Sunrise (1927) – Film #0004

Directed by F. W. Murnau
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 1989 
I first watched it on April 22nd, 2021

What It’s About:

A married couple in a strained relationship rekindle their love for each other during an initially-ill-intentioned trip to the city. 

My experience with the film:

Sunrise, also known as “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans,” was the first film to win Best Picture at the first Academy Awards ceremony … and then it wasn’t. At the first Oscars, and only the first Oscars, there were two different awards given that were intended to be equally prestigious. One was called “Outstanding Picture”, which was given to a film called Wings (later inducted to the NFR in 1997), while another award, called “Best Unique and Artistic Picture”, was given to Sunrise. The following year, the “Best Unique and Artistic Picture” award was discontinued. Later, the Academy would retroactively decide that “Wings” was the first film to win Best Picture, rather than give the honor to both films. There are some who are still salty about this decision to this day, and you will occasionally see writers defiantly include “Sunrise” alongside “Wings” in articles that contain lists of “every Best Picture winner.” (To make an analogy: you know how some people are upset that Pluto is no longer considered to be a planet, and they still refer to it as a planet anyway? That’s how some people feel about Sunrise’s “Best Picture” status.)

That said, time may have proven that the Academy made the wrong choice—Sunrise is now regarded by many to be the best silent film ever made (though I personally would give that award to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis). Additionally, as mentioned above, Sunrise had the honor of being included in the first-ever group of 25 inductees to the NFR in 1989. Wings, on the other hand, wasn’t added to the Registry until 8 years later. 

Regarding my thoughts on Sunrise: the second act of this film is delightful. The chemistry between the two lead characters as they once again fall in love is absolutely charming, sold by their convincing and sincere acting. That said, the first act of the film may prevent modern audiences from enjoying the romance. Unfortunately, I can’t discuss much more about this movie without spoiling the first 30 minutes, so if you’d prefer to remain spoiler free, you may want to skip to the “Availability” section below. 

A brief summary of the first act for those who don’t mind spoilers: “The Man” (none of the characters in this film are given names) is having an affair with “The Woman from the City.” She convinces the man that he should drown “The Wife” in order to start a new life with her in the city. The Man eventually agrees, but seems disturbed by his choice. The next day, The Man offers to take his Wife on a spontaneous trip to the city via rowboat. When they’re far from shore, he gets up to drown her, and she becomes terrified as she senses what he is about to do. Her terror is enough to soften him, as he finds himself unable to do the deed, and is similarly horrified by what he nearly did. When they reach the shore, she runs away, he follows, and eventually they find themselves in the city. During their day there, they encounter several situations that help them to realize that they still love one another, and by the end of the day, they’re as madly in love as they were when they were first married. 

As I said, a modern audience may be too soured by those first 30 minutes to enjoy the romance that the two share for the rest of the film. (If your spouse ever makes plans to murder you, even if they decide not to go through with it, run! That relationship is not worth saving!) During the second act, I found myself wishing that the murder subplot would have been removed, and that The Wife had instead been distraught because she found out about The Man’s affair with The Woman from the City. However, the last 20 minutes of the film made me change my mind. I will not spoil the ending, but the final act of the film would not have been nearly as effective or poignant with the murder-by-drowning subplot. If you can get past the heightened melodramatic style of the film and suspend your disbelief enough to forgive The Man for his initial murderous intentions, then you will find the second and third act of this film to be quite rewarding.

Availability:

Sunrise (1927) is available to stream on the services listed here: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/sunrise-a-song-of-two-humans 

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

Sunset Boulevard (1950) – Film #0016

Directed by Billy Wilder
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 1989 
I first watched it on April 12th, 2021

What It’s About:

The less you know about this film before watching it, the better, but it involves an eccentric has-been movie star, and a young, struggling Hollywood screenwriter. Both of them desperately want to succeed in show business, and when the two of them meet, things get interesting. 

My experience with the film:

This film takes you for a RIDE. I knew very little about it going into it, which is probably the best way to watch it, honestly. If you trust my opinion on movies at all, I’d recommend that you go watch it (if you haven’t already seen it), and then come back to read this, so that you too can have the viewing-it-in-ignorance experience. (It’s available for free to those with an Amazon Prime subscription, at current time of writing.) 

