Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Truth About NO LIES (If you can believe it.)

Alec Hirschfield, the Camerman


This was originally published in "F is For Phony: Fake Documentaries and Truth's Undoing (Visible Evidence)"

by Alexandra Juhasz Juhasz and Jesse Lerner (Hardcover - Sep 22, 2006)

By Mitchell W. Block

It’s July 2002 and I am observing a photo shoot for a new “reality” program that will air on TNT in 2003 called (working title) THE RESIDENTS. R.J. Cutler, produce of THE WAR ROOM, and most recently, the Emmy Award-winning series (FOX and PBS) AMERICAN HIGH, is the show’s executive producer and his company, Actual Reality Pictures, has been making this work for the last year. THE RESIDENTS follows a year in the life of surgical and family practice residents at UCLA’s medical centers in Los Angeles. They each allowed a film crew to shoot them at home and in the hospital. In most cases they even recorded themselves on a portable video “diary” camera, “private” moments which, if selected, will be included in the television show possibly seen by millions of people. This is a publicity photo shoot of the “real” doctors who participated in sharing their real life adventures with Cutler’s two (sometimes three) crews. Gathered around a real hospital gurney, with the green leatherette pad, are nine doctors. Some are wearing scrubs and others are in nice office clothes. They have all been to the make-up and hair stylists who are working in an adjoining room. The PR staffers from TNT coordinating with their photographer who is shooting large format still shots on a large photo stage of the doctors, carefully approving the look of each of the doctors, nodding as they are made up and their hair is styled. What is striking to this observer is that this multi-cultural group of attractive men and women could be actors playing doctors but they are actually made-up doctors playing themselves. They are “real”!

Alec Hirschfeld (L) Shelby Leverington (Center) and Mitchell Block during NO LIES shoot

Cutler and his team of vèritè crews are making reality television. A team of transcribers, story editors, many producers and editors supports the crews. They use terms such as “story arc”, “beats” “the ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ story lines,” refer to the real scenes as if they were scripted and film as they try to piece them together into minidramas which will become the acts of a 47 or so minute television hour with breaks for commercials. Shoot first then script. Sometimes instructions come to the crews from the story editors to shoot an ending to a dramatic arc. The crews oblige. The economic advantage of using real people is clear to program executives. One does not have to pay residuals (or actors) for what will be (or at least one hopes) a season’s series. Real life dramas from real life people present a solid economic model to network programming executives. It also can be first-rate programming. What are the responsibilities of the filmmakers to the subjects? To the audience?

I have observed this experience with the reader because R. J. Cutler’s work is taking place 30 years after I made NO LIES. It follows the pioneer work of Alan and Susan Raymond (who shot) and Executive Producer Craig Gilbert in their 1972/3 PBS series AN AMERICAN FAMILY and stylistically moves from the pacing and form towards what might be called an “MTV look”. This is not intended to imply one style is better than another but rather to suggest that the pacing is a whole lot faster. Many of THE RESIDENTS crew and cast were not even born when this showed aired. (THE RESIDENTS flows from the success of R. J. Cutler’s earlier work AMERICAN HIGH. Many of the key THE RESIDENTS crew worked on this project.) AN AMERICAN FAMILY also had press photos shot in a studio, 8mm film diaries were shot (home video was not yet usable on-air) and the crew developed relationships with the subjects. Simplistically almost everything is the same. The new work is not being made in an intellectual or cultural vacuum. THE RESIDENTS filmmakers in many cases went to film school and have a solid grounding in film history. A number of the filmmakers involved with this program were my students at USC. Despite the 30 years that have past there is almost no separation between Cutler and the filmmakers of the 1970’s. Joan Churchill who was one of the cinematographers on AN AMERICAN FAMILY is one of the two principle cinematographers for Cutler.

I share this with the reader because I made my work, NO LIES in response to AN AMERICAN FAMILY as it was in production/post production 30 years ago. NO LIES is a film about filmmaking (and filmmakers making films). AN AMERICAN FAMILY was the catalyst. Eleanor Hamerow, one of my teachers (at the NYU Graduate Film Program) was one of the original editors for the series. She is credited with editing its first hour. I understand she left AN AMERICAN FAMILY because she was so concerned about the many ethical questions that the production process raised. How was the filmmaking process affecting the people who were sharing their lives with the filmmakers? How would showing the film to the public affect their lives? Was the process of making AN AMERICAN FAMILY altering the course of the lives of the film’s subjects? NO LIES is a simple story with a simple narrative arc that explores these relationships between filmmakers and their subjects. The big difference is that my work was scripted or story-edited before it was shot. It is a drama that is fictional rather than drama that is “real.” No real people were exposing their inner lives to the camera or the public since no real people were used. The idea for the work developed, in part, because of the tensions I observed between Hamerow and Gilbert. I did not see AN AMERICAN FAMILY until many years later, in part, because of the anger Hamerow felt towards the work as well as my lack of access to television and the work not being available on film or video. I wondered, “Is it possible to film reality without changing it?” or “Could one create reality fictionally and not worry about how filming it would effect the subjects since in my work the subjects do not exist, they are actors?”

