Every year a bunch of movies get archived by the Library of Congress because they are "important cultural, artistic and historic achievements in filmmaking." These films are preserved by the Library of Congress so that they always exist for future generations, keeping our cinematic cultural history alive. It's an awesome thing.
Each year's additions run the gamut from big movies (this year we have The Matrix, Dirty Harry, A Christmas Story and A League of Their Own) to ephemera (an 1897 prize fight, 1922 Kodachrome color film tests). Snuggled in there are a couple of culty movies, the sort that get me excited when it comes to preservation.
Two of the culty movies this year are fairly acknowledged films. Richard Linklater's Slacker gets archived, as does Two Lane Blacktop, Monte Hellman's classic cross country existential race movie. These are great, great films that aren't quite mainstream but also aren't exactly in danger of disappearing.
But The Spook Who Sat By The Door? WOW. This film is a truly underground mind-blowing piece of history... and it's actually very good! The very, very independently financed film was made in 1973, and it tells the story of how a black man brought in to integrate the CIA uses his spy skills to stage a successful black power coup. I wrote about the film for Schlock Corridor last year, and here's part of what I had to say:
Watching the film from a modern standpoint, far from the riots and domestic terrorist groups and ideological bank robberies of the late 60s and early 70s, the steady advance of Dan’s cause is also shocking. Certainly the movie must be setting him up for a fall, heading towards a place where the director says ‘I understand your rage, but not your methods.’ Except that it isn’t. And in the final few minutes the film allows Dan to basically speak to the camera and give one final fiery speech about the price that must be paid for black freedom; perhaps that’s what’s craziest, the way the film never strives for an overarching victory or a big ‘moment’ that’s a win - Dan just wants to fight whitey to a standstill, and he will die and kill anyone, even fellow brothers, to get to that standstill. When a population gets to a point where that’s how they feel, the rulers better watch out.
Spook plays in many ways like The Turner Diaries for Black Nationalists; it’s one part fantasy scenario, one part instruction manual. Each of the scenes present arguments for and against revolution, arguments for and against levels of inclusion and arguments for and against tactics. That’s probably the most remarkable thing about the film; I’ve seen plenty of ‘blaxploitation’* films that have the rage of the late 60s bubbling on every frame, but I don’t know that I’ve seen any that translate that rage into methodical purpose and philosophy. Spook explains why it’s important to have high yellow members in your Black Nationalist cell, and why they’re just as black as the blackest brother. It shows how to arm the cell. It shows how to set up the cell so that it suffers the least disruption when a leader is killed or captured. It shows the need for patience, but also the need to understand an opportunity. It shows how to network to other cities, to create other connected but independent cells.
Most powerfully it portrays Dan as a hero not for taking big heroic action or having a sweeping moment but because he will use any means necessary. He will seem to submit for years so that he can learn the tricks of the CIA and teach insurgency to the Cobras. He will maintain a smiling ‘aw shucks’ face so that the group can grow underground. He’s presented as a true revolutionary, not a romanticized Che figure.
This is a crazy movie, a truly edgy movie. I love this movie. I can't believe it's been archived in the Library of Congress! If anybody at Fox News knew what this film was all about they'd plotz live on air.
Read my review from last year. This is a must-see film. And now it's historically important!