'Savior Of Film,' Henri Langlois, Began Extensive Cinema Archive In His Bathtub One of the most important figures in the history of filmmaking never made a film. Langlois created the Cinémathèque Française, where he preserved and exhibited movies from many countries and eras.

'Savior Of Film,' Henri Langlois, Began Extensive Cinema Archive In His Bathtub

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/649236063/649779380" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript



Today, our series The Keepers continues with the story of a man and his obsession - preserving films - all films, any films. The Kitchen Sisters introduce us to Henri Langlois and the Cinematheque Francaise.


BURT REYNOLDS: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the Motion Picture Association of America, Mr. Jack Valenti.

JACK VALENTI: Tonight, the Academy presents an award to someone who is not a maker of film but is truly a savior of film. This man stood guard when no one else was there - the director of the Cinematheque Francaise in Paris, the curator, collector, the conscience of the cinema - Henri Langlois.


AGNES VARDA: He's an inventor. He invented the French Cinematheque. My name is Agnes Varda. I'm a French film director. I met Henri Langlois. The man was very impressive, fat and speaking very well - very smart about we should start to keep films, including the films we don't like.

JACQUES RICHARD: The philosophy of Langlois was to save everything - the masterpiece, the unknown films, even the fascist films. I'm Jacques Richard, filmmaker. I started as an assistant of Henri Langlois. He loved cinema when he was a teenager. It was the moment where the silent film stopped and the talkies arrived.

COSTA-GAVRAS: The early '30s, they were destroying every silent movie. He started collecting all those movies, not just to save them for the future but to show them. My name is Costa-Gavras. I'm film director and president of the French Cinematheque.

VARDA: He started to pile boxes of films in the bathtub up to the ceiling.

RICHARD: In the bathtub of his parents' flat, this is where the Cinematheque started.

LOTTE EISNER: When I met Henri Langlois in '34, he was not only collecting films but everything what had to do about films.

NIKKI SILVA, BYLINE: Cinematheque Francaise curator Lotte Eisner.

EISNER: Langlois' principle - just like people have to go for a walk, films have to run. If you just keep them in vaults, they die.


SIMONE SIGNORET: When I met him in '41, in the middle of the Nazi occupation, Langlois was organizing projection of forbidden films.

SILVA: Actress Simone Signoret.


SIGNORET: Very first time I ever saw "Potemkin" was in his mother's tiny dining room. She was serving little pink cakes. We could have gone to jail just for seeing something which was forbidden.

COSTA-GAVRAS: I don't know how he did it. He would show "The Dictator" (ph) by Charlie Chaplin during the occupation. It was a kind of resistance.

CELINE RUIVO: The Nazis censored films, destroyed them. Celine Ruivo, film curator of the Cinematheque Francaise. Langlois had to hide thousands of films, switching cans. We are still discovering many different titles every month.

PIERRE RISSIENT: By '55, '56, we were coming as many times as possible to see films at the Cinematheque. We were very young, just film buffs - addict film buffs. My name is Pierre Rissient, Man of Cinema. Henri was a poet and a magician. He had a genius to speak about the feelings...


LAUREN BACALL: (As Vivian Rutledge) You know, I don't see what there is to be cagey about, Mr. Marlowe. And I don't like your manners.

HUMPHREY BOGART: (As Philip Marlowe) Well, I'm not crazy about yours.

BARBET SCHROEDER: All the real fans were always in the first five rows. I'm Barbet Schroeder, filmmaker. I had the luck to see the complete work of Howard Hawks, Mizoguchi, Bergman - three movies a night. There was a lot of fever in that love of cinema.

WIM WENDERS: In one day, you might see an African film, a Japanese film, Chinese film with Turkish subtitles.


COSTA-GAVRAS: In the '50s, all the future directors of the Nouvelle Vague were there.

RICHARD: The New Wave - Jean-Luc Godard, Chabrol, Francois Truffaut.


ANNE COLETTE: (As character) La jolie fille, le vilain garcon, le revolver, le gentil monsieur.

JEAN-MICHEL FRODON: Langlois built a cinema language through programming, creating the New Wave.


HENRI LANGLOIS: I never say to Truffaut, this is good; this is bad. He discover himself.

SILVA: Henri Langlois.

LANGLOIS: I have not teach. I have only give food. And they eat the food - only food, only films - food, food, food, food. This is my work, to show films.

RICHARD: Henri Langlois was a thin and pretty guy when he was young. But with the time, he became very fat, like Orson Welles or Hitchcock. The wife, Mary Meerson - she became fat, too.


LANGLOIS: (Speaking French).

RUIVO: They started getting bigger and bigger as the archives of the Cinematheque was also getting bigger.

FRODON: There were problems in the Cinematheque. Nobody knew what there was exactly, in what condition. It was, to a large extent, a mess.

SCHROEDER: He always had clashes with the government. They tried to make rules in exchange of the money they were giving.

FRODON: Henri Langlois would say, I am saving films every day. Just let me do my work. But keep giving me money. This is a reason why Langlois was fired.

EISNER: There was this big, international scandal. The young people, like Godard - they say, Langlois is our father. He was kicked out. They immediately protested - everybody - Fritz Lange, Picasso...

RICHARD: The big demonstration for Langlois was the first time where we saw, on the street of Paris, police beating artists and intellectuals. This was the start of the French revolution of '68.


SCHROEDER: I was a part of the Jean-Luc Godard mini-gang that was demonstrating for Langlois.



COSTA-GAVRAS: It was so big movement in Paris, they decided to stop Cannes Festival.

RICHARD: The Cinematheque started to receive telegrams to return Langlois to the Cinematheque from filmmakers all over the world - Kurosawa, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles...

EISNER: And so after 75 days, we got the Cinematheque back.

WENDERS: I'm Wim Wenders, filmmaker. My very first picture was shown by the Cinematheque Francaise. Yes, he kept my print. I tried hard to get it out of his hands again. But he said, no, no, no. I would rather keep it. And I realized that's how he had assembled this amazing collection of thousands and thousands of films. He just kept them.

And then it was, of course, a good thing. At least there was always going to be a print of that film. Langlois has educated a whole generation of film archivists and filmmakers and saving the memory of mankind that is incorporated in the history of cinema.

MARTIN: "Archive Fever" was produced by The Kitchen Sisters, Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva, with Nathan Dalton and Brandi Howell; mixed by Jim McKee. You can hear more stories from The Keeper series on their podcast "The Kitchen Sisters Present."

Copyright © 2018 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.