For those who have seen it (or who aren’t sold on it yet), one of the first things that I noticed about the film (again, knowing practically nothing) is that it felt like a film noir, and as I got further into the film, I began to detect hints of gothic horror as well. It turns out that Sunset Boulevard is indeed considered a film noir (and a dark comedy), and many have noted its gothic horror elements as well. It never goes full on horror-film, but there definitely are plenty of gothic vibes, especially in the first half. As a fan of the creepy/Halloween-y feel of gothic movies, I loved the first half of the film. 

While this film is completely enjoyable on its own, it was as I learned about the context of the film that I became even more impressed with it. The lead actress, Gloria Swanson, was indeed a former silent film star (though she found success in other careers once she left Hollywood), and Erich von Stroheim, the actor who plays her butler (and SPOILERS, also her former husband, and a has-been Hollywood director), had been an influential silent film director before falling from popularity (three of his films appear on the NFR). What’s more, there is a scene in Sunset Boulevard where the trio of characters watch a film featuring “Norma Desmond.” In reality, those scenes came from the film “Queen Kelly”—the film that effectively ended both Swanson’s and von Stronheim’s careers! 

There were also several other real-life figures in the film. All of Norma’s bridge club members were former silent film stars (including Buster Keaton). Also, Cecil B. DeMille played himself, and the film set that they visited within Sunset Boulevard was the real-life film set for Samson & Delilah, which was filming at the time (several of the real members of the Samson & Delilah cast and crew appear in Sunset Boulevard.) 

One last bit of interesting trivia: I try to keep politics out of these film discussions, but it is worth noting that last year, when Parasite won Best Picture at the Oscars, Donald Trump complained about a foreign film winning, and said that we should “bring back” films like Sunset Boulevard. However, had he actually watched Parasite (he seemed to admit that he hadn’t), he may have noticed that it has a lot in common with Sunset Boulevard: both involve working-class people who find themselves intertwined in the lives of wealthy individuals, and who are willing to do some unscrupulous things in order to maintain their newfound access to money. Both films start out as a dark comedy, but as the story goes on, things take an even darker turn, and both end with shocking acts of violence. Though, admittedly, in Parasite the violence comes from the working-class characters, while in Sunset Boulevard the violence is committed by a wealthy character. Since Trump once stated that he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” without losing any voters, perhaps that’s why Sunset Boulevard spoke to him. (For more on the similarities between the two films, be sure to see the YouTube video that’s included in the resources below.)

Availability:

Sunset Boulevard (1950) is available to stream on the services listed here: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/sunset-blvd 

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

Some Like It Hot (1959) – Film #0022

Directed by Billy Wilder
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 1989 
I first watched it on April 10th, 2021

What It’s About:

When two male jazz musicians are wanted by the mob for accidentally witnessing a murder, they must leave town in disguise—by dressing in drag and joining a travelling women’s jazz band. 

My experience with the film:

Prior to watching Some Like It Hot, I was only vaguely aware of it. I knew it was considered a classic, but I had no idea that it has been recognized by many as “the funniest comedy of all time.” I don’t know if I’d rank it as my personal favorite (that title still belongs to Monty Python and the Holy Grail), or even as my favorite NFR comedy that I’ve watched so far (I enjoyed Modern Times slightly more, though I’ll admit that Some Like It Hot has certainly been more influential.) That said, I still enjoyed it immensely and was fascinated to learn about its enduring legacy. 

Being a massive fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, I was aware that it pushed a lot of boundaries when it came to standards of “decency” in film at the time. When I watched North by Northwest, I learned that it also contributed to the rethinking of the film standards of the time. However, I was unaware that Some Like It Hot was one of the chief contributors to the death of the Hays Code (the censorship/content rules that all Hollywood films abided by since the early 30s). Some Like It Hot was released without the approval of the Hays Code, and its massive success despite its lack of approval helped many to see that the Code was outdated. However, the film wasn’t without controversy at the time. It was completely banned in the state of Kansas (a fact that I find especially humorous, considering that’s where I grew up). Likewise, in Memphis, screenings of the film were limited to “adults only.” 

