Alice Guy-Blaché

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Alice Guy-Blaché
Alice Guy.jpg
Alice Guy-Blaché in 1913
Born
Alice Ida Antoinette Guy

(1873-07-01)1 July 1873
Died24 March 1968(1968-03-24) (aged 94)
Resting placeMaryrest Cemetery, Mahwah, New Jersey, U.S.
NationalityFrench
Occupation
  • Filmmaker
  • director
  • screenwriter
  • producer
  • actress
Years active1894–1922
Spouse(s)
(m. 1907; div. 1922)
Children2

Alice Ida Antoinette Guy-Blaché (née Guy; 1 July 1873 – 24 March 1968) was a French pioneer filmmaker, active from the late 19th century, and one of the first to make a narrative fiction film.[2] She was the first woman to direct a film. From 1896 to 1906, she was probably the only female filmmaker in the world.[3] She experimented with Gaumont's Chronophone sync-sound system, and with color-tinting, interracial casting, and special effects.[4]

She was artistic director and a co-founder of Solax Studios in Flushing, New York. In 1912, Solax invested $100,000 for a new studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey, the center of American filmmaking prior to the establishment of Hollywood. That year, she made the film A Fool and His Money, probably the first to have an all-African-American cast. The film is now at the National Center for Film and Video Preservation at the American Film Institute.[5]

Early life and education[edit]

In 1865,[6] Alice's father, Emile Guy, an owner of a bookstore and publishing company in Santiago, Chile and Valparaíso, Chile, married Marie Clotilde Franceline Aubert. The couple returned to Santiago after the wedding in Paris. In early 1873, Marie and Emile lived in Santiago, with Alice's four siblings.[citation needed]

There was a devastating smallpox epidemic in Chile in 1872 and 1873.[7] Emile and Marie Guy brought all four of their children back to Paris, where Alice was born. In her autobiography, Alice refers to this as her mother's attempt to make sure "her fifth child should be truly French". [8] Her father returned to Chile soon after her birth, and her mother followed a few months later. Alice was entrusted to her grandmother in Carouge, Switzerland.[a] At the age of three or four, Alice's mother returned from Chile and took Alice back to South America.[9]

At the age of six, Alice was taken back to France by her father to attend school at Veyrier known as the Faithful Companions of Jesus[b] on the French side of the Swiss border in Veyrier, France.[c][10][d] Alice and her sister Louise were moved to a convent in Ferney a few years later and then brought back to Paris.[citation needed]

Alice's father died on 5 January 1891 of unknown causes.[12] Following his death, Alice's mother got a job with Mutualité Maternelle which was founded on 20 May 1891 [13] Alice's mother was unable to keep that job and thereafter Alice trained as a typist and stenographer, a new field at the time, to support herself and her mother. She landed her first stenography-typist job at a varnish factory. In March 1894, she began working at the 'Comptoir général de la photographie' owned by Felix-Max Richard. Léon Gaumont later took over and headed the company.[14][15]

Career[edit]

Gaumont, France[edit]

In 1894, Guy-Blaché was hired by Felix-Max Richard to work for a camera manufacturing and photography supply company as a secretary. The company changed hands in 1895 due to a court decision against Felix-Max Richard who sold the company to four men: Gustave Eiffel, Joseph Vallot, Alfred Besnier, and Léon Gaumont. Gustave Eiffel was president of the company, and Léon Gaumont, thirty years Eiffel's junior, was the manager. The company was named after Gaumont because Eiffel was the subject of a national scandal regarding the Panama Canal.[16] L. Gaumont et Cie became a major force in the fledgling motion-picture industry in France. Alice continued to work at Gaumont et Cie, a decision that led to a pioneering career in filmmaking that spanned more than 25 years and involved her directing, producing, writing and/or overseeing more than 700 films.[17]

Although she initially began working for Léon Gaumont as his secretary, she began to become familiar with myriad clients, relevant marketing strategies, and the company's stock of cameras. She also met a handful of pioneering film engineers such as Georges Demenÿ and Auguste and Louis Lumière.[18]

Guy-Blaché and Gaumont attended the "surprise"[19] Lumière event on March 22, 1895. It was the first demonstration of film projection, an obstacle that Gaumont, the Lumières, and Edison were all racing to solve. They screened one of their early films Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory, and it consisted of a simple scene of workmen leaving the Lumière plant in Lyon. Bored with the idea of captured film only being used for the scientific and/or promotional purpose of selling cameras in the form of "demonstration films", she was confident that she could incorporate fictional story-telling elements into film. She asked Gaumont for permission to make her own film, and he granted it.[citation needed]

