In 1940s France, a little 50-seat cinema opened that would launch one revolution on international movie screens...and arguably a second one in the streets of Paris. Host Rico Gagliano delves into the wild history of the Cinémathèque Française and its legendary founder, Henri Langlois.
Featuring interviews with directors Barbet Schroeder (BARFLY, REVERSAL OF FORTUNE) and Luc Moullet (BRIGITTE ET BRIGITTE), plus New Yorker writer Louis Menand, Amy Nicholson of the podcast "Unspooled" and many more.
The second season of the MUBI Podcast titled “Only in Theaters” tells surprising stories of individual cinemas that had huge impacts on film history, and in some cases, history in general.
After listening, check out an extended interview with Barbet Schroeder in the latest “MUBI Podcast: Expanded” piece. The filmmaker dives deeper into memories of the French New Wave, talks about his Oscar-winning film REVERSAL OF FORTUNE, and recalls working with Pink Floyd in the late ‘60s. Read the article here.
To stream some of the films we've covered on the podcast, check out the collection Featured on the MUBI Podcast. Availability of films varies depending on your country.
MUBI is a global streaming service, production company and film distributor. A place to discover and watch beautiful, interesting, incredible films. A new hand-picked film arrives on MUBI, every single day. Cinema from across the world. From iconic directors, to emerging auteurs. All carefully chosen by MUBI’s curators.
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Heads up. This episode contains mild profanity, descriptions of violence, and right off the bat, forgive me, A few minutes of nostalgia. So in the late eighties, I got one of my first jobs, as an usher and then a manager of a movie theater, in my hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. One Sunday morning last fall, for the first time in 30 years, I went back with a guide. Ann Urwin, Operations Manager with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. And we are on the street, Sixth Street and Fort Duquesne Boulevard, in downtown Pittsburgh. And we're under the marquee of the Byham Theater. Formerly the... Formerly the Fulton Theater. And prior to that, originally, the Gayety Theater. In my day it was still the Fulton. A gilded 1300 seat house, originally built for vaudeville, that in post-Industrial Pittsburgh had fallen into pretty serious shabbiness. We showed indy and arthouse films on the giant thirty foot screen, usually for like ten paying customers and a couple of friends we let in free. And for a few years there, it was my whole life. All right, let's go inside. Oh my... The place has been renovated, but as soon as I'm through the big brass frame doors, I remember everything. The spot where our little box office stand used to be. One time, I sold Mr. Rogers a ticket there. The radiators near the front entrance, which didn't work then or now. It's still cold in here! - Oh man. - And not air conditioned either. Yeah, it's all just like I remember it. Until we climb a stairway into the cavernous theater and out onto the balcony. - Oh, wow. - Yeah. I don't remember that ceiling being that beautiful. That's crazy. There is a mural of frolicking females. Most of them have sort of loose gowns on, and their upper bodies are exposed. - They're half naked. - They're half naked. Yes. And they're on sort of a cloudy blue sky background. Yeah. I mean, I always in my mind, I remembered them as being angels. Well, they're up... They're up in the heavens. They sort of do have an angelic feeling, I guess. She's right. That's part of it. But I realize it's also that my memory of the theater is totally tied up with my memories of a movie we showed there right after I took the job. Wim Wenders, Wings of Desire. A movie about angels walking the streets of Berlin. And if you've seen it, you can imagine what it must have been like for a teenager to watch it over and over in a derelict old theater, sitting at the edge of a balcony. Shot by Henri Alekan in this kind of glowing black and white, his roaming camera, floats through Berlin's libraries, hovers over its streets and leaps back and forth over the Berlin Wall. It glides around a nightclub where Crime & the City Solution arrive in a cloud of tobacco smoke. It's a band I'd never heard, playing a kind of music I thought I hated. ♪ <i>You're are seventeen at this time</i> Instead, suddenly I got it. The romance of Goth. The camera circles over Berlin, like a plane. Up in the Fulton balcony actual clouds painted on the ceiling above me. I felt like a passenger. Wings of Desire was the first movie that made me want to travel. And now I moonlight as a travel writer. Here's what I'm saying. That movie changed my aesthetics, my values, my life. And I guarantee it wouldn't have hit so hard if I hadn't seen it