Alice Guy-Blaché

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Alice Guy-Blaché
Alice Guy.jpg
Alice Guy at the end of the nineteenth century.
Born Alice Guy
(1873-07-01)1 July 1873
Saint-Mandé near Paris, France
Died 24 March 1968(1968-03-24) (aged 94)
Wayne, New Jersey,[1] United States
Nationality French
Occupation Filmmaker, film producer, actor
Years active 1894–1922
Spouse(s) Herbert Blaché (two children)

Alice Guy-Blaché (July 1, 1873 – March 24, 1968) was an early French filmmaker. She was the first woman director in the motion-picture industry and is one of the first directors of fiction films.

Early life and education[edit]

In 1873, Alice Guy’s mother lived in Santiago, Chile. While pregnant, Guy’s mother traveled to Paris, France, where she gave birth to Alice Guy. Following her birth, Guy was raised by her grandparents until the age of four. In 1877, Guy’s mother retrieved her from her grandparents and returned to Chile, where Guy met her father for the first time. In 1879, her father returned Guy to France where she was enrolled in boarding school with two of her sisters. While Guy was at boarding school, her father’s chain of bookstores became bankrupt. This forced Guy’s father to transfer her to a cheaper boarding school. After this both her father and brother died. Following her father’s death, Guy trained as a typist and got her first job as a secretary, starting her career.

Gaumont, France[edit]

In 1894, Alice Guy was hired by Léon Gaumont to work for a still-photography company as a secretary. The company soon went out of business but Gaumont bought the defunct operation's inventory and began his own company that soon became a major force in the fledgling motion-picture industry in France. Guy decided to join the new Gaumont Film Company, a decision that led to a pioneering career in filmmaking spanning more than twenty-five years and involving her directing, producing, writing and/or overseeing more than 700 films.[2]

From 1896 to 1906, Alice Guy was Gaumont's head of production and is generally considered to be the first filmmaker to systematically develop narrative filmmaking. In 1906, she made The Life of Christ, a big budget production for the time, which included 300 extras. In addition to this, she was one of the pioneers in the use of audio recordings in conjunction with the images on screen in Gaumont's "Chronophone" system, which used a vertical-cut disc synchronized to the film. An innovator, she employed special effects, using double exposure masking techniques and even running a film backwards.

Solax, USA[edit]

In 1907 Alice Guy married Herbert Blaché who was soon appointed the production manager for Gaumont's operations in the United States. After working with her husband for Gaumont in the USA, the two struck out on their own in 1910, partnering with George A. Magie in the formation of The Solax Company, the largest pre-Hollywood studio in America.[2] With production facilities for their new company in Flushing, New York, her husband served as production manager as well as cinematographer and Alice Guy-Blaché worked as the artistic director, directing many of its releases. Within two years they had become so successful that they were able to invest more than $100,000 into new and technologically advanced production facilities in Fort Lee, New Jersey, when many early film studios in America's first motion picture industry were based there at the beginning of the 20th century.[3][4][5] It was commented on in publications of the era that Guy-Blaché placed a large sign in her studio reading "Be Natural".[2]

Post-Solax[edit]

Alice Guy and her husband divorced several years later, and with the decline of the East Coast film industry in favour of the more hospitable and cost effective climate in Hollywood, their film partnership also ended.

Following her separation, and after Solax ceased production, Guy-Blaché went to work for William Randolph Hearst's International Film Service. She returned to France in 1922 and although she never made another film, for the next 30 years she gave lectures on film and wrote novels from film scripts. She was all but forgotten for decades. But in 1953, the government of France awarded her the Legion of Honor.

Personal life[edit]

Alice Guy Blaché’s marriage meant that she had to resign from her position working with Gaumont. Looking for new beginnings, the couple immigrated to New York where Guy gave birth to her first daughter Simone in 1908.[6] Two years after giving birth Guy became the first woman to run her own studio when she created Solax. During this time, Guy was pregnant with her second child, but it did not stop her from completing at least one to three films a week. To focus on writing and directing, in 1914 Guy made her husband the president of Solax. Shortly after taking the position Herbert Blaché started his own film company. For the next few years the couple maintained a personal and business partnership, working together on many projects. The relationship between the two did not last long. In 1918 Herbert Blaché left his wife and children to pursue a career in Hollywood with one of his actresses.[6]

Following this, Guy directed her last film in 1920, during which she almost died due to the Spanish Influenza. By 1922 Blache and Guy were officially divorced, prompting Guy to auction off her film studio while claiming bankruptcy. After losing her studio, Guy returned to France in 1922 and never made a film again.[6] Following her bankruptcy and divorce, Guy could not make a living making films.