That said, Some Like It Hot is relatively tame by today’s standards (it would easily get a PG-13 rating, but nothing more), but viewed through the lens of 1959 film standards, it’s certainly provocative. (I should also note that this was my first time ever seeing Marilyn Monroe in a movie. I now understand why she was such an icon.) On top of that, it greatly challenged gender and romantic norms that were much more “norm” back then than they are now. I could see how some may say that certain aspects of this film haven’t aged well (due to the way that it goes to great pains to acknowledge those norms before flaunting them) but, to me, that envelope-pushing aspect shows just the opposite: this film was ahead of its time. Honestly, I think this film may be even more relevant now than it was when it first came out. 

However, if you have no interest in (or even prefer to ignore) its social commentary, it’s still an absolutely hilarious film. The gags are expertly crafted, and often set up well in advance, which makes the payoff even more rewarding. On top of that, it also works as more than just a comedy. Honestly, I was thrown for quite a loop when for the first 20 minutes (and again in the last 20 minutes), that it also functioned as an effectively suspenseful gangster drama (albeit with bits of humor sprinkled in between those sequences.) 

All around, it’s a great movie, and it definitely gets a recommendation from me. 

Availability:

Some Like It Hot (1959) is available to stream on the services listed here: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/some-like-it-hot 

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.

King Kong (1933) – Film #0060

Directed by Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack 
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 1991 
I first watched it in or around December 2005 

What It’s About:

A headstrong filmmaker, a starving actress, and ship full of crewmen travel to a mysterious island in hopes of creating a film with the mythical creature that lives there, but they get more than they bargained for. 

My experience with the film:

I initially watched this around the time that the 2005 Peter Jackson remake of King Kong came out. I’m fairly sure that I watched it before going to see the remake, but I’m definitely sure that I picked it up from my local library (which I reminisced heavily about in this entry) to do so. I remember that my feelings about it were something along the lines of “it was probably really impressive when it came out, but it looks pretty silly by today’s standards, and it’s kinda boring.”

Then, I rewatched it for a second time a little over a year ago (largely because I knew it was an influential film, and because my taste in movies has changed significantly since 2005, so I expected to get more out of it.) However, I was surprised to find that my feelings were relatively unchanged. 

Despite my fairly recent rewatch, I decided to go ahead and watch it again in order to write this entry to coincide with the release of the film Godzilla vs. Kong. I still thought that the effects looked dated, but this time, I kept myself engaged by trying to figure out exactly how the images that I saw were created. Obviously, many of the shots were just straight-up “claymation”/stop-motion animation. Others were obviously actors in front of a screen with an animated sequence in the background. But what about the more intricate scenes? I realized there were several scenes that were much more complicated than that—scenes where characters transitioned back and forth between real people and clay models in the blink of an eye, and scenes where live actors couldn’t merely be standing in front of a screen. How did they create those shots? I still thought that many of the visuals looked obviously fake/silly, but I suddenly found myself interested in learning how those scenes were made.

My post-watch custom of watching the Blu-ray special features and doing some light internet research produced a treasure trove of results. There is way too much for me to sum up here, so I definitely recommend the resources below (especially the making-of documentary included on the Blu-ray), but here is an attempt to describe their process: 

Many of the more intricate scenes involved several panes of glass with paintings on them that would be spaced a few feet apart in between the camera and the miniature “set” where the stop motion scenes were filmed (this was done to create a sense of depth in the scenery). They also integrated small movie screens into these sets where they could project one or more live action sequences into the set so that you could have the interaction between the animated characters and the live actors. It was wild. Seriously, watch the documentary on the Blu-ray. 

It turns out that they straight-up invented many of these processes, which would go on to change the way visual effects were used in film. This film (and its eventual box office success) proved to Hollywood execs that you could have a special-effects-driven, visual spectacle blockbuster. It literally paved the way for all future flashy blockbusters, from Star Wars, to Jurassic Park, to Lord of the Rings, to Avengers. 