in that theater. One real, very memorable experience was coming to see Lawrence of Arabia in 70mm here at the Byham Theater. Later up in the projection booth Ann Urwin tells me she knows what I'm talking about. I had never seen it. And my kids, of course, hadn't. And they were just fascinated and loved it. And it's such a long film that there's an intermission. And I was realizing how late it was getting. So we went home, and then I got the tape of Lawrence of Arabia. So they could finish watching. So we could finish watching it because we were just entranced Put it in on our TV at home. And I think after five minutes, I was the only one watching. Watching movies has never just been about the movies. It's also about where you watch them. I'd say certain movie theaters have made certain kinds of movies possible. They've created certain kinds of movie fans and movie makers. And sometimes I think a certain kind of world. I'm Rico Gagliano, and welcome back to the MUBI podcast. MUBI is the best place, outside a theater, to see beautiful, hand-picked cinema. On this show, we tell you the stories behind beautiful cinema. Today we launch season two. We're calling it Only in Theaters because at a time when too many great theaters are closing down, we think it's time to lift them up. Every week, we're going to tell you the story of a single cinema that made history. Usually movie history, but sometimes, like today, just history in general. We all went into the street to protest. Jean-Luc Godard was there, Chabrol was there. All the filmmakers, everybody was there. In those demonstration. That is Barbet Schroeder, one of the most important players in postwar French cinema, talking about the time a simple staffing change at his favorite movie theater literally led to blood in the Paris streets. Because the police started knocking on us with sticks. But really, like, if we were a public danger. The theater, it was worth getting your head kicked in for was the Cinémathèque Française. It's so important, back in film school, they told us about it on literally the first day of class. But I never knew the half of it. So, ticket please? Enjoy the show. In Paris, the metro subway trains stopped running every night around 1 A.M. Sometime in the mid-fifties, that became a real hassle for a teenaged Barbet Schroeder, when he started religiously attending screenings at the Cinémathèque. We were a group of ten, fifteen people that were always talking after the movies and arguing between ourselves. You know, we had discussion every night about all the movies. Very exciting. And of course, the discussions ended up on the sidewalks or in cafes. So I didn't see the time pass. And he'd miss the last metro. Repeatedly. And if you missed that one, there is no other way to come back home. You have to go walking through the city. So it happened to me three times where I was walking and thinking. And I think the third time I decided... I know what I want. I want to make movies. Now, I was only 14, you know, but I knew what I had to do. I knew what I wanted to do. And all my life, everything I did was connected to that. When I think of Paris in that era, that's what I imagined. Dozens of young people, eventually hundreds over time, walking the late night streets, getting ready to revolutionize movies. largely thanks to one unlikely hero. The Cinémathèque founder and programmer, - Henri Langlois... - Henri Langlois. Henri Langlois. He was, I think, from a kind of Turkish family. I don't know which generation. He was a little bit on the fat side. He was not fat. He was just round. He was just round and sensuous. And you could imagining him eating a lot of legumes And he was passionate, but he didn't show it. You could feel it. So he was kind of a low key guy? He wasn't, like, a bombastic man? Quiet. Yes. Yes. But actually, Langlois passion for movies spoke volumes. From a very young age. He's supposed to have in school gotten into trouble by writing an essay claiming that Charlie Chaplin was a greater writer than Molière. That's Louis Menand. He teaches at Harvard and wrote about the Cinémathèque in The New Yorker, where he's a staff writer. So this would be in the 19... Early 1930s. And film, as you know, is a very perishable commodity because the film stock deteriorates. And film companies, just when the films started to deteriorate, they would just lose the picture. They didn't really feel it was important to save them. And he decided he was going to make a mission to save old movies. Starting with his first love, silent movies, but eventually, basically any movie. Also movie costumes, props, set pieces. Most people back then thought all this stuff was disposable. Langlois was determined to preserve them. And the films they came from by any means necessary. Yeah, it's you know, nobody really knows where he got the