Platoon (1986) – Film #0770

Directed by Oliver Stone
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 2019 
I first watched it on June 13th, 2020 

What It’s About:

Largely based on the writer/director Oliver Stone’s personal experiences during the Vietnam war, Platoon tells the story of a young idealistic soldier and how his time in conflict challenges his worldview.

My experience with the film:

My first viewing of Platoon was last year as a part of my continuing attempt to watch every Best-Picture-winning film (first mentioned here), and this most recent viewing was spurred by its selection for discussion in my Oscar movie club (first explained here). 

Much has been said about this film and, as usual, I’ll point you toward some of that discussion in the resources below. But interestingly, one aspect of the film that I didn’t see much discussion about while I was doing my typical internet searches was its use of “Adagio for Strings” by Samuel Barber. “Adagio” happens to be one of my favorite pieces of instrumental music, which may also explain why I found its use in Platoon maddeningly frustrating. 

Adagio is a slow and somber piece of music, but it gradually builds to an intense climax. After the crescendo of the climax reaches its peak, we get a moment of silence before the more subdued notes restart the theme that eventually leads to the end of the piece. That sequence of crescendo, silence, and subdued conclusion for me has always felt strangely cathartic, like the feeling of release that comes when you’ve held in your emotions for too long before finally allowing yourself to cry and let it all out. (The specific portion that I am talking about begins at roughly the 5-minute-21-second mark in the video below and goes until about the 6-minute-16-second mark.) However, we never get to fully hear that sequence from this piece of music within the film.

The first time that we come close to hearing it is during the scene when Elias dies. After his death, as the helicopter flies away, we hear the beginning of this sequence, all the way up to the final note of the climax. But, rather than allowing that final note to fully build to its conclusion and to be followed by the important silence that follows, the note begins to decrescendo early, and is eventually drowned out by the sound of a helicopter as we are denied the full resolution. (You can see what I mean in the movie clip below, especially if you start at the 2-minute-18-second mark.)

Stranger still, the second time that we are teased with it is during the end credits. Again, the music approaches the climax, but before it gets all the way there, the credits end, and the music fades. We never get to finish this part of Adagio or hear the end of the piece. Was this an intentional choice? Possibly. But I never found any explicit mention of it. While the Blu-ray extras do include some material from the film’s editor and director talking about why and how Barber’s Adagio for Strings came to be the theme for the film, the fact that it is always cut short is never discussed. 

Does the film deny us the catharsis that the end of the Adagio provides in order to create a metaphor about how there was no true release or relief from the war, even after going home? Again, possibly. Or, maybe it’s just a long piece of music, and they never got around to using the full 8 minutes of it all in one scene. Whether the choice was intentional on the part of the director and/or editor, I don’t know. But I do think that this metaphor could be a valid reading of the way that Adagio is used in the film. I also know that after both viewings, I had to take the time to listen to Adagio for Strings in its entirety because I could no longer stand the frustration of being denied the most satisfying part of this piece of music. 

(Oh, and for the record: I enjoyed the film, despite the fact that its brutality made it hard to watch at times.)

Availability:

Platoon (1986) is available to stream on the services listed here: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/platoon 

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

Follow the NFR Completist on Twitter and Instagram.

Pulp Fiction (1994) – Film #0624

Directed by Quentin Tarantino 
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 2013 
I first watched it on Jan. 27th, 2021 

What It’s About:

A collection of three intersecting stories: two mob hit men who must collect a mysterious briefcase for their boss, the wife of the mob boss who spends an evening with one of the hit men, and a washed-up boxer who is on the run from the mob boss. 

My experience with the film:

This movie was … an experience. Much has been said about the film’s artistic merits and its continuing impact on cinema (see several of the resources that I’ve linked below). And I have to agree with a lot of it: the acting is fantastic and the writing is both incredibly witty (there is a reason that this film is the source of many memes and other pop culture references) and incredibly engaging (it manages to make you care about a cast of characters that are, let’s say, “less-than-virtuous.”) 