Alice Guy-Blaché made her first film in 1896. Its original title may have been La Fée aux Choux (The Fairy of the Cabbages), or “The Birth of Children,” or it may have had no title at first. The scene Alice described as her debut effort does not match either the 1900 version of La Fée aux Choux or the 1902 version, retitled Sage-Femme de première classe, both of which have been found in film archives. By comparing Alice’s descriptions of her debut effort with the two films that are available for us to view, we discover differences that indicate there was a third film that came first. The 1896 film seems to be lost,[21] however multiple points of confirmation indicate that there were three different La Fée aux Choux.<[20] A 30 July 1896 newspaper describes a "chaste fiction of children born under the cabbages in a wonderfully framed chromo landscape," and provides other details that confirm Alice's description of her first film.[18][19][20] "Before very long," Alice reported in 1912, "every moving picture house in the country was turning out stories instead of spectacles and plots instead of panoramas."[21]

From 1896 to 1906, Guy-Blaché was Gaumont's head of production and is generally considered to be the first filmmaker to systematically develop narrative filmmaking. She was probably the only female director from 1896 to 1906.[22] Her earlier films share many characteristics and themes with her contemporary competitors, such as the Lumières and Méliès. She explored dance and travel films, often combining the two, such as Le Bolero performed by Miss Saharet (1905) and Tango (1905). Many of Guy-Blaché's early dance films were popular in music-hall attractions such as the serpentine dance films – also a staple of the Lumières and Thomas Edison film catalogs.[14]

In 1906, she made The Life of Christ, a big-budget production for the time, which included 300 extras. She used the illustrated Tissot New Testament as reference material for the film, which featured 25 episodes and was her largest production at Gaumont to date. 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. She employed some of the first special effects, including using double exposure, masking techniques, and running a film backwards.[23] During her tenure at Gaumont, Guy-Blaché hired and trained Louis Feuillade and Étienne Arnaud as writers and directors, and hired set designer Henri Ménessier and art director Ben Carré.[citation needed]

Solax[edit]

Still from Two Little Rangers (1912)

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 U.S., 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.[17][23]

With production facilities for their new company in Flushing, New York, her husband served as production manager as well as cinematographer, and Guy-Blaché worked as the artistic director and directed many of its releases. Within two years, they had become so successful that they invested more than $100,000 into new and technologically advanced production facilities in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Many early film studios were based in Fort Lee at the beginning of the 20th century.[24][25][26] It was mentioned in publications of the era that Guy-Blaché placed a large sign in her studio that read: 'Be Natural'.[17]

In 1913, Guy-Blaché directed The Thief, the first script sold by future Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston.[citation needed]

Guy-Blaché and her husband divorced several years later, and with the rise of the more hospitable and cost-effective climate in Hollywood, their film partnership also ended.[citation needed]

Legacy[edit]

“There is nothing connected with the staging of a motion picture that a woman cannot do as easily as a man, and there is no reason she cannot master every technicality of the art...In the arts of acting, painting, music and literature women have long held their place among the most successful workers, and when it is considered how vitally these arts enter into the production of motion pictures one wonders why the names of scores of women are not found among the most successful creators of photodrama offerings.“—Alice Guy-Blaché in The Moving Picture World, July 11, 1914.[27]

In the late 1940s, Guy-Blaché wrote an autobiography; it was published, in French, in 1976, and was translated into English a decade later with the help of her daughter Simone, daughter-in-law Roberta Blaché, and the film writer Anthony Slide. Guy-Blaché was tremendously concerned with her unexplained absence from the historical record of the film industry. She was in constant communication with colleagues and film historians correcting previously made and supposedly factual statements about her life. She crafted lengthy lists of her films as she remembered them, with the hope of being able to assume creative ownership and get legitimate credit for them.[28]