movies. He had contacts everywhere, apparently, and he was very secretive about them, and nobody really knew where they were stored either. There's a story that he stored them in his bathtub. Which was regarded as a comment both on his passion for movies and also his sense of hygiene. To screen his treasures he co-founded a film club which eventually became the Cinémathèque Française. An outfit for preserving cinema. It was not a fancy enterprise. So originally there was... It didn't have a theater. It was... He would collect these movies and he would have gatherings in which he would show the movie in someone's apartment. And frequently they would gather at his mother's apartment, for some reason. Yeah, at the time, the Cinémathèque wasn't so much a place as a person. Langlois. His passion his charisma, his connections, that kept the archives growing. That was the Cinémathèque. A lot of which was endangered when 1940 rolled around. <i>An assembly of troops.</i> That's the year French leaders surrendered France to Nazi Germany, signing an armistice with Hitler in a railway car near the Compiègne Forest. <i>The reading of the preamble of the German conditions.</i> <i>The Fuhrer leaves Compiègne.</i> Langlois found himself living in an occupied Paris. And this is the part where the Cinémathèque becomes legendary. So like anything with Henri Langlois it's can be hard to know what is truth and what is myth. Because he's such a myth maker of his own life. Katherine Clark writes and teaches about France's visual history. She's an associate professor at MIT. But... so during the war, he has a collection, he probably has about 5000 films at that point, which is not nothing. And then he also says to distribution companies in France, "Give me your films." "I will take them and hide them during the war" because he knows that the Germans are going to want to destroy films. So, like the story goes that Hitler really wants to see Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator. Yeah, he wants to see Chaplin's raging satire of Hitler himself. <i>"We must tighten our belts."</i> <i>His Excellency has just referred to the Jewish people.</i> And then Hitler wants to have as many prints of it as possible wiped off the continent. But he can't get his hands on a copy of it. And The Cinémathèque Française has as a copy of it. So they are hiding things kind of all over France. There's a lot of like, "We will hide this stuff because the Nazis are going to take it and either destroy it or use it for themselves." But he had to be quite secretive about it. There's a story that the actress Simone Signoret used to carry his movies around for him, in a baby carriage with a blanket over them. So she wouldn't be stopped by soldiers. It didn't always work. At one point, a chunk of the Cinémathèque collection did fall into German hands. And Langlois had to con, barter, and cajole them to get some of it back, even while he conspired with other cinephiles to smuggle movies to safety all over Europe. Right now, you're listening to one of the first German talkies, The Blue Angel. It probably only survived thanks to Langlois' network. And meanwhile, Cinémathèque screenings went underground. In fact, decades later, The New York Times published a quote from Simone Signoret. Who talks about being in Paris during the occupation and Henri Langlois going around in the Café Flore which is one of the very centers of intellectual life at the time. Kind of whispering from table to table that he was going to screen films that night and that everyone should come. So, I mean, it's it's almost like a speakeasy. - Totally. - Whisper, whisper, whisper. I'm going to be showing these dangerous movies tonight. - Don't tell anyone. - Yes. Don't tell anyone. And this is something Langlois cultivates after the occupation as well, that the Cinémathèque isn't just a movie theater. It's a movement. And it's a community. And it is not for everyone. And therefore, people really want to be part of it. And did they ever. Langlois emerged from World War Two as a movie martyr. A guy who risked his own safety to save cinema. His reward. In the mid 1940s, the state helped him sign a lease on an actual theater in Paris. At 7 Rue de Messine, a place that drew a lot of people who would go on to be legends themselves. By the late 1940s, there were a million film societies and film clubs in Paris. Paris was movie crazy. And that's when the Cinémathèque became the place that all these young film directors and critics went all the time, like Truffaut constantly. Well, but if there are so many choices why then did they flock to, like, Langlois' theater in particular? Because he had access to these kinds of movies, had a lot to do with it. And then, of course, he become a kind of a culture hero or a cult figure. And everything about that theater made patrons