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"Richard Roud has brought to life a man as picturesque and as contradictory as a Dickens character... Thanks to Roud... a thick and well-kept-up curtain of mystery rises to reveal to us the founder of the Cinémathèque Française, a man who was both unassuming and extravagant, a fabulous man, an obsessed man, and man animated by an idée fixe, a haunted man." -- François Truffaut, from the Foreword
When Henri Langlois began collecting prints of films in the 1920s, most people -- even many in the film industry -- thought of movies as a cheap and disposable form of entertainment. Langlois recognized them as a priceless form of art and worthy of preservation. In 1935, he founded the Cinémathèque Française, the legendary film library and screening room in Paris which Jean Renoir described as "the church for movies" and Bernardo Bertolucci called "the best school of cinema in the world." Indeed, some of the world's most influential filmmakers -- including Godard, Resnais, Truffaut, Rivette, and Wenders -- learned their craft by watching the classic films Langlois devoted his life to saving from destruction and obscurity.
As Richard Roud reveals in this "affectionate, intriguing biography" ( Times Literary Supplement), Langlois was a brilliant and temperamental man who could be, by turns, charming and maddening. Marvelously creative, Langlois was also so incredibly disorganized that, once the Cinémathèque became a government institution, he was dismissed as its director in 1968 by then Minister of Culture André Malraux, an action which caused Europe's eminent film personalities to protest in the street of Paris until he was reinstated. By the time of his death in 1977, Langlois's genius for rediscovering the cinema of the past (he championed the works of Abel Gance, Carl Dreyer, and Louis Feuillade when they were considered passé by his contemporaries and defended Howard Hawks against the disdain of American intellectuals) and his desire to share his discoveries with the world (at a time when other film archives refused to screen any of the films in their collection) had inspired a great and abiding love of cinema in a generation of filmgoers, leaving behind a legacy director Nicholas Ray considered "perhaps the most important individual effort ever accomplished in the history of the cinema."