Ghostbusters Shouldn’t be in National Film Registry

National Film RegistryEach year, the National Film Registry (NFR) designates up to 25 films for preservation because they are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” And this year, just to show what a sham it is, Ghostbusters, Top Gun, Shawshank Enter National Film Registry. Not one of those films deserve to be acknowledged in this way. It’s not that I think they are bad films. They all have notable aspects. But they are also all boilerplate creations. I’m sure the NFR uses the “culturally” part of its criteria to slot these in. But then all it means is that big hits are going to make the list because they were big hits.

I’m not just being an old crank who wants to see obscure films make the list. But what is the point of the NFR? Does anyone think that Top Gun will be lost to us? They just released it on Blu-ray two years ago. Meanwhile, old films are literally disintegrating as we make sure the existing print of utter pedestrian recent films get special treatment. It is appalling. Even in that year, 1986, there were films that are far more culturally significant: Platoon, Blue Velvet, and The Fly to name just three. Top Gun stands out for one reason alone: it was the biggest money maker of that year.

But I understand. The National Film Registry thinks that each year it has to include a certain number of “name” films. Last year they included Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Saving Private Ryan. Again: I’m not saying these films are bad. The question is whether they are significant. And they are significant in a way that doesn’t require the help of the government funded National Film Preservation Board. But I suppose there are a lot of would be fighter pilots in Congress who will be more willing to fund the program for another year because Top Gun was on the list.

But there are many worthy films that were added to the registry this year, and ultimately that’s a good thing. Perhaps most interesting is the inclusion of Fred Ott’s Sneeze. It was shot in 1894 and lasts a total of 5 seconds. Fred Ott was an employee of Edison, and in the film, he takes a pinch of snuff and sneezes (or pretends to — it doesn’t look very real to me). Of course, the film is already preserved by the Library of Congress. It is a wonder to me that we aren’t spending hundreds of millions of dollars finding old films like this, restoring them, and preserving them. It is our legacy.

Another worthy addition is the 1937 Disney short The Old Mill. It’s fabulous. But as you can see in the following print, it hardly needs preservation. But it deserves to be highlighted as an important moment in the history of animation. As usual with Disney, it is too cloying, but visually it is stunning.

Also on this year’s list is Preston Sturges’ Hail the Conquering Hero. Although I’m not sure just how important the film is, I think that Sturges has received too little attention. His films on DVD are not in the best of shape, with the exception of Sullivan’s Travels, which I think is overrated among Sturges’s films. Typical. Comedians don’t get much respect in Hollywood.

The 1929 short film Black and Tan is on the list. It is hard to find fault in that. It isn’t much more than an excuse to highlight Duke Ellington and his band. But it’s wonderful. There is a segment in it that took me a moment to figure out. Two men show up to repossess Ellington’s piano. His wife offers them five dollars each to just go away. They refuse. Then she offers them alcohol, which they accept. I thought that was odd, given that $5 is upwards of $100 today. But then I remembered: Prohibition.

There are lots of others, of course. Some I think really are important. For example, Imitation of Life is a great film that most people just dismiss as 1950s fluff. Yet it is a deep film that deals with racial issues more honestly than most modern films. If you haven’t seen it, you should seek it out. So I’m glad to see it added to the registry, even if there is little concern about it being lost or forgotten.

I’ll admit that I am offended by the inclusion of Ghostbusters on the list just because I don’t think it is a very good film. Last year, the NFR added Rio Bravo to the list and it’s kind of the same thing: a opportunity for a bunch of stars to mug for the camera. But it isn’t just that. LA Confidential was added as well, and although I really like that film, it doesn’t belong here. Big budget hits don’t need to be preserved.

One of the great things about these lists is that they introduce people to films they’ve never heard of. In my case, Symbiopsychotaxiplasm is new to me. And I see that my library doesn’t have it. But I suspect that now that it has been added to the National Film Registry, they will probably acquire it. But here it is on YouTube. I’ll give it a view tonight:

I realize that the people at the National Film Registry would claim that they have to include some “fun” films — that they want to present a variety of films. But surely there are far more worthy and equally fun films than Top Gun and Ghostbusters.

