Thank goodness for slightly crazy people who venerate the past. No, I’m not referring to myself today, but to Henri Langlois (1914-1977), co-founder of the Cinémathèque Française.
His love for the movies was exceeded only by his personal eccentricity. Morbidly obese, not easy to get along with, living amid so much cinematic debris that a reality show could have been done about it . . .
However, he realized the fragility of this particular medium, and how quickly it would all vanish if no one preserved examples. In that, he was a pioneer.
He was also influential on the golden age of French “New Wave” auteurs such as Truffaut, Godard, Rivette, Chabrol, and Resnais, and the whole Cahiers du Cinéma crowd.
The library grew from 10 films in 1936 to over 60,000 by the early 70s, despite a nitrate fire in 1959 that destroyed an unknown but large portion of the archives.
Langlois’ methods were “romantic” rather than scientific. He didn’t care about record keeping, and was constantly at odds with funders and other staff members, who he routinely disrespected.
In 1974, he received an honorary Oscar for his work.
Two documentary movies have been made about him: Henri Langlois (1970, English), and The Phantom of the Cinémathèque (2004/05, English with French interviews).
Check it out! I know it requires a somewhat inordinate amount of patience to appreciate silent films. You have to be in that “space” to really enjoy the pictures only. But remember, there were thirty years of filmmaking before there was a “peep” from the screen. (Not counting live music that accompanied them.) We’re still 14 years away from the 100th anniversary of the first “talkie”!
© 2014 by Frank Daykin, for Innovative Music Programs