In 1927, Guy returned to the United States in an attempt to retrieve some of her old work but was unsuccessful.[7] In 1930, Léon Gaumont published the history of his company with no mention of any production history before 1907. This upset Guy, prompting her to write a letter to Gaumont, after which he agreed to change the documents. However these changes were never published. The rest of Guy's career and life was dedicated to her children, specifically her eldest daughter Simone, with whom she spent much of her later years.

Alice Guy-Blaché never remarried and in 1964 she returned to the United States to stay with one of her daughters. On March 24, 1968 Guy died at the age of 94 while living at a nursing home[7] in New Jersey and is interred at Maryrest Cemetery.[8]

Legacy[edit]

Alice Guy-Blaché is the first female film maker and is responsible for creating one of the first narrative films in 1896.[9] Guy’s career of 24 years of directing, writing and producing films is the longest career of any of the cinema pioneers.[10] From 1896 to 1920, Guy directed over 1,000 films, some 350 of which survive, and 22 of which are feature-length films.

Guy was and still is the only woman to ever manage and own her own studio, The Solax Company.

Despite these accomplishments, she is rarely, if ever, mentioned among her peers in the history of cinema, and most professionals in the industry are completely unaware of her work. Few of her films survive in an easily viewable format (primarily those involving Charlie Chaplin), although preservation and recovery efforts are ongoing by the documentary Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché.[11]

Awards[edit]

In 1953, Guy was awarded the Légion d'honneur, the highest non-military award France offers. On March 16, 1957, she was honored in a Cinématheque Française ceremony that went unnoticed by the press.[7]

In 2004, the only existing historic marker dedicated to Alice Guy in the USA was unveiled on the location of her Solax Studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey by the Fort Lee Film Commission.

In 2008, the Fort Lee FIlm Commission of Fort Lee, New Jersey, the home to Solax Studio, created the annual "Alice" Award dedicated to cinema pioneer Alice Guy. Winners in the past include Academy Award winning actress and director Lee Grant (2008), actress Parker Posey (2010), Garden State Film Festival Executive Director Diane Raver (2011), NJ Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (2012) and Susan MacLaury, Executive Producer of the 2013 Oscar winner for Best Documentary Short, Inocente (2013).

In 2012, for the centennial of the building and opening of Alice Guy's Solax Studio in Fort Lee, NJ, the Fort Lee FIlm Commission, in cooperation with the family of Alice Guy, raised funds to replace Alice Guy's simple grave marker in Maryrest Cemetery in Mahwah, NJ – the new marker includes the Solax studio logo and indicates Alice Guy 's role as a cinema pioneer.

The Golden Door Film Festival's Women in Film-Alice Guy Blache Award is named in her honor.[12]

Filmography[edit]

Posthumous tributes[edit]

The Fort Lee Film Commission[13] of Fort Lee, New Jersey, has worked with Alice Guy-Blaché biographer Alison McMahan to create one of the only existing historic markers dedicated to the role she played as the first woman film director and studio owner. The marker is located on Lemoine Avenue adjacent to the Fort Lee High School and on the site of Solax Studio. The Fort Lee Film Commission has also planted a marker dedicated to Alice Guy-Blaché's accomplishments at her grave in Mahwah.[14]

In 1995, a National Film Board of Canada documentary The Lost Garden: The Life and Cinema of Alice Guy-Blaché told her pioneering story, and received Quebec's Gemeaux Award for Best Documentary.[15] In 2002, film scholar Alison McMahan published Alice Guy Blaché: Lost Visionary of the Cinema.

In 2011, an off Broadway production of FLIGHT[16] premiered at the Connelly Theatre, featuring a fictionalized portrayal of Alice Guy-Blaché as a 1913 documentary filmmaker.

