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Langlois Celebration Highlights Block Cinema Season

By Joel Wicklund in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 5, 2014 2:40PM


Today, when many consider movies simply part of an endless supply of instantly disposable entertainment, it’s hard to conceive of actual demonstrations in the streets…over the firing of a film archivist!

But that’s what happened in Paris in 1968 when the government tried to replace Henri Langlois as head of the Cinematheque Francaise, one of the earliest public film archives and easily the most important. For a generation of budding filmmakers, critics and movie enthusiasts, Langlois was nothing less than an inspirational figure—a man who showed them movies really mattered.

In amassing thousands of films that were being lost or neglected, Langlois was the most notable early advocate for film preservation. But far beyond that, as the Cinematheque's curator, he fostered a newfound appreciation for movies from all genres and all corners of the world. His disciples included the maverick filmmakers of the French New Wave (Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol and others), as well as repertory programmers around the world who saw the impact he had simply through his passion for cinema.

2014 marks the centennial of Langlois' birth, and Block Cinema at Northwestern University is celebrating by making a series devoted to Langlois the central piece of its new fall calendar.

A Magnificent Obsession: Henri Langlois and the Cinematheque Francaise features a wide array of films he championed or inspired. The series ranges from early silent masterworks to neglected genre efforts once critically dismissed and now viewed as essential, thanks in no small part to Langlois' efforts to showcase them. American and French productions dominate the selections, though classics from Italy and Germany are also included.

Some of the better-known films showing are A Trip to the Moon, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Grand Illusion, and L’Atalante. The greater value of the series, however, may be the less commonly screened features and shorts. Her Man (1930) promises some risqué material from the era before Hollywood's strict production code was enforced, as well as a more visually expressive style than many early sound films showed. A double feature of films from Jean Grémillon offers the chance for greater exposure to an acclaimed French director not well known in the U.S. Several of the silent films on the schedule will also be presented with live musical accompaniment.

Along with the Langlois series (which begins Sept. 26), Block Cinema's fall calendar includes two films thematically tied to the Block Museum of Art's upcoming series on Kenyan-born artist Wangechi Mutu, as well as special screenings like a rarely shown, low-budget film of Julius Caesar (1950), shot largely in Chicago and featuring a young Charlton Heston in the cast. The invaluable Northwest Chicago Film Society is co-presenting Julius Caesar.

The complete new Block Cinema schedule is available here.