feel they were a part of that select cult. It only has 38 seats. If you bring in extra chairs, you can fit 50 seated people. Directors will talk about lying and sitting on the floor in the very front row to watch films. Langlois, mythically, never shows the same film twice. Obviously that's not true at all. He often shows the same film twice, but it's all part of his myth and his aura. So people have to go to the Cinémathèque and they have to go all the time. Because if you miss something, you might not get another chance to see it. Well, my first experience was 1950. I saw Birth of a Nation. Luc Moullet would go on to become a renowned critic and filmmaker, but he was a teenager at the time and a regular. And he remembers a nightly rite of passage. To get to the screening room you had to wend your way through a museum in the lobby. Full of Langlois' collection of movie cameras, costumes and props. There was a kind of labyrinth where we could see step by step the evolution of the cinema. So, so like every time you went to see a movie, you were reminded of the whole history of the movies? Yes. Yes. It was a kind of initiation. As we enter a church. By the way, Moullet remembers the cost of entry at the Church of the Cinémathèque was interesting. 101 francs, one franc for the movie, 100 for that museum. Because it means then that Langlois is making people pay for an entrance to a museum exhibition. And then showing films. And so he doesn't have to pay the taxes on film screenings that normal movie theaters have to. Yeah. Yeah. It was a trick to pay less taxes The museum was a gallery of 60 yards. I was in this gallery for five minutes. Yeah? But it was one Franc for a film which was more than 2 hours. That's amusing! Whatever the entrance fee for people like Moullet it was worth it because for them, the Cinémathèque wasn't just a clubhouse. It was an unofficial film school. We were addicts, addicts of movies. And we were addicts, with good reasons, that I wanted to make film critics and to become a film director. So I had to know very well the great films. And at Rue de Messine, and later, when Langlois moved into a larger screening room at rue d'Ulm, they got a crash course. The big experience of the Cinémathèque was the retrospective. When you can sit down every night for weeks, day after day, to see one or two or three movies of the same filmmaker. It's really, truly extraordinary. And that happened to me with Mizoguchi, who was, you know, you want to cry because of the beauty of those movies. And nobody had seen most of those movies. Some of them didn't even have subtitles. Actually, that was standard practice for a Langlois, screening foreign films without subtitles. Which meant that for viewers who didn't know the language, they were mainly paying attention to the visual composition of the film. And that was a very important lesson for a lot of these young cineastes to learn about the language of cinema, apart from the story and dialogue. And with or without subtitles, many of their favorite foreign films were the ones that came from Hollywood. <i>Oh, we do talk the same language, don't we?</i> <i>Sure, Bruno. We talk the same language.</i> At the Cinémathèque, my passion pushed me to be loving American cinema more than any other. Like, I started studying the directors, of course Hitchcock and Hawks. Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks. At cafés, after screenings and in the pages of the film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma, Schroeder and his pals sang their praises endlessly. In fact... They get caricatured as Hitchcockohawksian So Hitchcockohawksian, right. So it's not just that they like Hollywood, but in particular, Hitchcock and Hawks. They're really into Hitchcock and Hawks. Are really, really into them. For example, Luc Moullet's first film, Brigitte et Brigitte, straight up swipe shots from this movie, Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train. <i>Are you trying to tell... Why you maniac!</i> <i>But Guy, you wanted it.</i> <i>We planned it on the train together, remember?</i> And for Schroeder Hawks flicks like His Girl Friday about hard-bitten newspapermen getting the job done would influence everything he did. <i>Pressroom, huh, wait a minute.</i> <i>Hello, Sarge, McCue talking. Hold the line, will you? What?</i> <i>Hello? No, I told you this is the press room of the criminal courts building.</i> Hawks, especially, I saw all his movies, and, you know, I learned a lot because they were not fancy. They were not trying to make beautiful shots. They were at the height of men. They were talking about men. And the man who was making them knew what he was talking about. <i>Well, what are you going to do?</i> <i>Get the governor on the phone.</i> <i>- I can't. - Why not?</i> <i>Can't locate him. He's out fishing.