However, my personal enjoyment levels of the film felt somewhat like a roller coaster. The film opens strong, with a great conversation in a diner that leads directly into the start of a robbery before the film freezes and goes into some incredibly fun opening titles music (at this point, my thoughts were essentially “I think I’m going to love this film.”) Then, this high of enjoyment continued with two absolutely iconic scenes involving fantastic dialogue that starts in a car ride and continues in an apartment (not to mention the fact that the somewhat supernatural glow of the briefcase’s contents had me intrigued.) 

Then, my enjoyment started to dip, as we moved into the first major segment, since there was some extensive drug use throughout the storyline (call me a “boy scout” if you want, but pretty much all of the drug scenes made me uncomfortable). For me, the dancing scene was a major highlight during the otherwise uncomfortable and/or tense Mia and Vincent segment. 

Once we shifted to the Butch segment, I was hooked by the opening performance from Christopher Walken, and even the brief scene with the Colombian taxi driver was enough to make me think “wow, Tarantino excels at making interesting characters.” Eventually, once Butch realized that he had to go back for his father’s watch, I found the segment delightfully suspenseful … until we came to the pawn shop. From there, the rest of the Butch segment became intensely uncomfortable for me to watch, and I was quite glad when the story was over. 

As we came back around to Jules and Vincent, I again found myself engaged with their story (and I quite enjoyed the character of The Wolf), but I was also somewhat grossed out by the gory gag at the center of the segment. 

The film ends on a high note though as we find eventually ourselves back at the diner that opened the film. I quite enjoyed this final scene, which I also found to be “delightfully suspenseful.” Overall, as the film ended, I found my general thoughts to be “wow, parts of this were great, but other parts were pretty dang uncomfortable to watch. I don’t know that I’ll rewatch this any time soon.”

However, as I started researching this film, and reading/watching all of the resources that are mentioned below, I found my appreciation for the film increasing (especially as I was reminded of all of the aspects that I enjoyed.) As I approached the end of my research, I found myself wanting to watch the Blu-ray commentary so that I could experience the film a second time. … And I was surprised that I was genuinely disappointed when I realized that the Blu-ray had no such commentary. However, on further examination, I saw that there was a text-based (rather that audio) trivia commentary track, so I decided to use that as my excuse for a second viewing … only to find that a second viewing left my feelings on the film mostly unchanged. The great parts were still great, but the uncomfortable parts still weren’t my cup of tea. This was an interesting film, and I’m glad I watched it, but now I think that I can say (with certainty this time) that I probably won’t re-watch it any time soon.

Also, a disclaimer-ish statement that I should probably put in here somewhere: Prior to this, I had seen three other Tarantino films: The Hateful Eight (which I similarly enjoyed several aspects of, but ultimately didn’t enjoy the violent end of the film), Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (which I also enjoyed … except for the violent ending), and Inglourious Basterds (which I genuinely enjoyed, with no reservations.) 

Availability:

Pulp Fiction (1994) is available to stream on the services listed here: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/pulp-fiction 

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

Parable (1964) – Film #0588

Directed by Rolf Forsberg & Tom Rook 
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 2012 
I first watched it on July 14th, 2020 

What It’s About:

Parable is a short Christian film where the world is represented as a travelling circus, and Jesus is depicted as a clown that goes around doing good deeds. 

My experience with the film:

This is the final entry in my unofficial trilogy of “entries for movies that I watched last summer, but never got around to writing about for some reason” (see parts one and two). Typically, when I watch movies for this project, I take notes in a notebook to help me remember various noteworthy aspects of a film. I don’t usually write a blow-by-blow summary of the film, but this one was odd enough that I did so. Below is a complete transcription of my summary in my notebook. (Enjoy the humorously informal way I write when I don’t intend to share my writing with an audience.)

“Carries some water for a dude, take another dude’s place in a dunk tank, ‘saves’ a woman that’s part of a sword act, interrupts a live marionette show to dust off the feet of the kids in attendance, ‘frees’ the three performers in the marionette show, then hooks himself up to the harness where he is attacked by: the man who was throwing balls at the dunk tank (and later stole several balls), the sword act guy, and the guy selling tickets just outside of the sword act (who had his roll of tickets accidentally(?) messed up by one of the clown’s followers), while the dude running the marionette show watches. Clown is killed as a result of the attack (lets out a loud cry of agony), then the marionette dude briefly plays with his dead body like a marionette. We later see the clown’s three followers … hanging out? While a dude who looks like the marionette dude starts to put on clown makeup? Then the clown is once again seen on a donkey following the circus as it departs? Is this the OG clown? Or the marionette guy with makeup? Also, the clown like genuinely disrupted the sword act and marionette act, and one of his followers messed up the dude’s ticket roll? And the sword lady and marionette performers weren’t in danger? And why clean the kids’ shoes? I get the biblical parallel, but why? It seems like the only genuinely good things the clown did was carry the water for the first dude and take the second dude’s place at the dunk tank.”