And if that wasn’t impressive enough, that wasn’t the only major thing that King Kong contributed to blockbusters, or even films in general. Prior to this, American-made films used their score mostly just as background music to add a little flavor to the film (keep in mind that they were only a few years removed from the silent era, where music had to be either played live or from a recording in the theater showing the film). Max Steiner, the composer for the film, decided to use his score to contribute to the storytelling of the film, so he created musical themes for each character, and often had the music reflect what was happening on screen. That may sound pretty obvious now, but it was revolutionary back then. Moving forward, this was a huge influence on the way that music was used in film. It paved the way for the composers who would give us the memorable film scores that we love, like Bernard Herrman, John Williams, and Hans Zimmer. Are you in love with the exciting John Williams music that opens every Star Wars film, and the way each major character in those films is associated with their own piece of music? You can thank King Kong for that. Do you love the sense of excitement and adventure that you feel every time the Pirates of the Caribbean theme begins to play? You can thank King Kong for that as well. As a massive fan of film scores (they’re easily one of my favorite aspects of filmmaking), I never realized how much I was indebted to King Kong.

However, there’s yet another essential aspect of blockbusters that you can thank King Kong for—unnecessary sequels. King Kong was such a massive box office hit when it came out that they immediately rushed a sequel into production, Son of Kong, which came out only 9 months after the release of the original. Like many blockbuster sequels meant to capitalize on the popularity of the original, it was a critical flop.

I know I just mentioned this in my last entry, but I’m realizing more and more just how much learning about a film adds to my appreciation and enjoyment of it. In preparation for writing these entries, I often try to watch the film’s commentary (when there is one available), and it was no different this time. I do that partially to learn more about the film, but it’s also largely to give me a chance to watch the film a second time and look for all the things I learned about during my background research. As I watched the commentary for King Kong, after learning everything that I mentioned above and a whole lot more, I was much more impressed with the film. Even if the special effects don’t look particularly real, once you know how they were made, they’re incredibly impressive to watch. If I’m going to get on my soapbox for a moment, I suppose this is also a good reason to argue for the continued existence of behind-the-scenes features that are so common on physical media. Films are so much more interesting when you learn about their production history than when you just watch them blindly. It was watching the bonus materials with the Lord of the Rings extended editions back in the early 2000s that really ignited my love of film, and it’s by continuing to watch special features and learn about each film’s history that my love continues to grow with each entry that I write. 

Availability:

King Kong (1933) is available to stream on the services listed here: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/king-kong-1933 

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

The Grapes of Wrath (1940) – Film #0011

Directed by John Ford 
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 1989 
I first watched it on March 7th, 2021 

What It’s About:

During the Great Depression, a large family is forced off of their farm in Oklahoma. They decide to travel to California, where they are led to believe that employment is abundant. Once there, they must cope with the grim reality that awaits them. 

My experience with the film:

Can an 80+ year old film about a very specific period of time still feel relatable all these years later? Well, after one year of a pandemic, with millions of people unemployed and/or struggling with finances, and the country on the verge of an eviction crisis, while the richest people in the country have only gotten richer over the last 12 months, no, I wouldn’t say that this film is relatable at all. 

In all seriousness though, I was surprised not only by how timely this film felt, but also how much I enjoyed it. I somehow managed to never read this book in high school. (Perhaps because we read Of Mice and Men instead?) We did technically watch a filmed version of the Grapes of Wrath stage play in one of my history classes (why we didn’t just watch this movie instead, I don’t know), but I remembered absolutely nothing about the story, except that it was about the Great Depression and that it involved people traveling, so I went into this film expecting it to be really depressing. (It also probably didn’t help that a lot of the literature that we read in high school, including Of Mice and Men, was depressing.) But, while the ending of the film is somewhat ambiguous, it does seem to have a sense of optimism.

My surprise continued as I did my post-watch research and learned that the ending of the film was not the same as the book and, in fact, the order of events in the film and in the book are quite different—the more optimistic stuff from the end of the film is in the middle of the book, and the depressing middle of the film is toward the end of the book. However, it turns out that John Steinbeck (the author of the novel) was actually quite pleased with the film. After learning more about the contents of the novel, I can understand why. While the film is somewhat more optimistic, it still captures the experiences of the downtrodden characters that are portrayed in the novel, to the point that several people (see the resources mentioned below) have stated that the film feels at times more like a documentary than a fictional film because of how accurately it depicts the conditions that people like the Joads went through. 