She was the subject of a National Film Board of Canada documentary The Lost Garden: The Life and Cinema of Alice Guy-Blaché by director Marquise Lepage, which received Quebec's Gemeaux Award for Best Documentary.[29] In 2002, film scholar Alison McMahan published Alice Guy Blaché: Lost Visionary of the Cinema.[30] Guy-Blaché is considered by some to have been the first female filmmaker,[31] and from 1896 to 1920, she directed over 1,000 films, some 150 of which survive, and 22 of which are feature-length. She was one of the early women, along with Lois Weber, to manage and own her own studio: The Solax Company. Few of her films survive in an easily viewable format. In December 2018 Kino Lorber released a six-disc box, Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers, made in cooperation with the Library of Congress, the British Film Institute and others. The first disc of the set is devoted to the films of Alice Guy-Blaché and includes Matrimony's Speed Limit (1913) which was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2003.[32][33][34] The 2018 documentary film Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché, directed by Pamela B. Green and narrated by Jodie Foster, which opened at the Cannes Film Festival (Cannes Classics), deals with Guy-Blaché's life, career, and legacy.[35]

Because of Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché, many of Guy-Blaché's films were restored and preserved, and a pillar in her name will be featured at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.[citation needed]

In September 2019, Guy-Blaché was included in The New York Times series "Overlooked No More".[36]

As reported by Deadline in 2021, Pamela B. Green is developing a feature biopic about Alice Guy-Blaché.[37]

Guy-Blaché was an early influence on both Alfred Hitchcock and Sergei Eisenstein. Hitchcock remarked, "I’d be over the moon with the Frenchman George Méliès, I was thrilled by the movies of D.W. Griffith, and the early French director Alice Guy."[38]

In his Memoirs, Eisenstein described an unnamed film he had seen as a child that continued to be very important for him. This film was identified as Alice Guy-Blaché's The Consequences of Feminism (1906) during the making of the documentary Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché.[39]

Personal life[edit]

Catherine Calvert in House of Cards (1917), written and directed by Alice Guy-Blaché
Still from Tarnished Reputations (1920)

Guy-Blaché's marriage meant that she had to resign from her position working with Gaumont. The couple was sent by the Gaumont company to Cleveland to facilitate the franchise of Gaumont equipment. Early in 1908, the couple went to New York City where Guy-Blaché gave birth to her daughter, Simone in September 1908.[40] Two years later, Guy-Blaché became the first woman to run her own studio when she created Solax in Gaumont's Flushing studio. In 1912, when she was pregnant with her second child, she built a studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey, and continued to complete one to three films a week. On 27 June 1912, Reginald, her son was born. To focus on writing and directing, Guy-Blaché took her husband into Solax in 1913 "for feature production and executive direction".[41]

Shortly after taking the position, Herbert Blaché started a film company named Blaché Features, Inc. For the next few years, the couple maintained a personal and business partnership, working together on many projects. In 1918, Herbert Blaché left his wife and children to pursue a career in Hollywood.[42] Guy-Blaché almost died from the Spanish flu pandemic in October 1918 while filming her final film Tarnished Reputations.[43] Following her illness, she joined Herbert in Hollywood in 1919 but they lived separately. She worked as Herbert's directing assistant on his two films starring Alla Nazimova.[44]

Guy-Blaché directed her last film in 1919. In 1921, she was forced to auction her film studio and other possessions in bankruptcy. Alice and Herbert were officially divorced in 1922. She returned to France in 1922 and never made another film.[45]

Death[edit]

Guy-Blaché never remarried, and in 1964 she returned to the United States to live in Wayne, New Jersey, with her older child, her daughter, Simone. On 24 March 1968, at the age of 94, Guy-Blaché died in a nursing home[46]in New Jersey. She is interred at Maryrest Cemetery.[47][better source needed]

Accolades and tributes[edit]

In 1953, Guy-Blaché was awarded the Légion d'honneur, the highest non-military award France offers. On 16 March 1957, she was honored in a Cinématheque Française ceremony that went unnoticed by the press.[46]

In 2002, Circle X Theatre in Los Angeles produced Laura Comstock's Bag-punching Dog, a musical about the invention of cinema, and Guy-Blaché was a lead character. The musical was written by Jillian Armenante, Alice Dodd, and Chris Jeffries. In 2011, an off-Broadway production of Flight[48] premiered at the Connelly Theatre, featuring a fictionalized portrayal of Guy-Blaché as a 1913 documentary filmmaker.[citation needed]

In 2004, a historic marker dedicated to Guy-Blaché was unveiled at the location of Solax Studio by the Fort Lee Film Commission. In 2012, for the centennial of the founding and building of the studio, the Commission raised funds to replace her grave marker in Maryrest Cemetery in Mahwah, New Jersey. The new marker includes the Solax logo and notes Guy-Blaché's role as a cinema pioneer.[citation needed]