In defense of my less-than-charitable take, I realize that the film is meant to be symbolic. As I briefly pointed out, I recognized many (if not all) of the parallels between this film and the Bible (e.g., the Clown taking on the burden of the water-carrying guy and taking the place of the dunk tank guy and the marionette performers, his death at the hands of an angry mob and the fact that marionette controls were shaped like typical Christian crosses rather than an X, etc.) But just because I understand what everything was trying to symbolize, that doesn’t really answer: why? When I think of most of Christ’s parables in the Bible, the ones that readily come to mind (the good Samaritan, the prodigal son, the talents, the seeds and four types of soil, the unjust steward, the ten virgins, etc.) make sense as a story, even if you aren’t aware of the underlying symbolism. Most of them, you could tell to a person without a religious background, and while not all of them are the most entertaining of stories on their own, they would still probably make logical sense as a story. If you were to show the film Parable (especially without the introductory narration) to someone without any knowledge of Christianity (even if they were perfectly knowledgeable about circuses), they’d probably be incredibly confused as to what was going on. 

Likewise, most of Christ’s parables are meant to make a lesson easier to understand. Consider the good Samaritan. When a man asks Jesus what is meant by “love thy neighbor”, rather than lecturing the man on the specifics of the commandment, Christ tells a story of a man who had been robbed and beaten who is later cared for by a Samaritan (his cultural enemy) after two of his countrymen (and religious leaders at that) pass him by. The story teaches that we should be kind to those who need our help, even if they are considered our enemy. 

The film parable on the other hand teaches … what exactly? Does it make the story of Jesus doing good and sacrificing Himself for others more understandable? Not really. If anything, it makes things more confusing. 

That said, maybe I feel this way because I’m approaching this film with too much of a modern sensibility, or not enough of an artistic sensibility. Or maybe it’s the fact that I just think circuses in general are weird. (Which would also explain why I didn’t enjoy Cecil B. DeMille’s Best Picture winning film “The Greatest Show on Earth”, or the more recent musical “The Greatest Showman”, … or any Marvel comic book containing the Circus of Crime). This film is considered highly influential (it apparently inspired the musical Godspell), and in a few different resources that I found while researching the film, multiple people mentioned that the film was very meaningful to them personally. So this could very well be a case where a film doesn’t resonate much with me despite it being widely regarded by many. 

Availability:

Parable is available on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S95afVrh0AI 

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

Intolerance (1916) – Film #0001

Directed by D. W. Griffith 
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 1989 
I first watched it on Jan. 12th 2021 

What It’s About:

The film portrays four different tales of intolerance during four different time periods: the fall of ancient Babylon, the life and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1500s France, and a “modern” (at the time) tale of intolerance that focuses largely on the life of hardship that one young woman experiences.

My experience with the film:

The story of how I went about watching this is in the “Availability” section below (largely because the film is somehow both easy and complicated to find), but, in general this marks my new trend of watching the NFR films roughly from the beginning of when the Registry started. I’ll still watch random films from later in the Registry here and there (largely for reasons that I’ll probably note), but many of the films that I watch for the next few months will be from among the 1989 and 1990 inductees to the Registry. 

With that out of the way, I should say that I’m both pleased and disappointed that my overall take on the film seems to align with commonly held views of the film. Pleased because I feel justified in my opinion (since it is shared by many others), disappointed because I don’t have much to say that hasn’t already been said. 

By far the most stunning (from a production point of view) segments of the film are the scenes that take place in Babylon. The sets, the costumes, and the sheer number of people have to be some of the most epic and extensive that I’ve ever seen in a film. It strongly reminds me of old epics like 1956’s The Ten Commandments, or even newer films like the Lord of the Rings trilogy (the battle scenes in this film are especially reminiscent of the sieges of Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith). If for no other reason, fans of massive film productions (like myself) should see this movie for the Babylon story alone. 