Also in 2011, the Fort Lee Film Commission successfully lobbied the Directors Guild of America to accept Alice Guy Blaché as a member.[17]

In its second year (2012) the Golden Door Film Festival in Jersey City inaugurated the Women in Film - Alice Guy-Blaché Award.[18]

In 2013, Alice Guy-Blaché was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.[14]

In 2013, documentarians Pamela Green and Jarik van Slujis ran a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché, a documentary on Blaché. The Kickstarter was successful and as of 2014, the documentary is moving forward.[19][20]

In 2013, Reel Women Media is in post production with "Reel Herstory: The REAL Story of Reel Women" based on the book by Ally Acker. The film covers the significant contribution of Alice Guy-Blaché.

In 2014, film podcast Hell Is For Hyphenates devoted a segment to exploring the career of Alice Guy-Blaché. [21]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ As reported in the margins of p. 91 of birth certificate from the city of Saint-Mandé.
  2. ^ a b c "The Lost Garden: The Life and Cinema of Alice Guy-Blaché - NFB - Collection". Nfb.ca. 2012-05-02. Retrieved 2012-06-24. 
  3. ^ Koszarski, Richard (2004), Fort Lee: The Film Town, Rome, Italy: John Libbey Publishing -CIC srl, ISBN 0-86196-653-8 
  4. ^ "Studios and Films". Fort Lee Film Commission. Retrieved 2011-05-30. 
  5. ^ Fort Lee Film Commission (2006), Fort Lee Birthplace of the Motion Picture Industry, Arcadia Publishing, ISBN 0-7385-4501-5 
  6. ^ a b c "Alice Guy Blaché". Aliceguyblance.com. Retrieved 11 November 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c McMahan, Alison J. (1997). Madame a des envies (Madam has her cravings): A critical analysis of the short films of Alice Guy Blache, the first woman filmmaker. Ph.D. dissertation, The Union Institute, United States—Ohio, from Dissertations & Theses: A&I (publication No. AAT 9817949).
  8. ^ "Find-a-Grave". Findagrave.com. Retrieved 11 November 2014. 
  9. ^ Davis, Amanda (2000, July 31). "Edited Out: Women in film history". Women's Times, p. 14.
  10. ^ Kevin Thomas (August 15, 2002). Book review; Research Sheds New Light on Cinema Pioneer [home edition]. Review in the Los Angeles Times, p. 2.
  11. ^ "Be Natural: The untold story of Alice Guy-Blaché.". Kickstarter.com. Retrieved 11 November 2014. 
  12. ^ Ruptam, Mohindra (October 5, 2012), 53 films to be screened at Golden Door International Film Festival, The Jersey Journal, retrieved 2012-10-06 
  13. ^ "Fortleefilm.org". Fortleefilm.org. Retrieved 2012-06-24. 
  14. ^ a b Svetlana Shkolnikova. "New Jersey Hall of Fame". NorthJersey.com. Retrieved 11 November 2014. 
  15. ^ "The Lost Garden: The Life and Cinema of Alice Guy-Blaché". Collection. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 6 August 2012. 
  16. ^ "Flight". Pacific Performance Project East. 2012. Retrieved June 23, 2012. 
  17. ^ Svetlana Shkolnikova. "North.Jersey.com". NorthJersey.com. Retrieved 11 November 2014. 
  18. ^ Ruptam, Mahindra (October 6, 2012), Now in second year, Golden Door Film Festival, starting Oct. 11, has 53 offerings, The Jersey Journal, retrieved 2012-10-06 
  19. ^ "Be Natural: The untold story of Alice Guy-Blaché.". Kickstarter.com. Retrieved 11 November 2014. 
  20. ^ "Fund This Film: Robert Redford and Jodie Foster Help Tell the Story of Alice Guy-Blache With ‘Be Natural’". IMDb News. Retrieved 8 December 2013. 
  21. ^ Hell Is For Hyphenates, Hellisforhyphenates.com, January 31, 2014, retrieved 11 November 2014 

Sources[edit]

  • Acker, Ally. Reel Women: Pioneers of the Cinema, 1896 to the Present. New York: Continuum, 1990. Print.
  • Acker, Ally. Reel Women: The First Hundred Years (Two Volumes). New York: Reel Women Media, 2011. Print.
  • McMahan, Alison. Alice Guy Blaché: Lost Visionary of the Cinema. New York: Continuum, 2002. Print.
  • McMahan, Alison. "Alice Guy Blache The Research & Books of Alison Mcmahan." Aliceguyblache.com. Homunculus Productions.

External links[edit]