THE DEMON IN THE DVD:
Henri Langlois, Phantom of the Cinematheque
By Dee Dee Vega
Perhaps the most salient point of Jean Richard’s documentary Henri Langlois: Phantom of the Cinematheque is that
in the modern world of DVD decadence in which there is little that the cinephile doesn’t have access to, the pervasive accomplishment
of Henri Langlois is difficult to understand. During the pre-war period through the 1970s, Langlois tirelessly rescued films that
would have been lost forever by neglect or deliberate destruction by Nazis, studios or the directors themselves to amass what
became the Cinematheque Francaise, a private institution devoted to the screening, study and preservation of films from.
Although Langlois’ name is obscured in film history by the directors’ whose work he saved—such as the likes of Charlie Chaplin
and Jean Vigo— this documentary does something to pay homage to the master cultural curator. As we watch Langlois lumbering
through the halls of his institute with his hulking mass and hair that always seemed to look like a duck in an Exxon disaster,
it becomes clear that we cannot grasp the magic of the early days of the Cinematheque.
While there are, unfortunately, some monsterous production choices (cheesy Dark Nights-ish music as we see footage of Langlois
roaming the halls, psychedelic, negative images and trippy music during the “60s” section)—film fiends will find it all worth
it to see the reverence in the eyes of the young Truffaut, the sparkling authority of Lotte Eisner or a bespectacled Godard being
beaten by police in front of the Cinematheque offices. Perhaps the strongest moments in the film are during the protests speckled
with French celebrities that occurred in front of the Cinematheque when Langlois was ousted from his position as director. The
crowds of young filmmakers empowered by the cultural gift of Langlois’ influence took to the streets in the name of their art.
This, to me, is most moving of all. Yet, nothing quite describes the massive importance of Langois quite like the flickering
images and antique grace of the films he rescued from oblivion. This was the greatest magic trick that phantom of the Cinematheque