(3 1/2 STARS) HENRI LANGLOIS: Phantom OF THE CINEMATHEQUE
(unrated). A film buff's banquet: Henri Langlois, founder of the Cinematheque
Francaise and the master archivist of the 20th century. Written and directed by
Jacques Richard. 2:08. At Film Forum, 209 W. Houston St., Manhattan.
Blockbuster probably won't stock it, but the subject of "Henri Langlois:
Phantom of the Cinematheque" is the reason Blockbuster and its ilk exist at
all. When the bearish Langlois founded the Cinematheque Francaise in Paris in
1936, cinema was considered by its founders and creators to be a disposable
diversion. Langlois called it art and saved everything he could.
Langlois is the reason why certain masters and masterpieces of early cinema
can still be seen at all today. (He rescued the 1919 German Expressionist
classic "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," and liberated 1920s screen star Louise
Brooks from oblivion).
From 10 films in 1936, the Cinematheque has tens of thousands today. As
asserted by Jean-Luc Godard - one of les enfants de la cinematheque who learned
at the feet of Langlois and grew into critics and filmmakers - what Langlois
was doing was a form of producing. It wasn't just his collection that educated
the public. It was his taste as well.
Jacques Richard's affectionate tribute/bio of Langlois, who died in 1977,
includes interviews with a lot of usual suspects - including Godard, Francois
Truffaut and a very jovial Claude Chabrol. Richard does a terrific job of
marrying the requisite talking heads with outtakes from the films Langlois
loved, and footage of the man himself (one ethereal scene shows Langlois in
front of a large screen, where he seems to melt into the refracted light of a
projected film). Much attention is paid to his relationship with Mary Meerson,
his equal in eccentricity and a stalwart companion throughout the troubling
episodes of Langlois' life.
"Phantom of the Cinematheque," is of course, a must-see for cinephiles. But
anyone with a curiosity about how film got to be the art form/obsession it is
today will want to learn about the man who helped make it so.