Le Fantôme d'Henri Langlois

Consider yourself fortunate.  Since you're reading these words you have access to a computer, the Internet, and an endless repository of film, music, art, and culture.  It wasn't always this easy.  In the 1930s, Henri Langlois founded the Cinémathèque Française, both an archive and a theater, holding on to every film he could get his hands on under the notion that all film had some value to society.

Back then, the history of film was much shorter and collecting prints and preserving them was seemingly much easier.  Everything was stacked against Langlois, however: financial obstacles; major motion pictures who wanted their prints destroyed; Nazis who wanted to burn everything; and degradation over time - film's biggest elemental foe.

At a time before the VCR Langlois would continuously show films that were not in their major runs: films of the past and films from the USA, Hungary, Scandinavia, and anywhere else that was making films and exporting them.  His excitement of film was contagious, and the films he allowed people to see were an inspiration to the next generations of filmmakers.

During the Nazi occupation, however, it became a struggle to escape the destruction of important archives like comedic parodies of Hitler by Charlie Chapin for example, and there were films that were confiscated by the regime, feared lost forever, but eventually and seemimngly impossibly recovered. 

Langlois died in 1977, after being booted from the Board of Directors of the Cinémathèque, then reinstated, then honored internationally, then given a grant to open a museum, before the international popularity of the VCR, the explosion of cable television, and the World Wide Web.  He never lost his vision and dedication and through the film it's clear that the governments, even with a funding effort, can never be trusted with the arts. 

What director Jacques Richard has done was piece together numerous interviews from the various people involved with the Cinémathèque over the years and the stories of its importance to youngsters who were to become some of the most noteworthy directors over the following years.  Richard combined them with interviews of Langlois himself and footage from events like the riots of 1968 (where Langlois was booted as Chairman of the Cinémathèque. The outrage and support from international filmmakers and studios and demonstration itself illustrates how important Langlois and his efforts were to the preservation of the history of the motion picture.

Everybody who claims to love film owes it to themselves to see this, whether it's showing near them at an art house or on DVD.  It's important to know exactly how much people fought to preserve the art of the motion picture: facing the government, major motion picture studios, and the elements which naturally decay film over time.