Three years earlier, in the fall of 1968, I had the experience of seeing DAVID HOLZMAN’S DIARY at New York University. Jim McBride, L.M. Kit Carson and Michael Wadleigh’s DAVID HOLZMAN’S DIARY is in many respects the staged documentary that started a movement. The screening was not part of a class but rather a thrown together evening done as a student initiated event, Jim had been a graduate student at NYU. This screening forever changed my relationship with film. Without DAVID HOLZMAN, there would be no NO LIES. I believed it. I loved the film. I was taken in by Carson’s Holtzman character. I wanted to be Holtzman. What young aspiring filmmaker in 1968 would not want to be the Waspy Holtzman character? His life was falling apart before our eyes but we loved this character. In the end, David’s (Holtzman) Éclair camera and Nagra are stolen leaving him without a way to work—so the film ends over black as Holtzman tells us what has happened, this was something we all could relate to, after all our cinematography teacher Fred (Beta) Badka kept his 35mm cameras in a bank vault.

Carson/Holtzman (the fictional character) loses everything in the process of making this work. The film like the French New Wave works we are seeing is so (I can say it) cool. It hero’s downwards spiral that the film personally and painfully documents makes it so one can’t help not loving his character. (SEX LIVES AND VIDEOTAPE years later has a similar feel.) McBride, Wadleigh and Scorsese were all classmates in NYU’s pre-School of the Arts graduate film school in 1966. That same year John Cassavetes’ FACES premiered. Cassavetes influenced their work with his fictional reality. FACES was a gutsy “real life” drama with a tour de force in your face performance by it stars. These works, a few years later, when combined with the relentless screenings and analysis of BATTLE OF ALGIERS (Gillo Pontecorvo) in the fall of 1973 in the Graduate Film Program (where I made NO LIES as my MFA thesis work) created the intellectual atmosphere where one felt it was safe to challenge the conventional form of cinema. It made complete sense.

We were studying with revolutionaries. Leo Hurwitz was the directing teacher in the program-our filmmaker-in-residence. His professional credentials were impeccable and distinctly left wing. A one-time member of the Film and Photo League, Hurwitz had collaborated on pictures such as NATIVE LAND and we had the good fortune to have him as the chair and one of the master teachers in the program. Leo provided a remarkable standard for the program. Artistically he was a powerful force. No one could doubt his ethics or integrity as an artist. He was deeply respected by all of the students even if they did not always agree with him. His take on filmmaking deeply affected me. Finally, there was my experience working as the New York line producer of Martin Scorsese’s MEAN STREETS in the fall semester of 1972. This made NO LIES inevitable since I needed to do a thesis work and had only limited time to write, shoot and edit it starting in January 1973 since I was the sole graduate student in a prototype one-year MFA program. If I did not direct a film I would not graduate.

I knew as a producer that I should do a work that would be “easy” to make. Limited locations, interior practical location, a short shoot, few actors, low shooting ratio, no period costumes, no score, etc. Keep it really simple. The work was based on an unpublished video called THE RAPE TAPE in which a number of women who were raped talked about their experiences. This early video diary was produced Jenny Goldberg (and three other women) using a Sony Porta Pack (who was the sound person on NO LIES.). It was a deeply moving work that provided much of the material for the actress Shelby Leverington who plays the woman in NO LIES to base her performance around. The location selected was Muffy Meyer’s apartment. Meyer was editing documentaries (GRAY GARDENS) with Ellen Hovde (who became her film business partner) at the Maysles. They were close friends of Charlotte Zwerin (who was the original editor of AN AMERICAN FAMILY who also resigned from the project) and was a resident filmmaker at the Mayseles. While I did not know the Raymonds (or Gilbert) at this time, I was responding to their work (without seeing it)—people who had a very strong emotional reaction to the ethics of this film surrounded me. It was the talk at many a dinner. My concern about the nature of the documentary was ongoing because of my relationship with these filmmakers. It cut across a range of films and the expediencies of my required thesis work forced me to think continually about DAVID HOLZMAN’S DIARY and another fiction film from the period called A SAFE PLACE (directed by Henry Jaglom).

