Note to movieholics: Have you ever gotten into one of those crazy moods, usually around film festival time, when you just couldn’t see enough movies — when you sat through three, four, maybe even five flicks a day and were still hungry for more? Picture yourself on a mission to somehow save every motion picture ever made, not for your own personal profit or career enhancement, but because you thought every frame of film was worth preserving. Now try to imagine doing that every day of your life. That was the life of Henri Langlois.
In all his fanatical rotundity, the rumpled Langlois (1914-1977) was the epitome of a film nut (he called himself a cinéphage and always sat in the front row so he could “eat” the movie right off the screen), renowned for cofounding Paris’ Cinémathèque Française, the world’s preeminent archive, and for rescuing an amazing number of classic films from the garbage over a forty-year period. But as glimpsed in the new documentary bio Henri Langlois: The Phantom of the Cinémathèque (screening at the Pacific Film Archive this Saturday at 7 p.m.), the prototypical preservationist’s ultimate goal was to sweep movie-drunk audiences away to a Neverland where Marilyn Monroe’s gowns, Charlie Chaplin’s bowler hat, and an endless matinee of magic-lantern shows would enchant us forever. He once described screening old movies as showing the shadows of the living coexisting with the shadows of the dead. Fittingly for such a dreamer, Langlois’ plans for paradise — a luxurious film museum and movie palace — were mostly thwarted by the French government’s bureaucratic roadblocks. He never got over it.
But Langlois’ lust for film influenced everyone who ever heard of him. “He was our inspiration,” PFA director Edith Kramer declares. “He created a culture of cinema. He created cinephiles.” And so he revisits the PFA this weekend, as he did in the ’60s — although this time in phantom form. “It’s the archive’s Thanksgiving message,” Kramer says. “We thank Langlois. His spirit is in all of us, the wackiness and the passion of it.” BAMPFA.berkeley.edu