Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller Strangers on a Train (1951), Jonathan Demme’s electrifying Talking Heads concert movie Stop Making Sense (1984), and Cheryl Dunye’s New Queer Cinema milestone The Watermelon Woman (1996) are among the twenty-five films entering the National Film Registry this year. Chronologically, the selections stretch from Ringling Brothers Parade Film (1902)—a three-minute actuality film that captures a circus parade in Indianapolis and, as the Library of Congress tells us, “provides a rare glimpse of a prosperous northern Black community at the turn of the century”—to WALL•E (2008), Pixar’s postapocalyptic heartwarmer directed by Andrew Stanton.
Either recently restored or now prime candidates for preservation, these films are selected each year not because they necessarily represent the best that American cinema has to offer but because the Library deems them to be “works of enduring importance to American culture. They reflect who we are as a people and as a nation.” Stylistically and thematically, this year’s range is wide. Evergreen (1965), for example, is a student film Ray Manzarek made at UCLA before cofounding The Doors. Director Howard Alk and producer Mike Gray’s The Murder of Fred Hampton (1971) is an exemplary work of activist filmmaking that you can watch now, courtesy of the Chicago Film Archives. And George Lucas and Richard Marquand’s third Star Wars film, Return of the Jedi (1983), belongs to one of the most popular and lucrative franchises in history.
There are now 825 titles in the Registry, and you can watch a few of them in the National Screening Room. Two of this year’s selections, Richard E. Norman’s The Flying Ace (1926) and Hell-Bound Train (1930), directed by by traveling evangelists and self-taught filmmakers James and Eloyce Gist, are available on the Criterion Channel. The Library calls Hell-Bound Train a “surreal and mesmerizing allegorical film” and “an important and, until recently, overlooked milestone in Black cinema.”
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