My fascination with this form is directly connected to my interest in the relationships between:

a. The filmmaker (Block) and the subjects—the “cameraman” and “his subject”

b. The filmmaker (Block) and the audience.

c. The audience/viewer and the film (from the point-of-view of the audience)\

This tripartite relationship is clear to see in NO LIES, I abuse (a) the subject with an insensitive filmmaker, (b) undermine the audience’s relationship with the filmmaker, by making him unlikable and unethical and (c) abuse the spectator by pretending to present the truth and lying. In this case, (unlike a “real” documentary), I am not in the film but manipulating it by using a non-fictional form to tell a fictional story. The filmmaker/cameraman who is very much a part of the NO LIES story is actually a character playing the filmmaker. In the traditional “real” work the filmmaker is, well, the filmmaker. While we are used to talking about the filmmaker and the subject (a) and the audience and the film (c), NO LIES is really about the filmmaker manipulating the audience (b). ALL filmmakers in both dramatic and non-fiction forms do this. However, in the non-fiction form the filmmaker has a responsibility to the subject. By manipulating the film, the filmmaker is manipulating reality. In a non-fiction, work the subject is a real person and not an actor. But real life is not “dramatic” within the convention of film time. It needs to be structured and edited into film form; the lack of action in real life needs to be accelerated. The structure of film allows for this manipulation of time with the use of editing. While picture logic allows us to see events as they really happen, this is usually not acceptable to audiences because “reality” is slow and not usually dramatic and filmmakers are almost never filmmaking at the “right” moment. Filmmakers therefore need to use the device of telling us what happened rather than showing us what happened. The non-fiction film is formed in the editing room to tell the story in a dramatic fashion from the material that is shot. The editor pushes the narrative elements of the shot material together to make it flow in a cinematic way—faster. They depend on the filmmakers to be there at the key moments to film the story as it happens. If they miss filming the story the filmmakers either have to reenact the story, have the subjects tell us about what happened (voice over or interview), provide a card or perhaps tell us in their own words what happened. Since most of the time, filmmakers miss these key moments; the documentary film is always rushing to catch up with the story.

The paradigm shift between Gilbert’s/Raymonds’ AN AMERICAN FAMILY and Cutler’s AMERICAN HIGH and THE RESIDENTS is that the filmmakers (the crews shooting the films) will have their footage radically broken up and there is no attempt made to show it as a whole. The sequences are diced and split by the editors into fragments that are intercut with other fragments so that the hour work has a more intense pacing caused by the fragmentation of the stories. As soon as the action (or story) slows, the filmmakers cut to another story and cut back to that story later. The multiple filmmaking crews become part of an industrial process—making a collective story rather than allowing the filmmakers to “create” a story of just what they shoot. There is no “director” but only producers, directors of photography, editors, story editors and other supervisors.

The Raymonds are credited as the “filmmakers” of AN AMERICAN FAMILY but the “authorship” is difficult to pin down. There is no “director” credit given. AN AMERICAN FAMILY runs the shot sequences far longer, stays with the action/characters and allows the pacing to be far less frenetic. It’s focus is also smaller, on a family, and not on a dozen or so high school students. Both works are character driven. AMERICAN HIGH focuses on the students and their interrelations. AN AMERICAN FAMILY’s focus on the lives of the family members. NO LIES is a sequence that could be in any of these films—except the filmmakers would not be part of the action. The “fly-on-wall” film crew who in reality is interacting with the subjects is the hidden secret of both of these series. The subjects tell the crew when something is going to happen and they happen to be there to film it, or if they miss it, they can stage it or interview the subjects about what they missed. The crew is alerted to the coming drama and the results are covered. They know what is going to happen before it happens and sometimes nothing happens until the crew is present.

NO LIES follows the strategy or style of AN AMERICAN FAMILY for two reasons: it gives the work the appearance of being a reality and the story line is very simple. (My 1974 work, SPEEDING predates the fragmentation style of AMERICAN HIGH since it is an intercut story of a number of real people and actors playing real people.) The audience does not want to observe the two edits of cutting the three shots into one in NO LIES. Like the work of Cutler NO LIES was actually shot on video, at least the rehearsal stage. (THE NO LIES REHEARSAL TAPES) using now primitive Sony porta-pack video equipment. The use of film was mandated by the unavailability of high quality hand held video equipment. The sense of reality is captured by the conceit of the work, the whole work is presented as a single-take-truth (or a non-edited work) and hence could not be a lie. Audiences believe single continuous shots. While the docu-series is always presented as the truth despite the fictional style of the editing. Reality rarely is interesting on today’s MTV driven (or VH1, whatever..) for 15 straight minutes. (Are there any interesting 15 minutes (without cuts) in any film in our cannon?) We require fragmentations to heighten the drama of the moment. Fragmentation of the plots so that the work presents multiple plots to intercut. Since I was trying to make a point about making films about real people, NO LIES suggests it is possible to craft reality without hurting anyone.