17 thoughts on “Ghostbusters Shouldn’t be in National Film Registry

  1. I haven’t seen Ghostbusters in quite some time. But I have a Facebook friend, someone I went to elementary and high school with, who recently asked “Why did we ever think this was funny?” Can’t say I disagree. Top Gun isn’t even very good for a Tom Cruise action vehicle. Reagan era jingoism. It didn’t have to be any good. Tom Cruise is interesting to me because I can still enjoy his movies even though I don’t like him. It’s the scientology. I realize as an atheist it is not more or less silly than other faiths. However… I guess it bothers me more that the fakery of the religion’s origin occurred relatively recently and is more or less documented, in a way I would qualify as evidence. And why is it that a new invented religion is essentially ported code of the same misogynist, authoritarian, wealth serving drivel we have seen so many times before? But I can watch Tom Cruise. I liked Oblivion, and The Last Samurai (a remake of Glory set in Meji Japan, same director), and I’ve heard that, is it Edge Of Tomorrow, the remake of Groundhog Day as a futuristic war movie, is good. Will Smith I have soured on. He is such a fatuous gassbag. The Howard Stern commentary on his Oprah appearance is spot on. I also can’t watch Mel Gibson, who I used to like. Chicken Run is the only thing of his that survived. It was my daughter’s favorite movie for a while, maybe when she was three or four. I’ve seen it enough that I really appreciate things like the sound effects for the pie machine and the airplane. And Rocky isn’t a sympathetic character anyway. His ‘redemption’ at the end is a so what. Ginger does all the work, and is the true hero of the piece.

    • It’s comments like this that make me wish we sitting together in a bar. So much to discuss. I’m rather fond of Tom Cruise. I especially liked Minority Report. But he’s just one of those guys like Keanu Reeves who I like on screen (although Reeves seems like he’s more of a regular human being). You’re right about The Last Samurai too — although it is Ken Watanabe who makes the film. He was wonderful in Interview with the Vampire (that movie was so much better than novel). And I’m a big fan of Collateral — although I feel a little guilty about it. Your daughter is so right on about Chicken Run. I love that movie. (BTW: the Shaun the Sheep Movie is fantastic!) It is a common choice when I’m feeling down. When the Q-Filmcast guys asked for recommendation for unusual film heroes, I submitted Ginger. And I think it is a wonderful DVD with lots of stuff for kids. I don’t have kids, so I fill the role myself. Will Smith’s all right. I kind of wish his son would get a disease that would make him invisible on film.

      And I think it is okay to say that Scientology is more bizarre than other religions. It’s a modern religion that didn’t learn a thing from modernity.

      • IMDB lists Edward Zwick as director for Glory and Last Samurai. I was mistaken in thinking Billy Connoly played the crusty sergeant in both. In Glory it was John Finn, who plays the same Irish stereotype. The two films have the same scene where Matthew Brodderick/Tom Cruise interrupt musket practice and rattle one trainee by firing their sidearm behind him as he tries to load and aim that the trainee melts down. The white officer scowls at the sergeant “They’re not ready.” and stalks off. I like the inclusion of Tom Cruise in the travelling Wild West show at the beginning. They had such an influence on the invented mythology of the American West, gunslingers and cowboys.
        Olivia will be ten in April, and we got her to watch Chicken Run recently. She liked it. She had sworn off it by age five because Mrs. Tweedy was mean, and it upset her. For me, there’s nothing not to like about it.

        • I haven’t seen Glory since it was in the theaters. I didn’t much like it, but that’s probably because I find Matthew Broderick annoying. It’s not that I hate him; I just think a film is somewhat worse because he’s in it. That opening in The Last Samurai reminded me of the opening of Hidalgo, which I also like quite a lot.

          Olivia is right: Mrs Tweedy is horrible. She’s also played by my long-time crush Miranda Richardson. So I have very mixed feelings about the whole thing.

      • You were asserting that Ken Watanabe ‘makes’ the film in terms of his acting performance, and not that he directed or produced it. Agreed, solidly.

        • Yeah. Although it isn’t so much the acting as the part. It’s a great part and he does it perfectly. There are other things I like about the film, of course. I thought it was shot beautifully. It’s rare that a film like that manages to make the outdoor and indoor scene mesh. Plus, as you may have noticed, I’m kind of a Samurai film nut.

