Though he did not appear in film, nor did he make any,Henri Langlois nevertheless has played an important role in film history when he established the prestigious Cinémathèque Française film archive in 1936. The Paris-born Langlois was a lifetime film buff and began his private collection while still a teen. Just prior to forming the Cinémathèque Française, he formed the Cercle du Cinéma, a film club for serious fans to see classic movies and discuss them. When he began the Cinémathèque, Langlois had only ten features in his collection and for many years his subsequent collection, which grew to an astounding 60,000 films, was privately funded, but eventually the government began to subsidize him. Many of the films in his collection were carefully saved and some can be found nowhere else.
Within the dark confines of the Cinémathèque Française's three exhibition halls, some of France's greatest filmmakers, including Godard, Truffaut and Demy, found their inspiration. Over the years, the archives have become an internationally renowned institution that Langlois ruled with an iron hand. In 1968, French Minister of Culture André Malraux, tiring of Langlois's tyranny, tried to have him ousted by cancelling all government funding. The result was an international uproar and rioting in the streets of Paris. Countries the world over loudly voiced their support of Langlois, many studios threatened to revoke their copyrights and the ongoing Cannes Film Festival was abruptly cancelled in protest, thereby forcing the government to reinstate Langlois. In 1970, Langlois began trying to establish a branch of the archives in New York City, but was felled by a heart attack before he found success.