I love what Cutler and company are dong to the non-fiction form and share his work to show that the form is continuing to evolve. His work, for me, is still ethically provocative. In the last 30 years because of media, subjects one would think are more accustomed to the media intruding on their lives. They allow their trials, their arrests and their lives to be captured. With Winona Ryder real life adventures captured on store video surveillance cameras and alleged criminals caught in the act on shows like COPS and a host of programs like SURVIVORS and numerous dating shows we see hundreds of hours of “real” programs. In addition, the genre is being expanded in works like FRONTIER HOUSE where real people play roles, in this case frontier families.

Unlike Michael Moore’s fake non-fiction works, the cameraman/filmmaker in my work is allowing the character to be truthful (within the context of the fiction) and, unlike his works, we are intentionally betraying the audiences’ trust. We are after all fiction and while we are pretending to be non-fiction, we are not non-fiction. Moore, on the other hand, is using the technique of NO LIES but is telling the spectator (and the subjects) that he is being truthful. If ROGER AND ME was a fiction, with actors instead of real people, it would be fine. Alas, Moore is a documentary liar. His works holds up its subjects for ridicule and scorn. We laugh at these real people who, in some cases, are being presented in a false light by Moore. Compare this to the respect with which the subjects are treated by Cutler or the Raymonds and Gilbert.

What then is “fake?” ROGER AND ME has a number of “fake” scenes and/or depictions of characters but the filmmaker tells us that this is a “documentary.” My work rings true but is a fiction. It is “fake” carefully built as truth (but is labeled as fiction in its credits). While the actual rape is a fiction, the two characters are a fiction, the emotions and feelings the women shows in her interview, while acted, read as “truth” to the spectators and to experts. Even the New York City police when using the work in training in the 1980s asked me for the “name of the officer who interviewed the woman in the film.” Clearly, there is (or was) a training problem in police departments with the officers who interview rape victims. This came out repeatedly in researching the film. The New York Police training group wanted to interview the officer(s) on video who interviewed the actress in NO LIES and use the interviews with the film for training purposes. (I’d love to have a copy of that interview tape.)

Sound recordists Jenny Goldberg with Alec Hirschfield

Looking to the future. For the past six months, I have been working on my third work in this genre. What is interesting to me is to continue to play on the relationship between the filmmaker and the subject and the audience. I want the cameraman to again cross the line and home in on the subject who clearly does not want to expose her feelings. He, like the television news people and Mr. Moore, wants to get his “Roger” on film regardless of how “Roger” feels about being on film at any moment of vulnerability. I want that moment I experienced once in a UCLA film class after a screening of the NO LIES sequel SPEEDING? when a student asked, “How to you happen to film movie stars getting speeding tickets?” It is the moment of “ah hah!” in the audience, wanting to believe that the actor is the real person getting caught on film rather than the actor playing a character who is in a fictional work.

What is critical is that the spectators become more sophisticated reading the film text being presented. They need to understand how easy it is to manipulate the form so that it appears to be the “truth” when it is not the truth. NO LIES should have been called, ALL LIES. We all believed the fiction of the boom or the MCI/Worldcom or Enron reports. We wanted to believe that the auditors, the government officials, the bankers, the brokers and the analysts were telling the truth. Trillions of dollars have disappeared. The investors, like the spectators, want to believe what they are told. Everything has changed since I made NO LIES, but I feel that everything is still the same.

Mitchell W. Block is executive director of Direct Cinema Limited ( a non-profit film and video distributor. He executive produced the Academy Award winning documentary BIG MAMA in 2000. For the past 23 years, he has been an adjunct professor and is currently teaching independent producing for the Peter Stark Producing Program in the School of Cinema-Television at USC. He consults, lectures, writes and continues to work on a wide range of film projects ranging from documentaries to features. He lives in Santa Monica, California.

©2002 All Rights Reserved, MWB

Images: (From Original Article)

NO LIES (Block, Alec Hirschfeld and Shelby Leverington during the shooting, 1973)

RESIDENTS (The doctors as they are being shot for publicity, 2002)

Filmography Notes:

NO LIES (1973) Produced and directed by Mitchell W. Block is available from Direct Cinema Limited

SPEEDING (1975) Produced and directed by Block is also available from Direct Cinema

note: CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM consists of a pilot which is a staged document and the series. The pilot was done I believe in 1999.

