Henri Langlois: The Phantom of the Cinematheque (2004) - Rotten Tomatoes

Henri Langlois: The Phantom of the Cinematheque (2004)

Henri Langlois: The Phantom of the Cinematheque



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Henri Langlois was, in many respects, the ultimate film fan. In 1936, at the age of 22, Langlois became (along with Jean Mitry and Georges Franju) one of the founders of the Cinémathèque Française, a theater and museum devoted to preserving the history of the motion picture. Initially a tiny operation financed by private funds, the Cinémathèque, with time, grew into Europe's most important film archive, collecting and preserving prints of rare films from all over the world and protecting many rare gems of the French cinema from destruction during the Nazi occupation of World War II. Langlois' enthusiasm for sharing the treasures of his collection with others helped spawn a film-crazy generation who created the French New Wave of the '50s, and in time, the French government acknowledged the importance of the Cinémathèque's work by financing their endeavors. In 1968, the French minister of culture, André Malraux, responded to Langlois' difficult personality and sloppy bookkeeping by pulling the government's financing of his projects, which led to an international outcry leading to the shutdown of the Cannes Film Festival by activists and film buffs. The Cinémathèque's funding and Langlois' leadership were later restored, and in 1973, his work in film preservation was honored with a special Academy Award. Henri Langlois: The Phantom of the Cinémathèque is a documentary which chronicles the life, times, and passions of the legendary archivist and includes interviews with his friends, contemporaries, and colleagues -- including Claude Berri, Claude Chabrol, Jack Valenti, and Daniel Cohn-Bendit.more
Rating: Unrated
Genre: Documentary, Television, Art House & International, Special Interest
Directed By:
Written By: Jacques Richard
In Theaters:
On DVD: Aug 15, 2006
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Critic Reviews for Henri Langlois: The Phantom of the Cinematheque

All Critics (18) | Top Critics (10)

An inspirational film for cinephiles everywhere.

October 28, 2005
Hollywood Reporter
Top Critic

The tale of this rotund man, with his unquenchable passion and ark-load of supporters is, to a great extent, the history of the cinema itself.

Full Review… | October 14, 2005
Boston Globe
Top Critic

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.

Full Review… | October 12, 2005
Top Critic

This documentary's director, Jacques Richard, includes insightful and often hilarious archival interviews with Langlois and dozens of associates.

October 12, 2005
New York Post
Top Critic

Jacques Richard's affectionate documentary makes a persuasive case for Henri Langlois as one of the most important figures in the history of film.

October 12, 2005
New York Times
Top Critic

Jacques Richard has made a film big and grand enough to accommodate his outsized subject.

Full Review… | October 11, 2005
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Henri Langlois: The Phantom of the Cinematheque


[font=Century Gothic]"Henri Langlois: The Phantom of the Cinematheque" is a rambling, informative documentary about Henri Langlois(1914-1977), legendary founder and director of the Cinematheque Francais who saved countless films from destruction, sometimes under semi-heroic situations. The Cinematheque showed countless older films that could not be seen elsewhere, providing a first class education in cinema to future filmmakers especially French new wave directors like Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. (Even in this day of the DVD player, I still prefer seeing a movie in a theatre whenever I have the chance.) The documentary mostly consists of archival footage and interviews with collaborators. Overall, it illustrates perfectly why we need people like Langlois to preserve film and educate young cineastes. If the movie has a fault, it is perhaps too one-sided and does come perilously close to conspiracy theories at times.[/font]

Walter M.

Super Reviewer


A good documentary about the greatness of Cinematheque co-founder Henri Langlois. I always knew the influence of the Cinematheque on the French New Wave filmakers, but this film shows how Langlois ran it and what films he re-introduced to the public. This was obviously made for French television and I would like to see a slower paced and more in depth documentary on Langlois and the Cinematheque.The doc. goes into how he saved films from the Nazis, American and European studios from being destroyed. He was the first film preservationist and collected movie memorabilia from the first 50 years of film. It goes into how he got films and would show a film only once every 10 years or so.The film also goes into Langlois struggle with the government and lack of funds. The Cinematheque must have been amazing in it's heyday. Langlois received a Honorary Oscar in 1974 for his preservation efforts and reintroduction of forgotten films.

cody franklin

Super Reviewer

"God help anyone who needs subtitles to follow [Buster] Keaton." -- Henri Langlois

At last, here's a film that may be the ultimate Cinemaslave movie. This documentary about French film preservationist Henri Langlois overcomes the limits of its static "talking head" format to remain captivating viewing as we meet the late Langlois, a passionnate film lover who decided to do something about the fact that many of the great movies in the world were being lost or destroyed due to neglect, disregard, and the ravages of time. It is because of Langlois's pioneering -- and surprisingly dangerous -- work that we today have such films as "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" and "Nosferatu" at our disposal... works that were considered worthless by the studios after the advent of talking movies, but which Langlois tirelessly fought to save for posterity, despite the toll his passion took on both his bank account and his marriage. (Not that I'd know anything about that.)

Believing that all cinema is valuable as a record of the time period in which it was created, Langlois salvaged films from all over the world, even breaking trade embargos by screening banned Soviet films at a time when his own country was at war with Russia. HIs love and admiration for the cinema was his overriding factor, not politics or nationalism; indeed, he once traded a (terrible) military documentary of no importance to a Third Reich officer in exchange for a rare Marlene Dietrich film that otherwise would have been destroyed.

There are tragic tales of movies lost along the way, such as Langlois's revelation that he once passed up the chance to buy a 35mm print of Theda Bara's legendary silent epic "Salome." Since the film was originally released by Fox, Langlois passed up the sale, believing Fox had its own print. They didn't, and by the time Langlois realized his mistake, the sole existing print had been destroyed by the seller, who no longer wanted to pay for the storage of a "worthless" silent movie. Today, the movie rivals Lon Chaney's "London After Midnight" as the world's most wanted "lost" film.

Langlois himself communicates his passion through archival footage, with some of the best moments coming from his "talk through" of an 1895 Lumiere Brothers silent film. He stands in front of the screen as the film is projected, and through a curious trick of the light he appears to become intermixed with the silent footage, pointing out the way that this short movie clip captures history far better than the more "professional" news broadcasts of today. And one gets the impression, watching Langlois merging into the image of the movie behind him, that that's where he truly belongs.

"Henri Langlois: The Phantom of the Cinematheque " is a mesmerizing portrait of a life transformed by the movies, and one's man quest to give back to the medium as much as got out of it. Don't miss it.

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