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The Big Lebowski Abides

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My condition is in fantastic condition today – I’m pleased that “The Big Lebowski” made this year’s list of 25 films selected for placement on the Library of Congress National Film Registry. These movies are judged to have special cultural, historic or aesthetic value and to be worthy of preservation for posterity.

The Dude's Busby Berkeley bowling dream
The Dude’s Busby Berkeley bowling dream

Other noteworthy films on this year’s list include “Saving Private Ryan,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Rio Bravo,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” the 1971 version of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” Efrain Gutierrez’s 1976 indy picture “Please Don’t Bury Me Alive!” deemed the first Chicano feature film; several reels of footage shot in 1913 that, had work on them been completed, would have been the first feature-length film starring African-American actors; and a silent film from 1919 starring Hollywood’s first Asian star, Japan native Sessue Hayakawa.

If you have not seen the Coen brothers cult classic “Lebowski” yet, let me put it this way: you’re either in for a whole lot of laughs or a heckuva shock. This 1998 movie, which suddenly took off due to internet-related word of mouth after its unimpressive showing in theaters, stars Jeff Bridges as the lesser Lebowski, aka “The Dude”, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi and Philip Seymour Hoffman, with wonderful walk-ons by John Turturro, Ben Gazzara and Sam Elliott. Add to that a soundtrack that manages to take in “Driftin’ Along With the Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds,” “What Condition My Condition Was In,” Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” and Creedence.

So, mix yourself another White Russian while I roll out the other highlights of a fine registry list for 2014:

  • Little Big Man, 1971. This film with Dustin Hoffman and Faye Dunaway flashes back the long, fictitious life of Jack Crabb, a Wild West former scout who spent time among the Cheyenne as a child and moved at the edge of the Indian/cavalary conflicts of the mid-1800s . It was one of the first movies (the genre was referred to as “revisionist Western”) to take up the cause that made Dee Brown’s book “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” a bestseller after it was published in 1970 – the fact that the history of the Native Americans had never been written from their perspective.
  • Saving Private Ryan, 1998. This WWII tale won Steven Spielberg an Academy Award, for its unvarnished depiction of the horror of war, with the Allied landing on Omaha Beach as the setting for the story of the effort to spare from death the last surviving son of a U.S. family that already had sacrificed all three of his brothers to the war effort.
  • Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport, 2000. One of the more touching stories out of WWII chronicled the extensive efforts made by humane adults to get Jewish children out of the occupied nations of Eastern Europe and into safe havens such as England, to save them from being sent to concentration camps. This Academy-Award-winning film chronicles the work; its producer was the daughter of one of the children saved.
  • House of Wax, 1953. This film is said to have revived Vincent Price’s flagging career. He played a sculptor of wax figures who is badly burned in a fire started by his colleague, who torches the wax museum for the insurance money. The sculptor, masked to hide his hideous burns, begins killing people and dipping their bodies in molten wax to make new figures for his wax museum. This film was an early and successful 3-D flick.
  • Rosemary’s Baby, 1968. Roman Polanski took Ira Levin’s eerie novel and turned it into a classic of psychological horror. The young and eventually pregnant wife Rosemary becomes convinced her overly solicitous neighbors are actually members of a devil-worshiping coven of witches, in cahoots with her husband to take her child away from her to be sacrificed.
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986). A film by John Hughes, a director who didn’t forget what it was like to be a teen when he reached adulthood, documents the nervy exploits of the title character (Matthew Broderick), a hooky-playing high-school kid. One highlight, of course, is his teacher (played by former TV game show host and occasional political columnist Ben Stein) calling roll, finding Bueller gone, and ineffectually intoning Bueller’s name, over and over.

Also on the registry list you’ll find:

Bert Williams Lime Kiln Club Field Day (1913)

Down Argentine Way (1940)

The Dragon Painter (1919)

Felicia (1965)

The Gang’s All Here (1943)

Luxo Jr. (1986)

Moon Breath Beat (1980)

The Power and the Glory (1933)

Ruggles of Red Gap (1935)

Shoes (1916)

State Fair (1933)

13 Lakes (2004)

Unmasked (1917)

V-E Day + 1 (1945)

The Way of Peace (1947)

You can, and should, nominate films for next year’s National Film Registry: a list of films that are yet-undesignated is here.

Enjoy the movies – and please, don’t roll on Shabbos.



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