NO LIES Selected 2008 for National Historical Register of Films

December 30, 2008

Cinematic Classics, Legendary Stars, Comedic Legends and Novice Filmmakers Showcase the 2008 Film Registry

The holiday season is usually a busy time for moviegoers, but December is also the time of year when attention is focused on the preservation of the nation’s movie heritage. Librarian of Congress James H. Billington today named 25 important motion pictures--classics and genres from every era of American filmmaking--to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, including "The Asphalt Jungle," "Deliverance," "A Face in the Crowd," "The Invisible Man," "Sergeant York" and "The Terminator." Spanning the period 1910-1989, this year’s selections bring the number of motion pictures in the registry to 500.

Under the terms of the National Film Preservation Act, each year the Librarian of Congress names 25 films to the National Film Registry that are "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant, to be preserved for all time. These films are not selected as the "best" American films of all time, but rather as works of enduring significance to American culture.

"With this year’s list, the registry now includes 500 films and stands as a matchless record of the amazing creativity America has brought to the movies since the early 1890s," said Billington. "Both as a public-awareness tool and as an educational learning aid for students, the registry helps this nation understand the diversity of America’s film heritage and, just as importantly, the need for its preservation. The nation has lost about half of the films produced before 1950 and as much as 90 percent of those made before 1920. In addition, more and more nitrate-based and acetate-based films are deteriorating with the passage of time."

The Librarian makes the final selection, after reviewing hundreds of titles nominated by the public and having extensive discussions with the distinguished members of the National Film Preservation Board, as well as the Library’s motion picture staff. Dr. Billington again solicited public nominations at the Film Board’s Web site:, and issued a call for lesser-known, but culturally vital, films such as amateur and home-movie footage. This year’s list includes "Disneyland Dream," a significant home movie record of Hollywood and Los Angeles in 1956, and the student film, "No Lies."

Congress established the National Film Registry in 1989 and reauthorized the program most recently in September 2008 when it passed the "Library of Congress Sound Recording and Film Preservation Programs Reauthorization Act of 2008." For each title named to the registry, the Library of Congress’s Packard Campus of the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center works to ensure that the film is preserved for future generations, either through the Library’s massive motion-picture preservation program or through collaborative ventures with other archives, motion-picture studios and independent filmmakers.

The Packard Campus is the Library’s state-of-the-art preservation facility in Culpeper, Va., which was made possible through the generosity of David Woodley Packard and the Packard Humanities Institute. The Library’s Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division’s collections include nearly six million items.

Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution. It seeks to spark imagination and creativity and to further human understanding and wisdom by providing access to knowledge through its magnificent collections, programs and exhibitions. Many of the Library’s rich resources can be accessed through its Web site at and via interactive exhibitions on a new, personalized Web site at For more information about the National Film Preservation Board and the National Film Registry, visit

2008 National Film Registry

The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

John Huston’s brilliant crime drama contains the recipe for a meticulously planned robbery, but the cast of criminal characters features one too many bad apples. Sam Jaffe, as the twisted mastermind, uses cash from corrupt attorney Emmerich (Louis Calhern) to assemble a group of skilled thugs to pull off a jewel heist. All goes as planned — until an alert night watchman and a corrupt cop enter the picture. Marilyn Monroe has a memorable bit part as Emmerich’s "niece."

Deliverance (1972)

Four Atlanta professionals (Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Ronnie Cox and Jon Voight) head for a weekend canoe trip — and instead meet up with two of the more memorable villains in film history (Billy McKinney and Herbert Coward) in this gripping Appalachian "Heart of Darkness." With dazzling visual flair, director John Boorman and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond infuse James Dickey’s novel with scenes of genuine terror and frantic struggles for survival battling river rapids — and in the process create a work rich with fascinating ambiguities about "civilized" values, urban-versus-backwoods culture, nature, and man’s supposed taming of the environment.

Disneyland Dream (1956)

The Barstow family films a memorable home movie of their trip to Disneyland. Robbins and Meg Barstow, along with their children Mary, David and Daniel were among 25 families who won a free trip to the newly opened Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., as part of a "Scotch Brand Cellophane Tape" contest sponsored by 3M. Through vivid color and droll narration ("The landscape was very different from back home in Connecticut"), we see a fantastic historical snapshot of Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Catalina Island, Knott’s Berry Farm, Universal Studios and Disneyland in mid-1956. Home movies have assumed a rapidly increasing importance in American cultural studies as they provide a priceless and authentic record of time and place.

A Face in the Crowd (1957)

Before Andy Griffith became a television legend playing a likable small-town sheriff, he portrayed a completely different type of celebrity in this dark look at the way sudden fame and power can corrupt. In his film debut, Griffith plays a rural drunk, drifter and country singer who becomes an overnight success when a radio station employee (Patricia Neal) puts him on the air. Behind the scenes, he turns into a power-hungry monster who must be exposed. This film is based on the short story "The Arkansas Traveler" by Budd Schulberg, who also wrote the script for director Elia Kazan.