However, for fans of a good heart-felt character drama (also like myself), the most compelling storyline was the one in the “modern” day of 1916. The actress (Mae Marsh) who played the character “the Dear One” (many of the characters have nonspecific names like this) was great at initially playing her with youth and liveliness, and then later effectively portrayed her sorrow and desperation. Some might consider her performance to be over-acting, but that tended to be the style in silent films when actors had to convey the emotions of their characters with physicality alone. The writing (or I suppose I should say editing, since the director filmed most of this movie without a script) in the final parts of this storyline is particularly effective. I don’t want to spoil too much, but the Dear One’s husband (simply called “the Boy”) is about to be hanged for a murder that he didn’t commit, and the scenes leading up to the end were a roller coaster of suspense and emotion as the film kept me guessing as to whether he would actually be hung, or whether he would be saved at the last minute (you’ll have to watch for yourself to find out). 

However, the other two segments of the film didn’t really work for me. The scenes with “the Nazarene”, as He is called (I think they were uncomfortable with the idea of straight-up referring to Him as “Jesus” in movies back then, for some reason), are barely in the film (I think there were only 4 or 5), and while I get that they were there mainly to add to the titular theme of “intolerance” through the film (they specifically showed how the people were intolerant of Christ and various others, like the woman caught in adultery, back then), I feel like the film would have been fundamentally the same without them. It also seemed strangely weird to me to feature Christ in a film that also focused heavily on Babylon and their gods, and specifically seemed to paint the fall of Babylon as a tragic event, when Babylon is typically depicted as both a literal and figurative enemy in the Bible (especially the Old Testament). I honestly don’t know enough about ancient Babylon to have any kind of opinion on their civilization, I just found it somewhat ironic to have “Babylon” and “Jesus” be the “good guys” in the same movie, when the Bible paints their civilizations as opposing forces. 

Likewise, the scenes in renaissance France didn’t add much to the movie. These segments of the film were the hardest for me to follow largely due to a lack of any character development and because I think the movie expects you to be familiar with the story of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. I honestly don’t remember ever hearing about the event before this movie (not sure if I fell asleep that day in World History in high school, or if it was just never covered). The film does give you a character to root for in the form of a woman called “Brown Eyes”, but she doesn’t get nearly as much characterization as “the Dear One” or “the Mountain Girl” (the protagonist of the Babylon story). When they started killing all the Huguenots in France, I honestly wasn’t sure whether she had been killed or not yet until the intertitles finally mentioned her by “name”, as I honestly couldn’t really tell her apart from the background extras. 

Of course, the other elephant in the room (besides all of the elephants carved into the intricate sets of the Babylon era) is that of the director, D.W. Griffith. He made Intolerance as a follow up to his previous film “The Birth of a Nation,” a film that was not only the most financially successful American film ever up to that point in early cinema history, but also a film that was extremely controversial upon its release, and one that continues to be condemned even more strongly today. (And for good reason, it’s a deeply racist film, and one that is often credited with single-handedly bringing the KKK back into popularity.) “Intolerance”, on the other hand, is sometimes incorrectly seen as an “apology” for his previous film, but on the contrary, Griffith thought that the people who were upset with “Birth of a Nation” were the “intolerant” ones, and he made “Intolerance” to criticize the people that he felt were being intolerant toward him. Luckily, his racist sentiments don’t really seem present in the film, at least not overtly (aside from the fact that the Babylonians are played by white people, but that is an unfortunately common practice in Hollywood that still continues even to this day; see recent films like “Exodus: Gods and Kings” and “Gods of Egypt”). However, there are some strangely sexist vibes in the “modern” scenes, since it pretty blatantly says something along the lines of “unmarried women tend to become busybodies and hypocrites” in one of the intertitles (I’m heavily paraphrasing). These “busybodies” are the antagonists of the “modern” segment, and they end up doing some pretty cruel things. 

