Henri Langlois: Phantom Of The Cinematheque

  • 2005
  • 2 HR 08 MIN
  • NR
  • Documentary

In this brave new era of VHS, DVD, 24-hour movie channels and TiVo, it's hard to comprehend Henri Langlois' importance to a generation of filmmakers who relied on his Cinematheque Francaise, the only place to see films no longer in circulation. Paris-based filmmaker Jacques Richard was himself the beneficiary of the Turkish-born Langlois' support, and his...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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In this brave new era of VHS, DVD, 24-hour movie channels and TiVo, it's hard to comprehend Henri Langlois' importance to a generation of filmmakers who relied on his Cinematheque Francaise, the only place to see films no longer in circulation. Paris-based filmmaker Jacques Richard was himself the beneficiary of the Turkish-born Langlois' support, and his affectionate and uniformly superb documentary not only chronicles Langlois' fascinating career, but also his achievements as an archivist, film preservationist, programmer and mentor. In so doing, Richard also traces the development of film culture as we know it today. After creating a small cinema club in 1935 that screened silent classics for the likes of Andre Gide and Jean-Paul Sartre, Langlois fulfilled his dream of a film archive by founding the now-legendary Cinematheque with fellow film nuts George Franju and Jean Mitry. Thanks to a wealthy French newspaperman's large donation, the Cinematheque began acquiring and preserving reels of perishable celluloid — THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920) and Georges Melies' "Jeanne d'Arc" (1898) are just two of the many films the early Cinematheque helped save from oblivion. During World War II, Langlois and friends went to extraordinary lengths to hide movies in danger of destruction by the invading Nazis. (In an episode so strange it could only be true, Langlois saved the negative of G.W. Pabst's masterpiece THE BLUE ANGEL — a "decadent" film at the top of Hitler's hit list — by trading with an S.S. officer who'd been looking for a routine documentary on the Maginot Line.) But it was after the war, when Langlois began programming evenings dedicated to undervalued American directors like John Ford and Nicholas Ray, that the Cinematheque came to exert an influence on films to come. Young film enthusiasts like Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol and Eric Rohmer began to detect a signature style across certain filmmakers' work, leading these nascent critics to formulate a theory of authorship, or "auteurism," that became the dominant mode of thinking about movies for decades to come. These evenings at the Cinematheque also inspired those same film nuts to pick up cameras and create one of the most vital movements in cinema history: the Nouvelle Vague. At a little over two hours, there's a lot of Langlois to digest. But cinephiles won't mind a bit: Richard includes tons of great anecdotes and clips from classic films that wouldn't exist if Langlois hadn't saved them.

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  • Released: 2005
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: In this brave new era of VHS, DVD, 24-hour movie channels and TiVo, it's hard to comprehend Henri Langlois' importance to a generation of filmmakers who relied on his Cinematheque Francaise, the only place to see films no longer in circulation. Paris-based… (more)

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