From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. The great, the historic, and the lousy (but, alas, influential) all find their place in this engrossing survey of titles selected by the Library of Congress's National Film Registry. Eagan (HBO's Guide to Movies on Videocassette and Cable TV) chronologically catalogues 500 Registry films, from 1893's 30-second Blacksmithing Scene to 1995's Fargo, jumbling Hollywood classics together with obscure art films, cartoon shorts, documentaries, industrial and student films, newsreel footage from the Hindenburg disaster and the Zapruder film. Each entry includes complete cast and credits lists and an engaging one- to two-page historical and interpretive essay. These are packed with biographical thumbnails of actors and directors and making-of narratives-from screenplay rewrites to on-set feuds and hysterics to final-cut showdowns-that buffs and scholars will delight in. Eagan dutifully assesses the artistic merits of each film (yes, even Animal House) in critiques that abound in pithy and sometimes contrarian opinions: he rates Clint Eastwood rather higher than either Orson Welles (Citizen Kane is, merely, "a delightful stunt with the appeal of an eager puppy") or the "glib, cruel" Robert Altman. The result is an erudite, perceptive, always entertaining cinematic encyclopedia. Photos.
This valuable and highly readable book will serve equally well as a primer for newcomers to film history and a refresher course for more experienced viewers on the vast spectrum of American cinema. Best of all, it will introduce novices and veterans alike to a number of offbeat and unjustly-forgotten titles on the National Film Registry. --Leonard Maltin
The opportunity to revisit and be inspired by the past is one of the purposes behind the National Film Registry. The 1915 film The Italian was preserved from a single paper copy. If prints were readily available at the time I made The Godfather, I would have enjoyed having access to it. I'm proud that The Godfather and The Godfather Part II join The Italian on the Registry, an attempt to preserve our cinematic heritage. America's Film Legacy doesn't just explore the films on the Registry, it ties together the past and the present, showing how the great movies of today can be built on the those of an earlier era. --Francis Ford Coppola
I've always thought of my films as a kind of private history, a record of things that interested me, music, people, events, sometimes politics. They allowed me to watch like a cat, and not have to be a reporter. What made it risky was not explaining anything. When I got rid of the script and the narration in the early films, and went out hunting for films with a camera they were seen as sort of dicey and unorthodox and unfortunately for us, unsaleable, at least to TV. That was what got us into theaters. I really welcome the existence of the National Film Registry and Daniel Eagan s wonderful book--America s Film Legacy--about it. The NFR's determination to collect these early experimental works and not let them disappear is really collecting and preserving the history of our times. I believe that films will eventually be our most important artifact. They may well become a new language. --D.A. Pennebaker