</i> <i>How many places to fish are there?</i> <i>At least two. The Atlantic and Pacific.</i> <i>All right, that simplifies it, doesn't it?</i> <i>Get him on the phone.</i> He was talking about the world he had lived in. About things that he knew. And for me, I started feeling that and it was very important for me. Movies about the world they lived in. That's a pretty good description of the kind of films Cinémathèque regulars started making. And they were like nothing France had seen before. Langlois' disciples start a revolution in the cinemas and then set the stage for another one outside his cinema. All that in just a minute. Stay with us. MUBI is a curated streaming service showing exceptional films from around the globe. All of them hand-picked by real people who really know movies. And with a new film debuting on the platform every single day, there's always something new to discover. So this season of the podcast, we're talking about history making experiences that were only possible in movie theaters. Hopefully it inspires you to love and support your local cinema that much more. And we've got a new thing going that can help you do exactly that. It is called MUBI Go. And when you sign up, you get a free movie ticket every week to see a hand-selected film in theaters. Previous picks include award winning films like Drive My Car, The Lost Daughter, Cha-Cha Real Smooth, and The Power of the Dog MUBI Go is now available in the UK, New York and Los Angeles, and it's coming to more U.S. cities soon. To learn more, check out MUBI.com/Go Also, one more thing on MUBI's online film magazine Notebook, you will find the extended interview that I did with Barbet Schroeder. In it he dives deeper into his memories of the French New Wave. He also talks about his Oscar winning film, Reversal of Fortune, and about working with an upcoming band back around 1969, called Pink Floyd. Check it out at MUBI.com/notebook And after you finished listening you can stream some of the films that we featured on the podcast. All you got to do is subscribe and look for the collection called "Featured on the MUBI podcast" go figure. It's on the Now Showing page. You can also find all the links you need in the show notes of this episode. Speaking of which, back to it So it's the late fifties in Paris, the Cinémathèque Française has moved from its first screening room to a bigger one on the Rue d'Ulm. And the critics and filmmakers who've been binging on Hitchcock and Hawks at these theaters have embarked on a humble campaign. Just to reinvent French cinema. So that it did not sound like this... That's a wedding scene from Le Rouge et le Noir a costume drama set in the 19th century. And it's a classic example of what was called 'quality cinema'. Lavish productions mostly shot on studio sets, and which a lot of times were based on classic novels. For years, these had been the crown jewels of France's film industry. Movies said to be beyond criticism. But for the Cinémathèque crew? Quality cinema, which was the kind of buzz word of postwar French cinema, becomes an insult. Yeah, sometimes they even call it "Cinema De Papa" Daddy Cinema. Instead, in the late fifties and early sixties, a lot of the new breed make films that sound like this... This is La carrière de Suzanne, Suzanne's Career, directed by Eric Rohmer, produced by a young Barbet Schroeder and shot in grainy black and white on location in sidewalk cafes, student apartments, and dance clubs. In 1958, a journalist named Francois Giraud had coined a term to describe the postwar generation in France. Now it got applied to this new kind of filmmaking. The new wave. It's about capturing the world and they make films that are about young people like them, young people who drive cars and walk around Paris and go get coffee and have endless conversations and meet people and fall in love and have misadventures. They are films about their lives rather than, you know, adaptations of 19th century novels. Also, unlike Daddy's Cinema, Schroeder remembers, lots of these flicks were shot fast and cheap. We had so little money that no one can understand how little it was. La carrière de Suzanne was 52 minutes. And I am sure I guarantee you we didn't use more than 60 minute of negatives. When we were shooting at a cafe we would ask friends to come to sit as extras because we needed them to sit at the same place for more than an hour. But we didn't have money to pay for extras, so people they pay for their own coffee, in those scenes. But the cost-cutting paid off. You needed a permit to shoot a feature length film. They just don't get permits. They just shoot, they just make movies. And those movies end up being really successful. So like Francois Truffaut, Les Quatre Cents Coups wins the Best Director Award at Cannes in 1959. And as soon as that happens, everyone wants a part in