I’ll also admit that I learned (or possibly re-learned—it’s been a while since high school history class) quite a bit about the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl from the film. This reinforced yet again why I’ve enjoyed watching and learning about these NFR films (and why the NFR itself is important). The NFR isn’t just a collection of “good movies.” It’s a collection of films that portray and capture significant parts of American culture, history, and art. I’ve learned about a lot more than just movies while working on this project, and I look forward to the long road ahead as I continue to watch all of the films on this list.  

Availability:

The Grapes of Wrath (1940) is available to stream on the services listed here: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/the-grapes-of-wrath 

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

The Searchers (1956) – Film #0020

Directed by John Ford 
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 1989 
I first watched it in March 2016 

What It’s About:

After his brother’s family is murdered by a group of Comanche raiders, Ethan Edwards (played by John Wayne), spends several years trying to find his niece, who was abducted by the raiders. 

My experience with the film:

As I briefly mentioned in my Deer Hunter entry, I only took one formal film class in college. I took it during my final semester as a senior, partially because I needed an extra class to be enrolled full-time that semester, but mostly because I loved movies, and I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t take at least one film class before my undergrad career was over. Each week in that class, we were required to watch a different film and to write a brief analysis of a specific aspect of it (e.g., writing, acting, directing, production design, etc.) For the week that we were assigned The Searchers, we were also supposed to analyze its cinematography. For anyone who might be exceptionally interested, you can find a copy of the analysis paper that I wrote here, but I should confess that it was mostly B.S. analysis on my part, that I wrote mostly just to get the grade. (I ended up getting a B+ in the class, though I’ll admit that since it was my final semester, and even though I enjoyed the class, I didn’t exactly consider the assignments to be my highest priority.) 

While we’re on the topic of confessionals, I suppose it’s also worth mentioning that for that class, we were technically supposed to watch each film on campus, during one of the scheduled public showings of the film. However, I only made it a few weeks into the semester before I decided to rebel and watch the films at home (using my trusty DVD Netflix subscription). This wasn’t so much an act of defiance as it was a choice made for practical reasons. The public showings took place in large lecture halls with mediocre sound systems, which often made it hard for me to hear and understand portions of the film. It was also hard to take notes in the darkened environment (since I couldn’t really see my pen/paper, and since electronic note taking was forbidden.) Being able to watch the films at home, with subtitles (which I use on almost every film), and the ability to pause/rewind if necessary was worth the occasional pang of guilt I felt for not watching the movies that way I was “supposed” to. 

Strangely, I think my overall feelings about each of the films that I watched in that class ranged from “it was all right” to “I didn’t like it” (with the exception of “The General”, which I thoroughly enjoyed). But despite my less-than-enthusiastic feelings about the films and the assignments, I actually loved attending and learning the material in the class. I already had a love of movies (hence why I took the class, as I mentioned), but I feel that the class helped to strongly cultivate that love. I came out of that class with a desire to branch out and start exposing myself to films that I wouldn’t normally watch. Again, as mentioned in the Deer Hunter entry, it inspired me to make a goal to watch all of the Best Picture winning films, a goal that would also later inspire me to start this current massive project of watching all of the NFR films. I honestly don’t think that I would be the film lover that I am today had I not taken that class. 

I suppose I should briefly get around to mentioning my thoughts on The Searchers. I didn’t record my specific thoughts about the film after my initial viewing, but I seem to remember that my feelings for it were along the lines of “it was all right, I guess” (and maybe even skewing slightly negative.) With that in mind, I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about revisiting it in order to write this entry. Surprisingly, I found that I enjoyed it quite a bit with this viewing. Ironically enough, despite my B.S. attempt at analyzing the cinematography five years ago, I was actually quite impressed with the cinematography this time around. The scenery/location shots are absolutely gorgeous, and they quickly reminded me of films like Lawrence of Arabia (I was pleased with myself for making that connection when I learned during my background research that The Searchers was indeed a large influence on that film.) Another influence that I (correctly) picked up on was the parallel between the scene when Ethan finds his brother’s home on fire and his family dead, and the scene in the original Star Wars film when Luke Skywalker finds his home on fire and his aunt and uncle dead. Beyond the technical filmmaking aspects though, I also quite enjoyed the playful relationship between Marty and Laurie, and the humor that it brought to the film (especially during the wedding fight scene that helped to calm things down before the climax of the film).

