On 2 March 1974, Henri Langlois, co-founder of the Cinémathèque française, screened a partly impromptu edit of films and fragments from the nation’s silent film production. Langlois started his presentation/performance/edit with views by Nadar and the Lumières, then continued with excerpts from works by pioneers such as Lucien Nonguet, Ferdinand Zecca, Léonce Perret and Georges Monca, and went on to show examples of the genius of René Clair, Abel Gance or Marcel l’Herbiert, ending with a scene from the rather obscure Minuit… Place Pigalle (1928; René Hervil), made at the twilight of the silent era.
In between, we find complete films of special cultural prestige such as Clément Maurice’s Le duel d'Hamlet (1900) featuring Sarah Bernardt, or a film version of Oedipus with the Belle Époque’s most famous interpreter of that role, Mounet-Sully. As with so many works seen here, nothing is known of the latter. It’s a knowledge that maybe passed with Langlois, and has to be re-acquired.