Flower Drum Song (1961)

This film version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical marked the first Hollywood studio film featuring performances by a mostly Asian cast, a break from past practice of casting white actors made up to appear Asian. Starring prominent Asian-American actors Nancy Kwan and James Shigeta, this milestone film presented an enduring three-dimensional portrait of Asian America as well as a welcomed, non-cliched portrait of Chinatown beyond the usual exotic tourist façades.

Foolish Wives (1922)

Director Erich von Stroheim’s third feature, staged with costly and elaborate sets of Monte Carlo, tells the story of a criminal who passes himself off as a Russian count in order to seduce women of society and steal their money. This brilliant and, at the time, controversial film fully established von Stroheim’s reputation within the industry as a challenging and difficult-to-manage creative genius.

Free Radicals (1979)

Born in New Zealand, avant-garde filmmaker Len Lye moved to the United States and became a naturalized citizen in 1950. For his four-minute work "Free Radicals" (begun in 1958 and completed in 1979), Lye made scratches directly into the film stock. These scratches became "figures of motion" that appear in the finished film as horizontal and vertical lines and shapes dancing to the music of the Bagirmi tribe in Africa.

Hallelujah (1929)

The all-black-cast film "Hallelujah" was a surprising gamble by normally conservative MGM, allowed chiefly because director King Vidor deferred his salary and MGM had proved slow to convert from silent to sound films. Vidor had to shoot silent film of the mass-river-baptism and swamp-murder Tennessee location scenes. He then painstakingly synchronized the dialogue and music. Around themes of religion, sensuality and family stability, Vidor molded a tale of a cotton sharecropper that begins with him losing his year’s earnings, his brother and his freedom and follows him through the temptations of a dancehall girl (Nina Mae McKinney). The passionate conviction of the melodrama and the resourceful technical experiments make "Hallelujah" among the very first indisputable masterpieces of the sound era.

In Cold Blood (1967)

In 1959 two men brutally murdered four members of a Holcomb, Kan., family. Truman Capote reported on the infamous incident, first in a series of New Yorker articles and later in his non-fiction novel, "In Cold Blood." With an unsparing neo-realism, director Richard Brooks adapted Capote’s novel, focusing on the motivations, backgrounds, and relationship of the killers, society’s failure to spot potential murderers, and their eventual execution on death row. Filmed in striking black-and-white documentary style by cinematographer Conrad Hall, the film starred then-unknown actors Robert Blake and Scott Wilson, both of whom bore a close physical resemblance to the real-life murderers. Blake, in particular, provides a sensational, multi-layered portrayal. The chilling ending depicts Blake climbing to the gallows to be hanged as we hear his heartbeat slowly come to a stop as the screen fades to black.

The Invisible Man (1933)

Universal released many classic horror films during the 1930s and director James Whale crafted some of the greatest from that famous cycle: "Frankenstein," "Bride of Frankenstein," "The Old Dark House" and "The Invisible Man." Whale brought a dazzling stylishness to what were essentially low-budget horror films and, in the case of "The Invisible Man," produced sophisticated special effects, aided by John P. Fulton. As in his discovery of Boris Karloff to play "Frankenstein," Whale made another inspirational choice in picking British-born Claude Rains, in his American film debut, to portray H.G. Wells’ tormented scientist Jack Griffin. In the film, after discovering a drug which provides the secret to invisibility, Rains becomes an insane maniac and goes on a power-hungry murder spree, but later makes a deathbed confession to his fiancée: "I meddled in things that man must leave alone."

Johnny Guitar (1954)

Often described as the one of the stranger, kinkier Westerns of all time, Nicholas Ray’s film-noiresque "Johnny Guitar" possesses enough symbolism to keep a psychiatrist occupied for years and was a favorite film of French New Wave directors. "Johnny Guitar," filmed in the Trucolor process, also rates significance as one of a few Westerns featuring women as the main stars (Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge). Crawford is the owner of a gambling saloon in an isolated town waiting for the train lines to arrive so she can get rich; McCambridge plays her nemesis. Upon its release, Variety and The Hollywood Reporter panned "Johnny Guitar," but the film’s reputation has soared over time.

The Killers (1946)

Director Robert Siodmak took the original Ernest Hemingway short story as the film’s opening point and developed it with an elaborate series of flashbacks, creating a classic example of film noir. Two killers shatter a small town’s quiet before an insurance investigator (Edmond O’Brien) digs up crime, betrayal, and a glamorous woman (Ava Gardner) behind an ex-fighter's death (Burt Lancaster's electrifying film debut).