In 2010, the Academy Film Archive preserved Guy-Blaché's short film The Girl in the Arm-Chair.[49] In 2011, the Fort Lee Film Commission successfully lobbied the Directors Guild of America to accept Alice Guy-Blaché as a member.[50] She was subsequently awarded a posthumous "Special Directorial Award for Lifetime Achievement" at the 2011 DGA Honors.[51] In 2013, Guy-Blaché was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.[52][53]

In 2013, a square in the 14th arrondissement of Paris was named the Place Alice-Guy [fr] in her honor.[citation needed]

In 2019, The re-edited and expanded version of Eisenstein’s memoirs, Yo. Memoirs by Sergei Eisenstein mention Alice's The Consequences of Feminism and its influence on Eisenstein.[39]

In 2021, Yale University unveiled its new state-of-the-art screening room, named the Alice Cinema, after Alice Guy-Blaché.[54]

The Golden Door Film Festival gives an award named in her honor.[citation needed]

Selected filmography[edit]

These films were produced by Gaumont (1896–1907), Solax (1910–1913), or others (1914–1920).[55]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Nicolas Aubert, her grandfather, died 11 October 1872[citation needed]
  2. ^ sometimes referred to as Sacred Heart
  3. ^ arrondissement of Viry
  4. ^ Her sisters were already there; her older brother died on 16 May 1880 at age 13[11]

References[edit]

