Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Shirley Griffith. And I'm Steve Ember. This week on our program, we tell about a list of American movies that recently received special recognition. For the past fifteen years, the Library of Congress has chosen twenty-five movies to be part of its collection called the National Film Registry.
The aim of this project is to makes sure these movies are stored in a way that protects them. This way, future generations will be able to see these important examples of American popular culture.
Dr. Otternschlag: “What do you do in the Grand Hotel? Eat, sleep, loaf around. Flirt a little, dance a little. A hundred doors leading to one hall. No one knows anything about the person next to them. When you leave, someone occupies your room, lies in your bed. That’s the end.”
That was a scene from the nineteen thirty-two movie “Grand Hotel” starring Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford and John Barrymore. This famous movie tells about the interactions between a group of people staying at a costly hotel in Berlin, Germany. It is a story about love, murder and money. “Grand Hotel” is one of the movies that the Library of Congress picked this year for its registry.
You might be wondering why movies need to be protected. It is because the film on which these movies are recorded becomes damaged over time. Older movies that were shown in theaters before nineteen fifty-one were recorded on nitrate-based film stock. This kind of film becomes sticky, then falls apart over time even in the best storage conditions. As the nitrate-based film falls apart, it also releases a gas that can lead to fires.
The American Film Institute estimates that there are currently about thirty two million meters of nitrate film stored in the United States. The AFI says it would take about fifteen years to copy these movies onto safer acetate film stock. Modern acetate film stock will not catch on fire. And, experts say this kind of film can last for up to three hundred years if it is stored in good conditions.
But even acetate stock has its problems. Some acetate film can develop what is known as the “vinegar syndrome.” As the film starts to fall apart, it releases a sharp smell like vinegar. Some experts believe that the vinegar syndrome can spread like an infection and damage "healthy" film in the same storage area.
The fact that film is not a permanent storage device for movies helps show why efforts to protect movies are so important. The issue has also received attention from American lawmakers.
Congress passed the National Film Preservation Act in nineteen eighty-eight. The law called for the creation of a group called the National Film Preservation Board. Since nineteen ninety-nine, this group, along with the public and the Library of Congress’ Motion Picture Division, nominates hundreds of movies every year for the National Film Registry. The Board and the Librarian of Congress make the final decisions on choosing twenty-five movies each year.
They choose movies that they consider either culturally or historically important. They also choose movies that are artistically interesting. The movies must be at least ten years old. But, they do not have to have been released in movie theaters to be considered for the registry. The selection made last month brings the total number of movies in the collection to four hundred seventy-five.
Once a movie is chosen for the registry, the Library of Congress works to make sure the film is safely stored. The Library has its own preservation program. It also works with other organizations as well as movie production studios to protect these movies.
In July of last year, the Library of Congress opened the Packard Campus of the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center. The Packard Humanities Institute paid for the Center with money from its chairman, David Woodley Packard. The National Audio-Visual Conservation Center is in Culpeper, Virginia, near Washington, D.C. The building was made in nineteen sixty-nine by the United States Federal Reserve to be an emergency shelter for supplies. In nineteen ninety-nine, Mr. Packard bought the property. He spent one hundred fifty million dollars to turn this large building into a film preservation center. Then he gave the Center to the United States. It represents the largest gift the legislative branch of the American government has ever received.
The Center’s aim is to house and protect American recording and movie history. So far, the collection includes over six million sound and movie recordings. The Center has some of the most advanced technology in the world for storing these recordings. For example, there is a robot that can work twenty-four hours a day to turn videocassette recordings into digital form.
With all old recordings turned into digital form, researchers at the Library of Congress will be able to see these valuable pieces of history. The Center also has over one hundred cold storage areas in which to keep its collection of nitrate films as safe as possible. And, the Center plans to offer educational programs to the public. These will include a series of free movie showings in the Center’s theater.
And now, "Let’s go to the movies" as we tell about some of the films chosen. This year’s National Film Registry includes movies from different periods about very different subjects. One movie, “The Strong Man,” was made as early as nineteen twenty-six. The most recent movie is “Dances With Wolves”, made in nineteen ninety.
Some movies are about animals, like Walt Disney’s nineteen thirty-three cartoon, “Three Little Pigs.” While the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” explores the existence of creatures from space arriving on Earth. Some movies are funny, while others, like “The Naked City” are very serious.
“Well, let’s begin our story this way. It’s one o’clock in the morning on a hot summer night. And, this is the face of New York when it’s asleep. Or, as nearly asleep as any city ever is.”
“The Naked City” is a crime movie made in nineteen forty-eight. It tells about a group of policemen investigating a murder in New York City. The movie was based on the real stories told by New York policemen and was filmed in that city. When the movie first was released, the very realistic method of film-making was new and interesting.
The movie called “The Women” came out in nineteen thirty-nine. This sharply funny movie is based on a Broadway play written by Clare Booth Luce. Some of the most important actresses in Hollywood came together to make this movie. The main character, Mary, is played by Norma Shearer. Mary must face some serious questions when she discovers her husband is having a love affair with another woman, Crystal, played by Joan Crawford. Here is a scene where the two women meet accidentally:
Crystal : Listen, I’m taking my marching orders from Stephen. He seems to be satisfied with this arrangement, so don’t force any issues unless you want to cause plenty of trouble.
Mary: You’ve made it impossible for me to do anything else.
Crystal: You’re very confident, aren’t you.
Mary: Yes, because I know Stephen couldn’t love a girl like you.
Crystal: Well, if he couldn’t, he is an awfully good actor. Look, what have you got to kick about? You’ve got everything that matters. You’ve got the name, the position, the money.
Mary: My husband’s love happens to mean more to me than those things.
One well-known movie on the list is “Back to the Future”, which came out in nineteen eighty-five. Michael J. Fox plays the role of Marty McFly, who accidentally travels back to the year nineteen fifty-five in a time machine. He meets his mother and father when they were still high school students. Marty must learn how to get back to his own time period. And, he has to make sure his parents meet and fall in love so that he can still exist in the future.
Another favorite on the list is the nineteen fifty-five movie version of the Broadway musical play “Oklahoma!” It is a love story about a cowboy named Curly and the girl he loves, Laurey. We close with a famous song from this movie, “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin.'" Listening to this song, you can feel happy that this and many other American movie treasures will be protected for future generations to enjoy.
This program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I’m Shirley Griffith.
And I’m Steve Ember. Our programs are online with transcripts and MP3 files at voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.