The March (1964)

George Stevens Jr., who headed the United States Information Agency (USIA) Motion Picture Service unit from 1962-67, brought in several young talented documentary filmmakers such as Charles Guggenheim, Carroll Ballard, Kent McKenzie, Leo Seltzer, Terry Sanders, Bruce Herschensohn, and James Blue, who directed "The March." This period ushered in the "Golden Era" of USIA films. Examining the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington from the ground-level and focusing on the idealistic passion, joy and synergy of the crowds, Blue’s documentary lets us see the event take shape from the planning stage — with sound checks and worries about whether people will attend — to the arrival of enormous crowds on parades of trains and buses. It culminates in Martin Luther King’s electrifying "I Have a Dream" speech. These USIA films were rarely seen in America because, fearing propaganda, the 1948 Smith-Mundt Act mandated that no USIA film could be shown domestically without a special act of Congress. These films are being rediscovered because a 1990 act of Congress (P.L. 101-246) authorized domestic screening 12 years after release.

No Lies (1973)

Done in faux cinéma vérité style, Mitchell Block’s 16-minute New York University student film begins on a note of insouciant amateurism and then convincingly moves into darker, deeper waters. Opening with a scene of a girl getting ready for a date, the camera-wielding protagonist adroitly orchestrates a mood shift from goofiness to raw pain as an interviewer tears down the girl’s emotional defenses after being raped. One of the first films to deal with the way rape victims are treated when they seek professional help for sexual assault, "No Lies" still possesses a searing resonance and has been widely viewed by nurses, therapists and police officers.

On the Bowery (1957)

"On the Bowery" is Lionel Rogosin’s acclaimed, unrelenting docudrama about the infamous New York City zone known as the Bowery. The film focuses on three of its alcoholic skid row denizens and their marginal existence amid the gin mills, missions and flop houses. Bosley Crowther in The New York Times wrote that "this is a dismal exposition to be charging people money to see." Rogosin and his small crew spent months on the Bowery observing and talking with residents. They crafted the film as a "synthesis" of Bowery life, and it remains a wrenching portrait of hopelessness, despair and broken dreams. The film’s writer, Mark Sufrin, wrote in an issue of Sight and Sound magazine: "Very few, once they hit the Bowery, ever leave, are reclaimed, or rehabilitated…I had escaped that frightening place. They still remain."

One Week (1920)

"One Week" is the first publicly released two-reel short film starring Buster Keaton. One of Keaton’s finest films and one of the greatest short comedies produced during the 1920s, the film, as critic Walter Kerr noted, shows Keaton as "a garden at the moment of blooming." Considered astonishingly creative even by contemporary standards, "One Week" is rife with hilarious comic, often surrealist, sequences chronicling the ill-fated attempts of a newlywed couple to assemble their new home.

The Pawnbroker (1965)

"The Pawnbroker" was the first Hollywood film to depict in a realistic, psychologically probing manner the trauma of a Holocaust survivor, a subject previously taboo because of the fear of poor box office or offending delicate sensitivities. Rod Steiger’s astounding performance — as he tries to repress his memories of the anguish, physical and emotional shame of being an internment-camp inmate — also serves a perfect allegory for American film’s own struggles to represent this major tragedy of 20th century history.

The Perils of Pauline (1914)

"The Perils of Pauline" was among the very first American movie serials. Produced in 20 episodes, in a groundbreaking long-form motion-picture narrative structure, the series starred Pearl White as a young and wealthy heiress whose ingenuity, self-reliance and pluck enable her to regularly outwit a guardian intent on stealing her fortune. The film became an international hit and spawned a succession of elaborate American adventure serial productions that persisted until the advent of regularly scheduled television programs in the 1950s. Although now regarded as a satirical cliché of the movie industry, "Perils of Pauline" in its day inspired a generation of women on the verge of gaining the right to vote in America by showing actress Pearl White performing her own stunts and overcoming a persistent male enemy.

Sergeant York (1941)

Gary Cooper, in one of his favorite roles, won his first Oscar for his dead-on portrayal of Tennessee pacifist Sgt. Alvin York, who in an Argonne Forest World War I battle single-handedly captured over 130 German soldiers. A stirring film, which appeared six months before America entered World War II as a nation and inspired Americans through the later conflict, "Sergeant York" contains three main segments all masterfully directed by Howard Hawks: Cooper’s life in Tennessee, the war scenes, and post-war scenes in New York City where his newfound fame briefly tempts Cooper not to return to his Tennessee home. This film is Americana at its finest.

