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Alice Guy-Blaché

Alice Guy-Blaché French film director (1873-1968)

French film director (1873-1968)
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro French film director (1873-1968)
Known for A Fool and His Money
A.K.A. Alice Guy-Blache, Alice Guy
Was Film producer Actor Film director Screenwriter Author Film actor
From France
Type Film, Television, Stage and Radio Literature
Gender female
Birth 1 July 1873, Saint-Mandé, France
Death 24 March 1968, Wayne, USA (aged 94 years)
Star sign CancerCancer
Family
Spouse: Herbert Blaché
Alice Guy-Blaché
The details
Biography

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

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.

Early life and education

In 1865, Alice's father, Emile Guy, an owner of a bookstore and publishing company in Santiago 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.

There was a devastating smallpox epidemic in Chile in 1872 and 1873. Emile and Marie Guy brought all four of their children back to Paris, where Alice was born. In her autobiography, Alice refers to her mother's attempt to make sure "one of her children should be French". 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. At the age of three or four, Alice's mother returned from Chile and took Alice back to South America.

At the age of six, Alice was taken back to France by her father to attend school at the Convent of the Sacred Heart (also known as the Faithful Companions of Jesus) on the French side of the Swiss border in Veyrier, France (arrondissement of Viry). (Her sisters were already there.) Alice and her sister Rose were moved to a convent in Ferney a few years later and then brought back to Paris.

Alice's father died on January 5, 1891 of unknown causes. Following his death, Alice trained as a typist and stenographer, a new field at the time, to support herself and her widowed 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 would later take over and head the company.

Career

Gaumont, France

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 Leon Gaumont. Gustave Eiffel was president of the company, and Leon 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. 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.

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.

Guy-Blaché and Gaumont attended the "surprise" Lumière event on March 22, 1895. It was the first demonstration of film projection, an obstacle that Gaumont and the Lumières (as well as Edison) were racing to solve. They screened one of their early films Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory, and it only 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.

Guy-Blaché's first film, and arguably the world's first narrative film, was called La Fée aux Choux (The Cabbage Fairy), in 1896. The scene Alice described does not match either the 1900 version or the 1902 version that have been discovered. Alice said she filmed the first version in 1896. A July 30, 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.

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. 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.

In 1906, she made The Life of Christ, a big budget production for the time, which included 300 extras. She used the illustrated Tissot Bible as reference material for the film, which featured  twenty-five 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.

Solax

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.

With production facilities for their new company in Flushing, Queens, New York City, 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. It was mentioned in publications of the era that Guy-Blaché placed a large sign in her studio that read: 'Be Natural'.

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.

Legacy

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.

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. In 2002, film scholar Alison McMahan published Alice Guy Blaché: Lost Visionary of the Cinema. Guy-Blaché is considered by some to have been the first female filmmaker, 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 first 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.

The 2018 documentary film Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché, directed by Pamela B. Green and narrated by Jodie Foster, deals with Guy-Blaché's life, career, and legacy.

In September 2019, Guy-Blaché was included in the New York Times series Overlooked No More.

Personal life

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 where Guy-Blaché gave birth to her daughter, Simone in September 1908. 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. To focus on writing and directing, Guy-Blaché made her husband the president of Solax in 1913.

Shortly after taking the position, Herbert Blaché started a film company called 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. Guy-Blaché almost died from the Spanish flu pandemic in October 1919 while filming her final film Tarnished Reputations. 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.

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 a film again.

Death

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

Accolades and tributes

In 1953, Guy-Blaché 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.

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 premiered at the Connelly Theatre, featuring a fictionalized portrayal of Guy-Blaché as a 1913 documentary filmmaker.

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.

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

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

The Golden Door Film Festival gives an award named in her honor.

Selected filmography

  • La Fée aux Choux (The Fairy of the Cabbages; 1896)
  • Le chiffonnier (1898)
  • Danse serpentine (1900)
  • Bataille de boules de neige (1900)
  • Les chiens savants (1902)
  • La Esméralda (1905) (based on the Victor Hugo novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
  • Une histoire roulante (1906)
  • The Life of Christ (1906)
  • Les Résultats du féminisme (1906)
  • La barricade (1907)
  • Fanfan la Tulipe (1907)
  • One Touch of Nature (1910)
  • The Sergeant's Daughter (1910)
  • The Pawnshop (1910)
  • Greater Love Hath No Man (1911)
  • Algie the Miner (1912)
  • Falling Leaves (1912)
  • A Fool and His Money (1912)
  • Making an American Citizen (1912)
  • The Girl in the Armchair (1912)
  • The Pit and the Pendulum (1913)
  • Matrimony's Speed Limit (1913)
  • A House Divided (1913)
  • Shadows of the Moulin Rouge (1913)
  • The Lure (1914)
  • The Shooting of Dan McGrew (1915)
  • The Vampire (1915)
  • The Ocean Waif (1916)
  • What Will People Say? (1916)
  • The Adventurer (1917)
  • The Great Adventure (1918)
  • Tarnished Reputations (1920)

Sources

  • 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.
  • Dietrick, Janelle. Alice & Eiffel, A New History of Early Cinema and the Love Story Kept Secret for a Century. 2016, Print and ebook.
  • Dietrick, Janelle. Illuminating Moments: The Films of Alice Guy Blaché. 2017, Print and ebook.
  • Dietrick, Janelle. La Fée aux Choux, Alice Guy's Garden of Dreams. 2018, ebook.
  • 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.
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References
http://archives.cg94.fr/consultation/eta/img-viewer/etat-civil/94067/1MI_002595_01/viewer.htmlher
https://web.archive.org/web/20140331070026/http://archives.cg94.fr/consultation/eta/img-viewer/etat-civil/94067/1MI_002595_01/viewer.htmlher
http://www.biography.com/people/alice-guy-blach%C3%A9-37846#death-and-legacy
https://wfpp.cdrs.columbia.edu/pioneer/ccp-alice-guy-blache/
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/26/movies/alice-guy-blache-be-natural.html
http://afifest.afi.com/2002/sections/a-fool-and-his-money
http://www.nfb.ca/collection/films/fiche/?id=32905
https://archive.org/details/memoirsofalicegu00guya
https://wfpp.cdrs.columbia.edu/pioneer/ccp-alice-guy-blache
https://books.google.com/books?id=JoGCsatYi5sC
https://books.google.com/books?id=5w0r8YKan04C&printsec=frontcover&dq=Fort+Lee:+the+film+town+Door+Richard+Koszarski
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