Availability:

This is where things get complicated. The short version is: it’s extremely easy to find on the internet, but there are several different versions of the film. This section on Wikipedia provides an overview of the four main restorations that are available, and also points out that there are many low-quality public domain options that are also available. I did not know about the different versions prior to watching it, and my original plan was to watch the DVD Netflix version, but it was such a poor quality transfer of the film (I’m assuming it was one of the public domain versions) that it was nearly impossible to read many of the intertitles (an absolute necessity for a silent film). After about 20 minutes of watching that version, I switched to the Kanopy version of the film (a free streaming service that is available through many local libraries), which had an extremely high quality image (it appears to be “The Official Thames Silents Restoration” mentioned on Wikipedia), and a score that was recorded specifically for this film (always a plus with silent films.) However, there was one scene that wouldn’t play (it would always just eternally load when I got to that scene). If I skipped past it, the rest of the film played fine, but that one scene never loaded. (I tried on two different devices.) So, I briefly switched to the Amazon version (which doesn’t seem to be any of the four versions mentioned on Wikipedia) to watch that scene, but then I decided to switch back after the scene was over, because I preferred the image quality and the score over on Kanopy (I had no additional issues after that one scene.) So, I suppose all of that is to say: good luck. I’d recommend the Kanopy version if you have access to it. Otherwise, Google it, and click around until you find a version that seems good enough to you (there are a few versions on YouTube, some of which are probably illegal uploads of the four different high-quality restorations). If you’re feeling especially enthusiastic, you can always buy The Official Thames Silents Restoration on Blu-ray.

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

Gone with the Wind (1939) – Film #0008

Directed by Victor Fleming 
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 1989 
I first watched it on July 17th, 2019 

What It’s About:

Gone with the Wind follows the story of Scarlett O’Hara, an ambitious young woman, and her experiences living in the South before, during, and after the Civil War. Madly in love with a man named Ashley (who is already married to another woman), Scarlett will do just about anything to win his affection. Meanwhile, a similarly free-spirited man named Rhett Butler is determined to woo Scarlett. 

My experience with the film:

I first watched this in the summer of 2019, and I don’t think I was fully aware of the controversy surrounding the film at the time. I say this because I’m strangely self-conscious about what I watch in public (I don’t like watching things that I might consider embarrassing), and I decided to watch this while flying home to visit my family during a summer break in between semesters of grad school. (It was something that I pre-downloaded to my tablet, it wasn’t “in-flight entertainment”). I didn’t get very far into the film before I realized “oh no, there’s gonna be some racist stuff in here, isn’t there?” I can’t remember whether it was because I didn’t have anything else downloaded (it’s a four-hour film, after all), or if it was just because I was determined to check this off of my to-watch list (specifically, as a part of my quest to watch all of the Best Picture winners, that I’ve mentioned before), but I proceeded to watch, only to pull down the notification bar of my tablet to cover any scenes that I found particularly embarrassing. (I think I also turned off the subtitles, which I tend to have on by default.)

There is obviously a lot that can (and should) be said about the problematic aspects of this film (not just the racist stuff, of which there is plenty, but also the marital rape scene, complete with the troubling implication that “she actually wanted it anyway”.) Much of that discourse has been covered by individuals that are much more well-qualified than I to discuss it, and I would point you toward the many resources that I have linked below, especially the YouTube videos.

I completely understand why some people don’t enjoy the film (even when people don’t enjoy it for reasons other than its problematic content). That said, while its problems made me uncomfortable, both during my initial viewing, and the rewatch that I did before writing this entry, I enjoyed the film overall. Or rather, I enjoyed a few specific aspects, namely: the grand/epic scope, the acting, and the melodramatic and tragic nature of the story. 

The scope is captured by the score and the visuals of the film (comprised of elements like the cinematography, the large production design, and the visual effects), and I’m a bit of a sucker for movies that feel like “big” productions.

Likewise, while neither Scarlett nor Rhett are particularly virtuous characters, the two leads play the two toxic individuals with such charisma that I can’t help but enjoy seeing them on the screen (especially together). The tragedies of their own making are sad but strangely cathartic to watch. I guess I’m also a sucker for “tragedies that involve unlikeable but charismatic characters” (see: 2014’s Whiplash). It should also be said that Melanie is the real MVP of the film, and her story is one of the biggest (and most undeserved) tragedies. 

