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'Breakfast at Tiffany's,' 'A Christmas Story,' 'Matrix' added to U.S. film registry

| Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012, 7:26 a.m.

WASHINGTON — “Breakfast at Tiffany's,” “Dirty Harry” and “A League of Their Own” will be preserved for their enduring significance in American culture at by the Library of Congress, along with “A Christmas Story” and some pioneering sports movies.

They are among 25 selections the library is inducting Wednesday into the National Film Registry. Congress created the program in 1989 to preserve films for their cultural or historical significance. The latest additions bring the registry to 600 films that include Hollywood features, documentaries, independent films and early experimental flicks.

The newest film chosen for preservation is 1999's “The Matrix,” noted for its state-of-the-art special effects and computer-generated animation with a style that drew on Hong Kong action films and Japanese anime to change science fiction filmmaking, curators noted.

The oldest film being preserved, “The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Title Fight,” dates back 115 years to 1897. Film curators said the boxing movie helped establish the film industry as a successful business, drawing on the sport's popularity and controversy to generate $750,000 in income. Boxing was illegal in many states at the time but recently had been made legal in Nevada, which hosted the fight. The film, with a running time of about 100 minutes, became the longest movie ever produced at the time, showing the full course of the fight.

Another pioneering sports film, “They Call It Pro Football” from 1967 was chosen for how it changed the way football was portrayed on screen. Before then, football films were mostly highlight reels. National Football League commissioner Pete Rozelle decided the success of the NFL depended on its television image, to capture the struggle of the sport and not just the end result on the scoreboard.

The Librarian of Congress makes the selections each year after conferring with members of the National Film Preservation Board and receiving public nominations. To be considered, the films must be at least 10 years old.

“These films are not selected as the 'best' American films of all time, but rather as works of enduring importance to American culture,” said Librarian of Congress James Billington in announcing the selections. “They reflect who we are as a people and as a nation.”

They also include some unforgettable characters. Audrey Hepburn landed the lead in 1961's “Breakfast at Tiffany's” even though writer Truman Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe for the part. Film critics and the audience decided Capote was wrong and hailed Hepburn's portrayal.

“A League of Their Own” from 1992 received many public nominations for the film registry over the years. With a cast that included Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Madonna and Rosie O'Donnell, it told the story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

Numerous public nominations also were received for “Born Yesterday” from 1950 and “A Christmas Story” from 1983. Both were chosen this year. Other Hollywood features on the list include “Anatomy of a Murder” from 1959 and “3:10 to Yuma” from 1957.

Each title named to the registry will be preserved in the library's Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation, built partially in a bunker in Culpeper, Va., or through collaborations with other archives or studios.

Documentaries chosen this year include “The Times of Harvey Milk,” made in 1984 about San Francisco's first openly gay elected official who was assassinated in 1978, and “Samsara: Death and Rebirth in Cambodia” from 1990 about the struggle to rebuild after Pol Pot's rule.

This year's selections include some firsts in film history. The 1914 film “Uncle Tom's Cabin,” based on the anti-slavery novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe, had been adapted earlier for movies with white actors in the lead roles. This was the first feature-length U.S. film to star a black actor when Sam Lucas was chosen for the part.

The library will also preserve the first “Kodachrome Color Motion Picture Tests” from 1922. The two-color film features leading actresses posing and miming for the camera to demonstrate the new color film. Before then, to show film in color, black and white images either had to be hand-painted or colored with a stenciling process. Inventors, including scientists at Kodak, began experimenting with ways to create true color film.

The Kodachrome test shown at Paragon Studios in New Jersey was the first publicly demonstrated color film that would attract interest from the American film industry. Later Technicolor would become the industry standard.

“Most every major Hollywood film from 1922 through the end of the silent era would have either a Kodachrome color sequence in it or Technicolor color sequence as a way of attracting audience interest,” said Pat Loughney, chief of the library's audio visual preservation campus. “It's a technical, historical achievement, but it's important to the progress of inventive work that made motion pictures successful.”

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