making them. They're cheaper to make, and you're going to make more money off of them if they are successful. No, no. It was a big revolution from one year to the next. Let's say in two years, everything changed. All the big established directors they couldn't find the money to make more movies. Everybody, producer wanted to produce New Wave director. And increasingly everybody wanted to hang at the New Waves' spiritual home. More people and more famous people start to come to the Cinémathèque. Langlois often has directors coming through, actors as well as a larger kind of anonymous public. A lot of the kind of student population of the Latin Quarter will just come, so it loses that insider sense that it had during the occupation, and then afterwards. And becomes much more of a... It's still a private institution, but it becomes much more of a public space. Soon the Cinémathèque landed an upgrade befitting a public space. A second screening room and a bigger museum in the grand state run Palais de Chaillot right across from the Eiffel Tower. For Langlois it was a dream come true. But it also set the stage for the craziest chapter in the Cinémathèque saga. What would come to be known as L'Affaire Langlois. The Langlois Affair it seems like explodes in 1968. But this type of thing could have happened at any moment in the history of the Cinémathèque. Because if you read Laurent Mannoni's History of the Cinémathèque Française it is riddled with bureaucrats saying Henri Langlois is the worst administrator we have ever seen. We do not know what to do with him. We give him all this money and we don't know where it goes. Already in 1948 people are complaining about Langlois as an administrator, but in 1968 the things that they really reproach him, so he's been getting more and more money from the state but there is no inventory of the archives. So, so papers, documents, film sets, artifacts, costumes. They can't even tell you what they have. And Langlois won't let anyone see the notebooks because he doesn't want people to know what he has. - And then... - Now why do you think that is? Is it just because you know, he lived through the Nazi occupation and it's like the fewer people that know where the stuff is, the better I can protect it? I think so. I mean, in some part, he's deeply concerned that the state is just going to take everything away from him. And it's, it's right, he did live through a period where the state did do that. But I think it's also personal. I think that he's a very complicated human. And you see him as this kind of model of a certain type of French administrator where everything must depend on him and him alone. Well, another French administrator didn't think it was wise to depend on Langlois alone, France's Minister of Cultural Affairs, name of André Malraux. He's a weird choice of villain for this story. He was a war hero, too. He was an author. He helped land the Cinémathèque, its space in the Palais de Chaillot. And in a way, he's the guy who made the New Wave even possible. One of the things that Malraux wanted to do when he came into office in 1958 was to help the French film industry, which he thought was struggling. So Malraux did two things about that which were very important in the history of French cinema. One was that he sent Truffaut's first movie 400 Blows to Cannes, where it won a prize. And 400 Blows was sort of the first New Wave, or the first New Wave movies. And that was Malraux who made that possible. And then he created the state system that basically subsidizes French filmmaking even today. So it's not that he... he did a lot for the French New Wave. It's not that he didn't get it. but he, I think, didn't understand the importance of the Cinémathèque and that whole culture. Which might explain what happened next. Very simple. We were very close to Langlois and suddenly, we learned from one day to the other that Minister of Culture, I think it was Malraux had fired Langlois. Because they had decided that he was too eccentric. He was... And they started accusing him of not keeping the films safely or something. And they fired him just like that. His replacement, Pierre Barbin a little known festival organizer. The blowback from the film world was fierce. Francois Truffaut himself with fellow New Wave superstar Jean-Luc Godard appeared in a short they got played in art houses all over France. "If a movie is life can sometimes be extended," says Truffaut, "it's thanks to Henri Langlois." And then he tells audiences to join the Cinémathèque Support Committee. They got a lot of members. There was a petition protesting the dismissal of Langlois, and that included members of the French film industry, both New Wave and old film industry directors like Marcel Garnett. Many foreign directors, Antonioni, Bergman, Buñuel. And then actors Jane Fonda, Peter