

The Magnificent Seven (1960) – Film #0613

Directed by John Sturges
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 2013 

In 1954, Akira Kurosawa released what is considered by many to be his most influential film: Seven Samurai. Kurosawa was a self-admitted fan of American western films (especially those directed by John Ford), and he set out to make a western-style film in a genre that was popular in Japanese film at the time: the samurai movie. Six years later, the western influences on Kurosawa would come full circle as his film would itself get a Western (in more than one sense of the word) remake with John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven, which would itself be considered one of the most influential westerns ever made. 

Considered a bit of a flop on its initial release, The Magnificent Seven would go on to gain popularity after it became a financial success in foreign box office markets, and after it began to play on American TV. 

One of the biggest impacts that this film had on Hollywood was its choice of cast. Steve McQueen was an up-and-coming actor at the time he was cast in this film, and The Magnificent Seven was a major launching point in his Hollywood career. This may have been helped by his well-known rivalry with Yul Brynner during the filming of the movie. While Brynner was considered the lead of the film, McQueen was known to try to upstage him at every possible opportunity. Much of this can be seen in the film. During many of the scenes that the two actors shared together, whenever Brynner was talking, McQueen would move in some way to draw attention to himself, such as by adjusting his hat, or loading his gun. McQueen was reportedly so eager to appear in this film that he faked a car accident to get a break in his television contract so that he would have time to shoot it.

Eli Wallach (who played the lead bandit, Calvera) was another breakout star. His role in this film would eventually lead to a role in another one of the most famous westerns of all time: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. In it, he played Tuco, aka “The Ugly,” of the film’s titular trio.

The Magnificent Seven also helped to popularize the “gunslinger” or “hired gun” trope, which would go on to become a popular element in the western genre.

Lastly, the film’s score (composed by Elmer Bernstein) is considered one of the most iconic western themes of all time, and has been used as a shorthand for western music in other settings (including a ride at Disneyland Paris, and in an episode of The Simpsons). It was also the theme music used in advertising for Marlboro brand cigarettes for several years.

The presence of The Magnificent Seven on the National Film Registry presents one of the most compelling arguments (to me) as to why foreign films should be included in the Registry (there are currently none that I know of at current time of writing—November 2020). The Magnificent Seven has gone on to influence many aspects of American culture (especially American film culture), but the Magnificent Seven (and all its influence) would literally not exist without the influence of Seven Samurai. Thus, it could be argued that Seven Samurai has also had just as large of an impact on American film culture (and that’s not to mention some of Kurosawa’s other films, such as Hidden Fortress, which heavily influenced George Lucas in the creation of Star Wars, an absolute juggernaut when it comes to film impacting American culture.) 

Likewise, since Seven Samurai was itself influenced by previous American westerns you get a kind of ouroboros of film—American film influencing Japanese film influencing American film. And if that’s not the kind of movie that should be recognized and preserved for both its influence by and influence on American film, I don’t know what is. 

Likewise, since The Magnificent Seven was somewhat saved by its performance in the foreign box office, that further reiterates how American film culture isn’t all that insular—without influence from other countries (both monetary and artistic), American film just wouldn’t be the same.

Availability:

The Magnificent Seven (1960) is available to stream on the services listed here: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/the-magnificent-seven 

Information sources and additional resources:

Dracula (1931) – Film #0282

Directed by Tod Browning (with many arguing that the cinematographer, Karl Freund, also deserves a directing credit, for his substantial work on the film) 
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 2000

“Listen to them—children of the night! What music they make!”

At the current time of writing (fairly early in my NFR Completist project, but not so early in my ongoing attempts to watch “important” movies), I’ve seen several films from the early “talkie” era. Some of them surprised me by how modern they felt (such as “It Happened One Night”). Others surprised me by how relevant they still were, despite feeling very much like an “old movie” (such as “All Quiet on the Western Front”). Then there’s a movie like Dracula, which I didn’t fully appreciate while actually viewing the film. Many of the special effects are incredibly dated (fake bats and spiders galore!), the film has no actual score outside of the opening and closing credits, and both the editing and overall pacing seem to be much slower than a modern movie. Not to mention the fact that outside of a very animated and eccentric performance from a supporting character, much of the “horror” that the characters either cause or experience is conveyed through silent physical acting, rather than any audible dialogue. However, as I began to research the film, I learned several different pieces of background information that explained many of these aspects. 