  1. ^ As reported in the margins of p. 91 of birth certificate Archived March 31, 2014, at the Wayback Machine from the city of Saint-Mandé.
  2. ^ "Alice Guy-Blaché". Biography.com. A&E Television Networks. Retrieved 25 February 2018.
  3. ^ "Alice Guy-Blaché". Women Film Pioneers Project. Retrieved 25 February 2018.
  4. ^ Weitzman, Elizabeth (26 April 2019). "A Century Late, a Giant of Early Cinema Gets Her Closeup". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 April 2019.
  5. ^ "AFI FEST". Retrieved 25 February 2018.
  6. ^ Archives de Paris, Marriages, 18 Juilliet 1865, Clichy Hauts de Seine, 4 E/CLI_66.
  7. ^ New York Times, South America, Terrible Ravages of Small-Pox on the West Coast, 26 September 1872. British Medical Journal, vol. 1, 1875
  8. ^ Guy-Blaché 1996, p. 2.
  9. ^ Guy-Blaché 1996, p. 3.
  10. ^ The Famous Boarding School at Veyrier, Janelle Dietrick, 2021.
  11. ^ Actes d'état civil, Archives de Paris, 1880 Décès, 18eme, V4E5022, page 20
  12. ^ Archives de Paris, Décès 6e arr. 5 Janvier 1891 V4E5962
  13. ^ Le Temps, 25 February 1892, La mutualité maternelle
  14. ^ a b Simon, Joan (2009). Alice Guy Blaché Cinema Pioneer. ISBN 978-0-300-15250-0.
  15. ^ Dietrick 2016, p. [page needed].
  16. ^ Les premieres annees de la societe L. Gaumont et Cie, Correspondance commercialed de Leon Gaumont 1895–1899. Corcy, Malthete, Mannoni, Laurent, Meusy, 1998
  17. ^ a b c "The Lost Garden: The Life and Cinema of Alice Guy-Blaché". Nfb.ca. 2 May 2012. Retrieved 24 June 2012.
  18. ^ Alice Guy (1 January 1996). The Memoirs of Alice Guy Blaché. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-3104-9.
  19. ^ Bachy, Victor. Entretiens avec Alice Guy. p. 41.
  20. ^ Dietrick 2018, p. [page needed].
  21. ^ "How a Woman Makes a Fortune out of "Movies"". Part V: Drama and Fashion. New York Tribune. Tribune Association. 72 (24115): 6. 24 November 1912. ISSN 1941-0646. OCLC 730033564.
  22. ^ "Alice Guy Blaché – Women Film Pioneers Project". wfpp.cdrs.columbia.edu. Retrieved 31 March 2016.
  23. ^ a b McMahan 2002, p. [page needed].
  24. ^ Koszarski, Richard (2004), Fort Lee: The Film Town, Rome, Italy: John Libbey Publishing, ISBN 978-0-86196-653-0
  25. ^ "Fort Lee Film Commission". Fort Lee Film Commission. Archived from the original on 5 April 2011. Retrieved 19 December 2016.
  26. ^ Fort Lee Film Commission (2006), Fort Lee Birthplace of the Motion Picture Industry, Arcadia Publishing, ISBN 978-0-7385-4501-1
  27. ^ Koszarski 1976, pp. 8, 11; composite quote.
  28. ^ Simon, Joan (2009). The Great Adventure: Alice Guy Blaché, Cinema Pioneer. Whitney Museum of American Art. pp. 1–5. ISBN 978-0-300-15250-0.
  29. ^ "The Lost Garden: The Life and Cinema of Alice Guy-Blaché". Collection. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 6 August 2012.
  30. ^ "Alice Guy Blaché: Lost Visionary of the Cinema". Bloomsbury Press. Retrieved 25 May 2018.
  31. ^ Justin Morrow (9 March 2017). "Alice Guy-Blaché, the World's First Female Filmmaker, Wrote, Directed, and Produced Over 700 Films". No Film School. Retrieved 25 May 2018.
  32. ^ Castillo, Monica. "Kino Lorber's Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers Box Set is a Treasure Trove of Silent Film History | TV/Streaming | Roger Ebert". www.rogerebert.com. Retrieved 5 May 2020.
  33. ^ "'Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers' Brings Forth a Time When, Unlike Today, Women Made Lots of Movies". PopMatters. 25 January 2019. Retrieved 5 May 2020.
  34. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing | Film Registry | National Film Preservation Board | Programs at the Library of Congress | Library of Congress". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 5 May 2020.
  35. ^ Leslie Felperin (13 May 2018). "'Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blache': Film Review | Cannes 2018". Retrieved 25 May 2018.
  36. ^ New York Times (6 September 2019). "Overlooked No More: Alice Guy Blaché, the World's First Female Filmmaker". New York Times.
  37. ^ Wiseman, Andreas (11 January 2021). "Filmmaking Pioneer Alice Guy-Blaché, The First Ever Female Movie Director, Subject Of New Biopic From 'The Great Hack' Duo". Deadline. Retrieved 19 May 2021.
  38. ^ Chandler, Charlotte (2006). It's Only a Movie Alfred Hitchcock: A Personal Biography. New York, London, Toronto, Sydney: Pocket Books. p. 39. ISBN 0743492293.
  39. ^ a b Eisenstein, Sergei (2019). Yo. Memoirs. The Eisenstein Center. Russia: Garage Museum of Contemporary Art. pp. 283, 443.
  40. ^ McMahan 2009, p. 126.
  41. ^ "Herbert Blaché joins Solax". Moving Picture World. New York: Moving Picture Exhibitors' Association. 16 (11): 1145. 14 June 1913. OCLC 894174294 – via Internet Archive.
  42. ^ McMahan 2009, p. 128.
  43. ^ "Mme. Blache Ill". Wid's Daily [The Film Daily]. New York: Wid's Films and Film Folk Inc. 27 October 1918. OCLC 1045399826.
  44. ^ McMahan 2009, pp. 128–129.
  45. ^ McMahan 2009, p. 129.
  46. ^ a b McMahan 1997.
  47. ^ Alice Guy Blaché at Find a Grave
  48. ^ "Flight". Pacific Performance Project East. 2012. Archived from the original on 28 December 2013. Retrieved 23 June 2012.
  49. ^ "Preserved Projects". Academy Film Archive. Retrieved 19 December 2016.
  50. ^ Svetlana Shkolnikova. "North.Jersey.com". NorthJersey.com. Retrieved 11 November 2014.
  51. ^ "2011 DGA Honors Recipients Announced -". www.dga.org.
  52. ^ Svetlana Shkolnikova. "New Jersey Hall of Fame". NorthJersey.com. Retrieved 11 November 2014.
  53. ^ "2013 Inductees". New Jersey Hall of Fame. 9 April 2014. Retrieved 25 April 2020.
  54. ^ Gonzalez, Susan (1 April 2021). "Humanities Quadrangle: A cherished Yale icon reimagined". YaleNews. Retrieved 19 May 2021.
  55. ^ Dietrick 2017, pp. 1, 3–326.
  56. ^ "Silent Era : Progressive Silent Film List". Silent Era. 1 January 2021. Retrieved 28 March 2021.

Sources[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Guy-Blaché, Alice (1976). Autobiographie d'une pionnière du cinéma : 1873-1968 (in French). Denoël-Gonthier. OCLC 1033084385. This contains many passages and words not translated into the English editions.

External links[edit]