In the end, does this film deserve a place in history? I don’t know, and I don’t feel qualified to say. I would again point you toward the videos linked below. There’s a lot about this film that is great; there’s a lot about this film that is terrible. I wouldn’t recommend it to people who aren’t already interested/curious enough to watch it, but for those who choose to do so, they may find aspects worth enjoying buried underneath layers of troubling elements.

Availability:

Gone with the Wind (1939) is available to stream at the streaming services listed here: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/gone-with-the-wind 

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

Porgy and Bess (1959) – Film #0562

Directed by Otto Preminger 
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 2011 
I first watched it on July 14th 2020 

What It’s About:

Porgy (pronounced “PORG-ee”; it doesn’t rhyme with the word that you think it does) is a man with a disability—he can’t use his feet, so he walks around on his knees, and he gets around town in a cart pulled by goats. Bess is a drug addicted woman. When her boyfriend kills a man in anger, the boyfriend goes on the run, and Bess finds herself in need of a place to stay. Porgy is the only one in town willing to open up his home to her. They eventually fall in love, and drama ensues. It’s based on a stage musical with an all-black cast (progressive, at the time) … that was written by three white dudes and is full of negative stereotypes (whoops, maybe not that progressive.)

My experience with the film:

As with my previous entry, this is a film that I watched over the summer when I was first starting this project. However, I ended up getting backlogged and am only writing this entry now. This was also one of the hard-to-find films that I wanted to try to get out of the way early. Just how hard to find? Well, as the fascinating Hollywood Reporter article linked below describes, some people consider this “the ‘Holy Grail’ of Missing Movies.” Essentially, if you want to watch a high quality print of the film, there are only a couple that exist worldwide (held by private collectors). Or, you can travel to the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. to watch the digitized version that they have for copyright purposes there. Otherwise, you can find low quality versions online, like the bootleg DVD pictured above that I may or may not have purchased on eBay. (It was only later that I discovered, to my dismay, that there is an extremely low-quality version currently on YouTube, for now at least.)

While there is quite a bit of drama surrounding the circumstances that make this film hard to find, there was also significant drama leading up to the creation of the film. (Again, I would point you to the resources linked below). The short version of events being that most of the people involved with the film didn’t actually want to be involved with it. 

Despite all this trouble, was the final product actually worth it? Not really, in my opinion. I’m sure the source material didn’t help, but I had a hard time believing in the relationship at the center of the story. Not only was there not much chemistry between the two leads, but the common Hollywood axiom of “show, don’t tell” seems to have been inverted for this film: it’s all “tell” and no “show.” Characters talk (and sing) about their feelings rather than actually demonstrating them. I couldn’t help but think of Eliza Doolittle’s song “Show Me” from My Fair Lady. She wouldn’t have been a fan of all of the “words, words, words” that the film uses to convey the way that the characters feel about each other. 

Likewise, I don’t want to spoil the ending in case someone is actually curious enough to seek this out, but although Porgy’s character is portrayed as earnest, naive, and possibly over-attached throughout the film, the final scene seems to dial up these attributes up to 11 and has him make a hasty spur-of-the-moment decision which seemed strangely out of character. Not that he wouldn’t have done what he did eventually, but literally doing it the moment that he learned a key bit of information without any kind of preparation seemed less like something he would do, and more like something the story needed him to do because the film was literally about to end.

That said, there were a few aspects of the film that I enjoyed. A couple (and only a couple) of the songs were particularly well-executed. And, despite the fact that the sets were obviously sets and not real locations, I was still impressed by them. Additionally, Sammy Davis Jr., who played a charismatic drug dealer/pimp named “Sportin’ Life,” was the only actor who genuinely wanted to be involved with the film, and it showed—he seemed to have a great time playing his character. 

Availability:

As mentioned above, there are a couple sketchy ways to watch this film, and one legitimate one. An extremely low quality version has been uploaded to YouTube (though it will likely be eventually taken down, so watch it while you can). It can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YIdrZxaP-gE 

An only slightly better (though still not great) version of the film can be found on (bootleg) DVD on eBay: https://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_from=R40&_trksid=p2380057.m570.l1313&_nkw=porgy+and+bess+dvd&_sacat=0 

Or, it is available for viewing at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.: https://lccn.loc.gov/91733374 

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

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

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