For example, the director, Tod Browning, made several silent horror films in his career before filming Dracula. In the extras on the Dracula Blu-ray, different film commentators noted that it is likely that Browning directed Dracula more like the silent films that he was accustomed to. (It should also be noted that “talkies” were only a few years old at this point, so the cinematic norms for talkies were still being formed.) Indeed, in those same extras, the niece of the film’s producer (Carl Laemmle Jr.) refers to this film as the “first talking supernatural thriller.” 

In fact, it may have been the first American “supernatural thriller” period. Up until this point, most American “horror films” (though they weren’t called that yet—more on that in a moment) were either somewhat grounded in reality, or the supernatural aspects were revealed to be grounded in reality by the end of the film (think Scooby Doo—it was just Farmer Johnson using smoke and mirrors and wearing a mask all along). Dracula was the first to play up and focus on the supernatural elements. Dracula also popularized the now common term for this genre, “horror movie,” as critics and audiences quickly began using this (then) unofficial term to refer to the film, and it’s stuck ever since. While the film seems simple and almost quaint by today’s horror standards, there are (possibly apocryphal) stories of audience members fainting at the initial screenings.

One terrifying moment occurs in the epilogue scene of the film, which was later edited out by censors after its initial theatrical run (unfortunately, only low-quality prints of the scene now exist). The fourth-wall breaking scene involves a narrator on a stage speaking directly to the audience. At first, he seems to assure us, but then, he does just the opposite: “Just a moment, ladies and gentlemen! A word before you go. We hope the memories of Dracula and Renfield won’t give you bad dreams, so just a word of reassurance. When you get home tonight and the lights have been turned out and you are afraid to look behind the curtains—and you dread to see a face appear at the window—why, just pull yourself together and remember that after all … there are such things as vampires!” 

Much of the film’s continuing success comes from Bela Lugosi’s portrayal of the titular character. Lugosi was playing the role of Dracula in the same stage play on which the film would be based when he was cast in the role of the film (the play itself was, of course, based on the classic Bram Stoker novel). However, his role in both the play and the film seemed to occur by luck: he was cast in the play largely because the production had already gone over-budget before casting him, and they couldn’t afford to cast any well-known actors in the main role. Likewise, several other actors were considered for the film role (including Lon Chaney Sr., who was a well-known horror actor, but was battling terminal cancer at the time, and Boris Karloff, who would later go on to star as other monsters in Frankenstein and The Mummy,) before Lugosi was finally offered the job. Nonetheless, his performance was a hit, and has gone on to influence the modern image of Dracula as the “tall, dark, and handsome” type, more than the gruesome-looking figure that is depicted in the novel.

This portrayal was helped by Lugosi’s actual Hungarian accent (having only emigrated to the U.S. a few years earlier.) Legend has it that when he first played the role of Dracula in the stage production, he had to memorize many of his lines phonetically, since he was still learning English. However, some (including film critic Roger Ebert), doubt the authenticity of this story, and consider it to be more of a Hollywood myth. 

Despite his iconic performance (or perhaps because of it), Lugosi had a hard time finding roles for the rest of his career, as he was usually typecast as a monster or a villain in films that never reached the popularity of his breakout role. At times, he resented the way that the public continued to associate him with the role, but at other times, he seemed to embrace it. When he died, his wife and son chose to bury him wearing one of his capes that he wore in the film.

Dracula is a film that continues to impact popular culture today, though it may need some context for modern audiences to fully appreciate it. This background research provided me with yet another reminder of why I chose to undergo this NFR Completist project: as much as I enjoy watching these films, I sometimes enjoy learning about the history and context of them even more (and in so doing, usually gain a deeper appreciation for the film than I had while viewing it.)

Be sure to follow my NFR Completist project on Twitter and Instagram.

Availability:
Dracula (1931) is available to stream on the services listed here: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/dracula

Information sources and additional resources:

Patton (1970) – Film #0369

Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 2003

Patton chronicles events from the life of General George S. Patton during World War II. The opening scene is considered iconic today, but lead actor George C. Scott had reservations about it. He was reluctant to film the scene, as he thought it would upstage his performance in the rest of the film. He only agreed to film it when he was told it would be shown at the end of the film, not the beginning. (Obviously, this ended up being a lie.) Despite his reservations, Scott’s performance was met with acclaim, and he won the Best Actor Oscar for his role. However, Scott became the first actor to ever refuse the award, since he thought that the whole idea of handing out awards for filmmaking was pointless pageantry. 

