Alice Guy Blaché more than deserves the first individual mention of this Women’s History Month.
When I first watched this video of a movie from 1995, I almost cried. If I had not spent most of my allotment of tears in February, I would have cried from frustration and rage. Everyone who is a student of history, women’s history, film, women founders, and so many more areas should know about this woman. I did not until quite recently. Perhaps my ignorance about her is because I exited from studies at university before Women’s Studies departments and courses were commonplace.
Between 1896 and 1920 Alice Guy-Blaché directed more than 1000 films.
Women are written out of history with such a wickedly sharp blade. Alice Guy Blaché’s story is so iconic. It seems that almost every stumbling block and tripwire that women may encounter was eventually placed in her path. When she turned much of the running of a successful company over to her husband after a successful stint in the then mecca of film-making in New Jersey, he ran off with a leading lady, gave most of her film rights away to distributors, and eventually after she followed to the then nascent Hollywood, they divorced and in the process, and she lost everything. She moved back to France with her children. There she was deemed too old to re-enter the industry. She was left out of documents in which her collaborators took credit for all early film work without ever mentioning her.
Alice was the first women film director (and producer, writer…) and the only one for almost two decades.
- In 1896, Guy wrote, produced and directed her first film, The Cabbage Fairy (La Fée aux choux), She worked at Gaumont laboratories, a photography company, as a secretary, where she met leading photographers and filmmakers in the earliest days of film in France in the late 19th Century. She convinced her employer to allow her to make a film and it was successful. She then did more films for this company, and went on to create her own films and company.
- She directed, produced, and often was screenwriter for as many as 1000 films between
- The first decades of her career might have seemed a storybook tale, but her success was based on her intelligence, her ability to manage large-scale projects, and was based on her hard work. Her feminine, integrative, and non-hierarchical approaches to creation of stories on film added to her success and the respect accorded her.
- Alice used sound synchronization and colorized film long before these came into use in the U.S.
- She was the genius who provided the basis of the success of a company formed with her husband.
- A pioneer in so many ways, she incorporated slapstick comedy before Chaplin. She used real locations for backdrops and created multi-layered sets and lighting, and added context to staging.
The less than fortunate elements of her story are very familiar to women 100 years later: joining forces with a man who betrays the woman yet reaps the financial benefits while the woman suffers financially, men grabbing credit for ideas first presented by women, being written out of historical documentation written by men, being aged out of an industry decades before a man would be considered too old to lead.
Thank heavens for female descendants. The film posted as video above is narrated by Alice’s granddaughter. Alice’s daughter also speaks in the film.
A documentary, Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché, directed by Pamela B. Green was released in 2017.