O'Toole, Brigitte Bardo. And then just famous people, Roland Barthes, Samuel Beckett, Truman Capote, Picasso, Jean-Paul Sartre, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Norman Mailer. You getting the picture? And Luc Moullet remembers some directors sent more than a signed petition. Sending telegrams to Malraux, that if Langlois was removed they would take back their films from Cinémathèque. Well it was Chaplin, Hitchcock or Welles. Wait, so you're saying Chaplin, Hitchcock and Welles all wrote telegrams saying like, you reinstate Langlois or we will take our movies out of the Cinémathèque archives? Yes, I saw them, because, Truffaut contacted many people, and it was easy, to have the whole world against Babin. And sure enough, in February 1968, what definitely seemed like the whole cinema world took to the street right outside the Palais de Chaillot. So in those demonstration they were not only my generation that went immediately in the street, but every other generation that had been to the Cinémathèque was in the street also. And they were very famous people, Truffaut was there. Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard all those people. There were also film actors. Michel Simon was there, so it was really quite a big demonstration. There's footage of this protest, sadly for me, all the sound's been lost, but trust me, it's crazy. I couldn't believe it, because the police started knocking on us with sticks. But really like if we were a public danger. And I could remember, Claude Chabrol, with his head completely bloody. And so it was so violent the response that we didn't understand. And another demonstration at the Cinémathèque offices, Luc Moullet remembers Godard taking a baton to the head. Yes, there were police. Godard's spectacles were broken. It was a scandal. A director named Romain Goupil was there and in a documentary called Andre Langlois, Phantom of the Cinémathèque, he says this all made he and others see their country in a whole new light. That was all the proof we needed, he says. We were 15 or 16. That the state was a terrifying force capable of clubbing the best among us. The demonstrators were right he says, simply because the cops were wrong, systematically wrong about everything, no matter what. After a couple of months of this April 68, Henri Langlois was reinstated. But that feeling that the state was systematically wrong was only growing. <i>France May 1968.</i> <i>A nation of strikes, of violence.</i> <i>A country paralyzed across its length and breadth.</i> In May 68 student and labor demonstrations erupted all over the country. And there's plenty of recordings of what that sounded like. <i>In Paris it was a night of wild disorder.</i> It's a major moment in French history, and some will tell you the Langlois Affair helped kick it off. In fact, one of the May 68 organizers a guy named Daniel Cohn-Bendit, had actually been there at the Cinémathèque protests. Barbet Schroeder figures that's why the cops had gone crazy. We didn't understand that actually the leaders of May 68 had decided to infiltrate our manifestation and to use it to advance their cause. In trying to use our anger to add it to their anger. So we had the May 68 treatment just because we we love Langlois and the cinema. Others doubt folks like Bendit intended to use the Cinémathèque protests as some kind of prelude for their own protests. I don't think, so, May 68 was a long time in the works. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who has made a career of being a kind of student protester from 68. He's there at the Langlois protests. Why is he there? Well, he probably heard it was happening and showed up because these types of people showed up for any protest against the government. So I don't know if they like directly hijacked it. But could it have been an inspiration for the May 68ers? A signal that protests against the state might actually work? Yes, I do think that's possible. I think the ethos is slightly different. But I do take your point that seeing that kind of protest take place in February and March might have made some people who were present for that feel that way about the street demonstrations that happened in May. It's like their first taste of revolution, in a way. - Exactly. - Of course, the other difference, though, is that the, you know, the Langlois demonstrations were successful and May 68 really wasn't. It does, and it just, it went up in thin air. Yeah, it lasted a month and then it was over. It's harder, and it turns out to change a country than it is to change the head of a movie theater. Yeah. And in the wake of the Langlois Affair, it also turned out to be harder to run the Cinémathèque. So the state says, fine, like you can have Langlois back. He can do the cultural programing. We won't fund you. Basically, Langlois is like back at square one with very little funding, trying to keep the Cinémathèque going. And by 1971 people aren't that into the Cinémathèque anymore. Often the films that are supposed to be shown don't end up being shown because the archives are such a mess they can't find them. Langlois is trying to make ends meet, so he's flying back and forth to Montreal to teach film history classes there. Around this time, 1974 Langlois won an honorary Oscar. In his speech, he thanked Hollywood for making the movies that inspired generations of French artists. <i>This is the reason I like so much the film American and like so much...