PARIS.- Henri Langlois was loved and admired by artists. They often paid him tribute and frequently rubbed shoulders with him. For others, he was only legendary. All had the opportunity to evoke the memory of his action and his love of cinema. Jean-Jacques Lebel uses collage technique like Langlois; from a picture of Denise Bellon showing films saved from destruction and accumulated in a bathtub as a matter of urgency, the artist evokes a myth in the history of cinema: so many stars in their bathtub! César, whose patronymic henceforth designates the symbol of the French Oscar, transformed a portrait of Langlois by Henri Cartier-Bresson to express the innumerable facets of the founder of the Cinémathèque.
Henri Langloiss unceasing activity as film programme planner of forty years translates his figurative thinking. He thereby hoped that, by bringing films together, new evidences for each of them would be revealed, that their proximity during an ephemeral appearance on the screen would illuminate in a different way. For him, making the history of cinema or making history with it originated first and foremost in the fact of showing the films: projecting them a number of times, trying to combine them differently, and engendering genealogies, significant resemblances and distinctions.
Henri Langlois venerated filmmakers, actors and all who contributed to the art of film. But he equally loved the artists coming from other disciplines, and especially the painters of his time. To defend cinema as an art amongst the arts he envisaged
filming painters! On the one hand, this constituted testimony of admiration and, on the other, the ambition of mixing the arts. Did he not dream of competing with the Cannes Festival by creating his own festival in
nearby Antibes?! Matisse, Chagall, Calder and yet others became characters in the films he undertook for this festival. Was Matisse, in front of the camera held by Frédéric Rossif, not the unexpected priest of a dreamlike black mass?
To borrow his own words, for Henri Langlois, cinema was essentially visual. It was doubtless for this reason that, throughout his life, he enhanced the status of silent pictures and the cinema of the historical avant-gardes. He also endeavoured to defend postwar experimental cinema, a cinema free of narrative obligations: from the New York Underground to the French cinema of poetry and its hero, Philippe Garrel. For Henri Langlois, Hans Richter recreated his Rhythmus series, inaugurated in the 1920s. In New York, Jonas Mekas founded the Anthology Film Archives based on the model of La Cinémathèque française.
Throughout his life and all over the world, Langlois increasingly organized exhibitions devoted to cinema in order to contribute to the knowledge of cinema. This passion and art of exhibiting translated an architects temperament. In 1935, a year before founding La Cinémathèque française, he made an experimental film with his friend Georges Franju, Le Métro, in which this temperament was revealed: urban hustle and bustle, the waves of crowds and the prefiguration of his underground museum at the Palais de Chaillot, inaugurated in 1972. He asked the constructivist-kinetic painter Victor Vasarely to design the emblem of this museum: an M and a C intertwined.
Henri Langlois drew organization charts to conceive an original institution: La Cinémathèque française. This figurative thinking is expressed in fantastic images recalling metamorphosis and intertwining oriental decorative motifs and, even more, offering a chimerical appearance: a flamboyant utopia and the dream of an extravagant palace like another Xanadu.