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'Empire Strikes Back,' 'Airplane!' Named to National Film Registry

28 Dec, 2010 By: John Latchem

The Empire Strikes Back and Airplane! led the crop of 25 films named to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress Dec. 28.

Empire, a 1980 sequel to 1977's Star Wars, was directed by Irvin Kershner, and has been called the best of the “Star Wars” films by many critics and fans. The original Star Wars was among the inaugural inductees into the registry in 1989. Creator George Lucas’ 15-minute student film, Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB, was also named among the 2010 Registry inductees. The “Star Wars” films are on DVD from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, while the short is available on Warner Home Video’s DVD and Blu-ray of THX 1138, the feature-length adaptation of the student film.

Also released in 1980, Airplane! (on DVD from Paramount Home Entertainment) is considered one of the greatest comedies ever made and helped make a comedy icon of Leslie Nielsen.

The selection of both films takes on a bit of added poignancy in light of recent events. Kershner died Nov. 27, while Nielsen passed away Nov. 28.

The work of another recently deceased filmmaker, Blake Edwards, who died Dec. 15, was also honored, with the selection of 1964’s The Pink Panther, available on disc through MGM.

Other films added to the list include the 1973 horror classic The Exorcist, which Warner recently re-issued on Blu-ray Disc; Robert Altman's 1971 Western McCabe and Mrs. Miller (Warner); Spike Lee’s 1992 biopic Malcolm X (Warner); Elia Kazan's first feature, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945), recently released on DVD as part of Fox’s Elia Kazan Collection; W.C. Fields' It's a Gift (1934), available in a Fields boxed set from Universal; 1937’s Depression-era drama Make Way for Tomorrow, on DVD from Criterion; the Watergate thriller All the President's Men (1976), on DVD from Warner and slated for Blu-ray Feb. 15; and 1977’s Saturday Night Fever, on DVD and Blu-ray from Paramount.

Other selections include John Huston’s Let There Be Light, a 1946 war documentary banned for 35 years by the U.S. War Department, as well as black independent film Cry of Jazz (1959), and I Am Joaquin (1969), from Chicano filmmaker Luis Valdez.

Lesser-known works include The Bargain (1914), The Front Page (1931), Grey Gardens (1976), Lonesome (1928), Newark Athlete (1891), Our Lady of the Sphere (1969), Preservation of the Sign Language (1913), Study of a River (1996), Tarantella (1940) and A Trip Down Market Street (1906).

The class of 2010 brings the total number of films in the Registry to 550.

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

Annual selections to the registry are finalized by the Librarian after reviewing hundreds of titles nominated by the public and having extensive discussions with the members of the National Film Preservation Board, as well as the Library's motion picture staff. The Librarian urges the public to make nominations for next year's registry at the Film Board's website at www.loc.gov/film.

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