</i> He died three years later, aged 62. The happier news? Eventually the government reinvested in the Cinémathèque. Nowadays it's housed in a building designed by Frank Gehry, and the collections always being cataloged and restored. Every now and then when they find a film that was incorrectly labeled by Langlois, it's hard to know whether it's because of his haphazard archiving or if he'd done it on purpose. To hide it from the Nazis. And the Cinémathèque still screens films, though I think it's fair to say it's more of a respected national institution than a hotbed for revolution. Of course, today does anyone really think there can ever again be theaters like the original Cinémathèque? I do. You know, I actually think it is starting to be honest. That's my friend Amy Nicholson. She writes about movies for The New York Times. And by way of example, she told me about a newish screening room run by a hip fashion brand that on the surface couldn't seem less Langlois-esque. But which deploys some very Langlois practices. There's this movie theater here in Los Angeles called Braindead and they like every night, they just program whatever they want to. It could be, you know, some sort of Polish sexual fairy tale or it can be a French silent movie from the sixties. They... When they show trailers for movies, half the time the trailers don't even have English on them or subtitles. They've created a vibe at the Braindead where if you're cool, you just show up and you don't need to even know what the movie is. Any of that ring a bell? So should this. When I talked to Daniel Gross, the guy who programs Braindead and who, by the way, hadn't really heard of Langlois, he told me one way he creates that addictive vibe. I never want to show the same movie twice. I never want to repeat myself for at least the first few years. And I guess the reason is that everything should feel like an event. Everything should feel special and unique. And like just like a one time chance. Without even knowing it. He's taken pages right out of the Rue de Messine playbook. And you know what? It still works. I popped into Braindead on a Friday night for a screening of an early Akira Kurosawa movie called Stray Dog. Now I studied Kurosawa in film school, and I'd barely heard of this movie. Even so, there were 50 young people in the seats, enough to have packed the Cinémathèque back in the day. I talked to some college kids in the lobby. They didn't know much about the film either, but they traveled from Pomona over an hour away to check it out. This is West Hollywood, so when the film's over, there's no less Metro to miss. And most of these people probably won't be walking home. But it's a long drive back to Pomona. Between here and there, who knows what they might think to themselves. About what they want to do with their lives. And that's the MUBI podcast for this week. Follow us to make sure you get a front row seat for more deep dives into great cinemas. Next week it's New York 1971 and at the Elgin Theatre a guy named Ben Barenholtz changes moviegoing with a late night screening of a weird Western. It was violent. It was mystical. I mean you know, I can just imagine, you know like. Ben looking at it and going like "Hippies will love this shit." El Topo and the birth of the midnight movie. Follow us so you don't miss it. Meanwhile, this episode was hosted, written and sound designed by me, Rico Gagliano. Beth Schiff is our booking producer. Steven Colón mastered and engineered. Martin Austwick composed our original music. Thanks this week to Abby McNeil, Michael Gino and everyone at the Byham Theater and Braindead Studios. The show's executive produced by me, along with Jon Barrenechea Efe Cakarel, Daniel Kasman and Michael Tacca for MUBI. If you love the show, tell the world by leaving a four star review wherever you listen, it helps others find and love us too. Also, if you've got questions, comments, or you just want to castigate me on my French pronunciation, email us at podcast@MUBI.com And of course to stream the best in cinema, including some of the films that we talk about on this very podcast, just head over to MUBI.com to start watching. Til next week, a box of Lemonheads and a Sprite for me, please.