  2. I’ve never really gotten the Ghostbusters hype, either. I liked the cartoon when I was a kid, but when I got older and watched the movie, I was underwhelmed. It’s a fun action-adventure, but it wasn’t all that funny. Plus, most people seem to miss the right-wing politics implied, but it’s all about a small business being crushed by burdensome government regulations and the EPA. Because the government is evil if they point out that four guys with little to no training should probably not be using technology that has the potential to destroy the world.

    • And the government is right. It is only because they are in a Hollywood move that they save the day at the end. They are exactly the kind of business that needs to be heavily regulated.

      In general, I think Harold Ramis was a very good writer. Ghostbusters was a weak effort. Of course, it was cowritten by Dan Aykroyd, who was not a good writer. And both of them were annoying as lead actors. Ramis in particular is hopeless. Aykroyd was good as Elwood in The Blues Brothers. The film was okay. But Take the Money and Run and What’s Up, Tiger Lily? are both more important and innovative comedies — and far more likely to be lost to time.

  3. It is puzzling. I’m not sure what this program is exactly for. Does it have anything to do with preservation/restoration? Or is it basically a meaningless imprimatur like the baseball Hall Of Fame?

    If the latter, I will agree that “Top Gun” deserves inclusion. That horrific atrocity upon all of film artistry set the standard of using movies to recruit new meat. There was such an uptick of Air Force enlistees after that film became a hit. Few knew that to fly a plane, you had to be an officer, fewer knew that officers had to be college grads, and fewer still knew that Air Force Academy grads got preference over ROTC officers.

    It was really a landmark in promoting the military. Quite the cultural artifact, if you see it in that light!

    I wonder if Ramis was just beat down by the likes of Lorne Michaels and studio execs and accepted “gummint” as the popular-du-jour bad guy in “Ghostbusters” for that reason. Clearly, when he had his moment of pure genius, he transferred the feeling of being beat down into one of the best comedies film has ever produced, “Groundhog Day.”

    Still, “Ghostbusters” is ass. It’s borderline unwatchable. (Ghostbusters II, OTOH, has some good bits, especially Peter MacNichol.)

    Just as a lurker, I really enjoyed the conversation about American samurai films here. That’s not my genre of choice, but the fun thing about genre is it includes all kinds of unspoken assumptions which fans accept for granted, and then debate whether or not this particular version expanded and fulfilled those assumptions in a way which propelled the artistic direction of the genre.

    What I dislike is when, say, sci-fi fans (and as noted on this site, lots of sci-fi is terrific, both old stuff and new stuff) go “it hit all my checklist You’re One Of Us points. Therefore, it’s good.” I like it better when even fans of a subgenre demand both adherence to the form AND innovation, skill, creativity!

    • I’m surprised that I haven’t gotten any pushback on Ghostbusters. It must be a sign of the nature of the community. I think you are right about Top Gun.

      The NFR is about preservation and restoration. And I don’t blame them for doing what they do. I suspect it is important to keep the funding going. But it’s sad that they have to do that. And they do keep it under control. Thus far it is 3-5 questionable films and 20+ worthy films. But the only Fuller film to make it is Shock Corridor. Clearly The Steel Helmet should be included as it is a very important film historically. And I don’t think any Russ Meyer films are included. Certainly Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! should be included if Pulp Fiction is.

  4. My my, someone sure is a grouch. The fact that you admitted you don’t even like Ghostbusters really just negates your argument. Just because YOU don’t like it doesn’t mean plenty of other people don’t and that it shouldn’t be preserved. It’s absolutely a culturally significant film. Go up to someone and say “who you gonna call?” and their response will very likely be “Ghostbusters!” Or I suppose in your case just a growl and stomping away back to your cave. Of course, recognition isn’t the only factor in why it’s such a beloved film. The movie still holds up today in both the comedy as well as all the special effects. Even with the reboot being as terrible as it was it just highlights how good the original still is.

    I DO get what you’re saying about other, much older films, that should be preserved before it’s too late. They should do something about that for sure. But that doesn’t mean other culturally significant films should be overlooked. Thankfully your opinions don’t factor in to what qualifies for entry into the NFR. I’d be curious to see if you’d complain about Star Wars, The Matrix, or any other films that were big financial successes as well as being groundbreaking or culturally significant. You really just seem to be singling out the ones you personally don’t like. Cry me a river.

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