Of course, as with most movies that are above a certain age, there are some aspects that don’t sit well with a modern audience. Much has been said about the racist overtones at the heart of the film. However, many have also defended the film saying that much of that material wasn’t meant to condone racist ideologies, rather to display them, and indicate that those feelings were common at the time that this film took place. Some argue that this interpretation is supported by the way that Ethan’s racism is portrayed in the film: the idea that he (and even other protagonists like Laurie) believe that it would be better to kill Debbie than to rescue her is not meant to be sympathized with, and is rather shown to be horrific in the eyes of Marty, who some could argue is the true protagonist of the film. (For more on this discussion, see the several resources that I’ve linked below.) 

Regardless, despite its flaws, The Searchers is still considered to be one of the most influential Westerns, and one of the most influential films of all time, with several popular modern filmmakers listing it as one of their favorite films. I’m not sure why I was really down on it during my first viewing five years ago, but this time around, I can definitely say that I saw what all the hype was about. 

Availability:

The Searchers (1956) is available to stream on the services listed here: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/the-searchers 

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

Modern Times (1936) – Film #0006

Directed by Charlie Chaplin 
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 1989 
I first watched it on Feb. 10th, 2021 

What It’s About:

A down-on-his-luck factory worker and a young homeless woman try to make their way in a world that seems determined to keep them down.

My experience with the film:

Getting my critiques out of the way first: I did think it was somewhat strange that the younger sisters of Paulette Goddard’s character were practically forgotten halfway through the film (I kept expecting her to try to reunite with them). Likewise, the age difference between the two lead characters feels uncomfortable by modern standards (despite the actress being 25, her character is implied to be a minor). 

That said, this movie was hilarious, and adorable, and I loved it. This was only my second time watching a Chaplin film. The first was The Great Dictator (it will get its own entry eventually), which I watched about a year ago. I enjoyed The Great Dictator quite a bit (largely for its message), but I thought that some of the physical humor didn’t work and/or dragged on a little too long. This may explain why Chaplin decided not to make Modern Times a “talkie”—perhaps his style of humor does indeed work better in silent films. Whatever the reason, I found myself laughing in practically every scene of Modern Times. It was full of slapstick humor, but it also never felt too over-the-top, unrealistic, or cartoonish.

And while Charlie Chaplin’s physical acting sold the humor of the film, I felt that it was Paulette Goddard who sold the heart. She was every bit as endearing as he was and I really enjoyed the give-and-take nature of their relationship—they took care of each other and looked out for each other fairly equally. (For example: one day he’d sneak her into the department store at night for food and shelter, and then later, she’d find an abandoned shack for them to stay in.)

Honestly, this is probably my favorite film that I’ve newly watched for this NFR project so far (keep in mind that I’m still fairly early in working my way through this list, and that I’m not including movies that I had already seen before starting this project as being eligible for the aforementioned “favorites”). I definitely look forward to revisiting it in the future. 

I should also note that several of the resources that I found mentioned that this is a great film to use to introduce your kids to the world of silent film. Aside from a little bit of substance use throughout (smoking, drinking, and, surprisingly, some accidental ingesting of “nose powder” that leads to some hilarious results), I’d say that I agree. If you have kids in your life (your own, or nieces/nephews, cousins, etc.) who haven’t seen a silent film (or if you haven’t, for that matter), this is a great one to start with (even if it’s not technically completely silent, since it came out nearly a decade after the dawn of the “talkie”; in addition to having a score and sound effects, it also has an occasional moment of spoken word or song). You and the kids will be laughing the whole time. 

Availability:

Modern Times (1936) is available to stream on the services listed here: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/modern-times 

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

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

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