Scott wasn’t the only person associated with the film to stir up trouble. Years before production ever started, Francis Ford Coppola (who would later go on to direct other iconic films that are also included in the National Film Registry, such as The Godfather and Apocalypse Now) was hired and then later fired as the screenwriter of the film. In the extras included on the 2011 Blu-ray release, Coppola indicated that the unusual nature of the opening scene may be the reason that he was fired. However, Coppola eventually won an Oscar for his screenplay (along with Edmund H. North, who was hired to do additional writing after Coppola was fired). Coppola also stated in the Blu-ray extras that he believed his Oscar win was the only thing that kept him from also getting fired from directing The Godfather. 

Patton’s effects on future Coppola films didn’t stop with The Godfather. In Patton, the titular character delivers the following line while speaking fondly of war: “I love it, God help me, I do love it. I love it more than my life.” Coppola stated that this line later inspired him to write the now iconic line in Apocalypse now: “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

One reason that the film continues to receive praise is for its realistic depiction of General Patton. He had many supporters and many detractors in his time, and the filmmakers wanted individuals from both sides to walk away from the film satisfied. As such, the film depicts many of his personal aspects that his fans saw as his strengths (such as his vast knowledge of historical battles, both ancient and modern), and likewise, the film doesn’t shy away from his faults (including the infamous incident where he slapped a soldier that he felt was acting cowardly). In the end, the film depicts the complex man that he was, and leaves it up to the viewer to form their own opinion of him. 

Be sure to follow my NFR Completist project on Twitter and Instagram.

Information sources and additional resources:

Availability:
Patton (1970) is available to stream on the services listed here: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/patton

Navajo Film Themselves (1966) – Film #0341

Directed by Al Clah, Susie Benally, Alta Kahn, Maxine Tsosie, Mary J. Tsosie, John Nelson, and Mike Anderson
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 2002

Background

Navajo Film Themselves is a collection of seven short silent films. They were produced as part of a university research project. Two professors (one of communications, Sol Worth, and one of anthropology, John Adair), along with one of Worth’s former students (Richard Chalfen), wanted to learn how films made by individuals from the Navajo culture might differ from films of other cultures. Specifically, they were interested in what individuals within the Navajo culture would choose to document about themselves given the choice to document anything they wanted. In the past, when one culture would study another, it was typically the culture doing the studying that chose what to document. The researchers wanted agency to play a key role by allowing Navajo individuals to choose what they felt to be worth recording. They also emphasized that one purpose of this research was to preserve aspects of the culture, so that future generations of Navajo could know what Navajo culture was like at the time.

To do this, they taught a group of young adult Navajo students how to use filming equipment, and allowed them to make films about whatever they wanted. These seven films are what the students produced, and the researchers wrote a book entitled “Through Navajo Eyes” that discussed the experience. 

This project wasn’t without its problems. Sol Worth became frustrated that many of the students weren’t filming “correctly.” He seemed to be more concerned about learning how to teach technology use to aid communication between cultures rather than focusing on what could be learned about the Navajo culture based on their choice of filmmaking style. Indeed, there was tension between Worth and one of the Navajo students, Al Chah, because Chah was more interested in making an artistic-style film than a traditional documentary.

The films

The seven films that make up Navajo Film Themselves are:

The Intrepid Shadows (directed by Al Clah) is an art piece that depicts the movement of shadows, wheels, and a ceremonial mask. Like the other films in this series, it was recorded as a silent film, though Clah wrote a poem that was meant to accompany the film as a narration. 

A Navajo Weaver (directed by Susie Benally) captures the process of weaving a blanket—from tending the sheep, shearing the wool, cleaning and prepping the wool, making it into yarn and dyeing it, and finally the actual weaving process.

Second Weaver (directed by Alta Kahn) is similar to the previous film, and it depicts the process of weaving a woman’s belt.

The Spirit of Navajos (directed by Mary Jane and Maxine Tsosie) shows a medicine man preparing for a conducting a ceremony which includes a sand painting. 

Shallow Well Project (directed by Johnny Nelson) depicts the building of a well.

Navajo Silversmith (directed by Johnny Nelson) shows a silversmith collecting silver from a mine, creating a mold, and then using the mold to create small silver figurines. 

Old Antelope Lake (directed by Mike Anderson) first depicts the scenery surrounding a lake, and then it shows a boy collecting water from the lake and using it to wash some clothes.

Availability

Navajo Film Themselves is only available on DVD. I was able to find it in my university library. If you wish to watch it, you can check to see if your local library has it, of if they can get it through interlibrary loan. Otherwise, it’s available to purchase on this website: https://www.shopvisionmaker.org//product.asp?s=visionmaker&pf_id=NFTS%2D66%2DH&dept_id=23427 

Information sources and additional resources