A PASSION FOR FILMS: Henri Langlois and the CinÉmatèque Francaise by Richard Roud

A PASSION FOR FILMS: Henri Langlois and the CinÉmatèque Francaise

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A short, dry biography of the great French preserver of films--who may have been ""one of the world's great eccentrics"" but who remains fairly inanimate in Roud's admiring, low-key chronicle. By the late 1920s teenager Henri was already a dedicated filmgoer: for him, ""even at the age of fifteen, there was no dividing line between Hollywood and the avant-garde film."" By the mid-1930s, then, Langois and Georges Franju had founded a cinÉ-club, which then became a permanent film library--a cinÉmathèque, with some of the celluloid stored in the Langlois bathtub. First priority: to get--and protect--films. Second: to show them--at the Cercle du CinÉma. So, in the following years, Langlois saved Renoir classics, screened Howard Hawks (a personal favorite), drew deeper attention to von Stroheim, founded an international organization, stimulated the creation of film archives over the world. (""Some have cynically maintained that his help. . . was a bid for power""--but Roud gives first importance to Langlois' idealism and practicality.) During WW II, the CinÉmathèque survived, with a bit of Nazi help: ""I think we have to accept the fact that the French [artistic community] were obliged to use whatever means came to hand. . . the activities of the CinÉmathèque can in no way be construed as 'collaborationist,' pro-German, or pro-Nazi."" And the postwar period--which was marked by the founding of a Museum, the championing of nitrate prints, and respect for film-owners' property rights--came to a climax in the mid-1960s, when the de Gaulle government (in a general attempt to centralize the arts) harassed the government-funded CinÉmathèque. . .and attempted to unseat Langlois. (The villain in the scandal, Malraux, eventually had to back down--when the film-world, especially the US companies, rose up to support Langlois.) Despite a few anecdotes about Langlois' gourmandizing and his women companions: a useful but colorless record--without even the texture of, say, a New Yorker profile.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1983
Publisher: Viking