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

Special-effects master Ray Harryhausen provides the hero with fantastic antagonists, including a giant cyclops, fire-breathing dragons, and a sword-wielding animated skeleton, all in glorious Technicolor. His stunning Dynamation process, which blended stop-motion animation and live-actions sequences, and a fantastic score by Bernard Herrmann ("Psycho," "North by Northwest," "The Day the Earth Stood Still," "Citizen Kane," "Vertigo") makes this one of the finest fantasy films of all time.

So’s Your Old Man (1926)

While W.C. Fields’ talents are better suited for sound films — where his verbal jabs and asides still delight and astound — Fields also starred in some memorable silent films. Fields began his career as a vaudevillian juggler and that humor and dexterity shines through in "So’s Your Old Man." The craziness is aided immeasurably through the deft comic touches of director Gregory LaCava. In the film, Fields plays inventor Samuel Bisbee, who is considered a vulgarian by the town’s elite. His road to financial success takes many hilarious detours including a disastrous demo for potential investors, a bungled suicide attempt, a foray into his classic "golf game" routine and an inspired pantomime to a Spanish princess.

George Stevens World War II Footage (1943-46)

Having already directed classics such as "Swing Time," "Gunga Din" and "Woman of the Year," director George Stevens joined the U.S. Army Signal Corps and headed a motion picture unit under Gen. Eisenhower from 1943-46. He shot many hours of footage chronicling D-Day, including rare extant color film of the European war front; the liberation of Paris; American and Soviet forces meeting at the Elbe River; and horrific scenes from the Duben labor camp, thought to be a sub-camp of Buchenwald; and the Dachau concentration camp. The footage has become an essential visual record of World War II and a staple of documentary films.

The Terminator (1984)

In 1984, few expected much from the upcoming film "The Terminator." Director James Cameron, a protégé of legendary independent filmmaker Roger Corman, had made only two films previously: the modest sci-fi short "Xenogenesis" in 1978 and "Piranha Part Two: The Spawning" in 1981. However, "The Terminator" became one of the sleeper hits of 1984, blending an ingenious, thoughtful script — clearly influenced by the works of sci-fi legend Harlan Ellison — and relentless, non-stop action moved along by an outstanding synthesizer and early techno soundtrack. Most notable was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s star-making performance as the mass-killing cyborg with a laconic sense of humor ("I’ll be back"). Low-budget, but made with heart, verve, imagination, and superb Stan Winston special effects, "The Terminator" remains among the finest science-fiction films in many decades.

Water and Power (1989)

Winner of a Sundance Grand Jury prize, Pat O’Neill’s influential experimental work is in his own words "a landscape film that became animated by the beginnings of human stories." In this "city symphony," O’Neill juxtaposes images of downtown Los Angeles with scenes from the Owens Valley, Los Angeles’ source of water. This was a brilliant examination of water in all its forms and the one-sided sharing of energy between the two places, representing nature and civilization.

White Fawn’s Devotion (1910)

James Young Deer is now recognized as the first documented movie director of Native American ancestry. Born in Dakota City, Neb., as a member of the Winnebago Indian tribe, James Young Deer (aka: J. Younger Johnston) began his show-business career in circus and Wild West shows in the 1890s. When Pathé Frères of France established its American studio in 1910, in part to produce more authentically American-style Western films, Young Deer was hired as a director and scenario writer. Frequently in collaboration with his wife, actress Princess Red Wing (aka: Lillian St. Cyr), also of Winnebago ancestry, Young Deer is believed to have written and directed more than 100 movies for Pathé from 1910-1913. Many details of Young Deer’s life and movie career remain undocumented and fewer than 10 of his films have been discovered and preserved by U.S. film archives.

Films Selected to the 2008 National Film Registry

  1. The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
  2. Deliverance (1972)
  3. Disneyland Dream (1956)
  4. A Face in the Crowd (1957)
  5. Flower Drum Song (1961)
  6. Foolish Wives (1922)
  7. Free Radicals (1979)
  8. Hallelujah (1929)
  9. In Cold Blood (1967)
  10. The Invisible Man (1933)
  11. Johnny Guitar (1954)
  12. The Killers (1946)
  13. The March (1964)
  14. No Lies (1973)
  15. On the Bowery (1957)
  16. One Week (1920)
  17. The Pawnbroker (1965)
  18. The Perils of Pauline (1914)
  19. Sergeant York (1941)
  20. The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)
  21. So’s Your Old Man (1926)
  22. George Stevens WW2 Footage (1943-46)
  23. The Terminator (1984)
  24. Water and Power (1989)
  25. White Fawn’s Devotion (1910)

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PR 08-237
ISSN 0731-3527