July 13, 2004

Home Movies of Cinephiles

Henri LangloisAs CC suspected in our previous Doinel posting, the extras on the Stolen Kisses DVD did inspire Cinecultist to wax a little poetic on Henri Langlois, founder of the French Cinemathéque and inspiration to the Nouvelle Vague and many other cinephiles. Stolen Kisses began shooting just days before the French government fired Langlois from his post, as well as ousting a bunch of his loyal underlings, and sending the French cinema going community into a tizzy. They took to the streets, protesting outside of the cinemathéque mobilizing an otherwise insular group into social action. As the revolutionary spirit of May '68 swept Paris, this group of cinephiles moved to act by their love for Langlois, spread their idealism to shutting down the Cannes Film Festival that year in solidarity for striking workers in the capitol.

While there's no overt political message in Stolen Kisses, Truffaut made the film alternating between his work in defense of the cinemathéque and shooting footage for his movie. The extras on the DVD are ostensibly home movies made by participants at the rallies and at Cannes, then narrated by historians, otherwise known as someone else who had been standing there in the crowd. It's the kind of organic history that's so fascinating to Cinecultist, giving you a tiny glimpse of how it must have been at that moment. That youthfulness and vitality are certainly a part of Stolen Kisses, even if politics aren't, as Doinel tries to keep a number of different jobs after being discharged from the service, including as an investigator for a private detective firm. It's a pretty fluffy film to be honest, as Doinel seduces a married women and gets fired from one job after the next, but its creation within this historical context is intriguing.

But what about Langlois, how does he fit into all of this excitement and youthful intensity? He was the conduit for their initial cinephilia and it is his work as the programmer for the cinemathéque, screening the American and other foreign films, along with the mentorship of Andre Bazin of course, that led to the New Wave in the first place. As you can see from his picture, Langlois wasn't the kind to hog the spotlight, especially when there were guys like the outspoken Godard and Truffaut around (both quite cute as young men, by the way). But from the footage on the DVD, you can see so clearly how they all revered him and how much his tastes in movies, everything from Chaplin and Louise Brooks to the Russian masters, influenced them. The ability to guide another's movie viewing is a powerful thing, from the littlest suggestion or review to planning a full-blown film series and educating your audience about the films' interconnections. To see films out of one kind of context (the studio system juggernaut) and in another (as art forms to be studied) can be a mind-expanding experience which leads to new discoveries about the film at hand.

Posted by karen at July 13, 2004 7:53 AM