Guy, Alice 1873(?)-1968
Guy, Alice 1873(?)-1968
(Alice Blaché, Alice Guy-Blaché)
Born July 1, 1873 (some sources say 1875), in Saint-Mandé, France; died March 24, 1968, in Mahwah, NJ; daughter of a bookseller; married Herbert Blaché-Bolton, 1907 (divorced, 1922); children: Simone, Reginald.
Director, producer, and author. Secretary to French filmmaker Léon Gaumont, 1895-1896; Gaumont (film studio), director of production, 1897-1907; independent filmmaker, 1907-17; assistant director to husband, Herbert Blaché-Bolton, 1919-20. Director of short films, most for Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont, including La Fée aux choux, 1896; Une nuit agitée, 1897; Le Planton du colonel, 1897; Idylle, 1897; Ballet libella, 1897; Le Jardin des oliviers, 1898; La Flagellation, 1898; Transformations, 1899; La Descente de croix, 1899; Valse lente, 1900; La Tarantelle, 1900; Ste. de la danse, 1900; Lecture quotidienne, 1901; Scene d'amour, 1901; Pour secour la salade, 1902; Le Pommier, 1902; Potage indigeste, 1903; Les Surprises de l'affichage, 1903; La Mouche, 1903; Les Enfants du miracle, 1904; Les Deux rivaux, 1904; Le Crime de la Rue du Temple, 1904; and La Fée printemps, 1906. Director of feature films, most for Solax Film, including The Violin Maker of Nuremberg, 1911; In the Year 2000, 1912; Fra Diavolo, 1912; The Face at the Window, 1912; A Terrible Night, 1913; and The Rogues of Paris, 1913. Film producer, including Hubby Does the Washing, 1912; The Sewer, 1912; A Fool and His Money, 1912; Shadows of the Moulin Rouge, 1913; The Heart of a Painted Woman, 1915; What Will People Say?, 1916; and Tarnished Reputations, 1920. Lecturer on filmmaking, Columbia University, 1917.
Legion of Honor (France), 1953.
Autobiographie d'une pionnière du cinéma, 1873-1968, Denoël/Gonthier (Paris, France), 1976, published as The Memoirs of Alice Guy Blaché, translated by Roberta and Simone Blaché, edited by Anthony Slide, Scarecrow Press (Metuchen, NJ), 1986.
Also author of children's books. Contributor to periodicals such as Motion Picture World.
(And director) Dick Whittington and His Cat, Solax Film, 1913.
(And producer) Beasts of the Jungle, 1913.
(Under name Alice Blaché) Kelly from the Emerald Isle, Solax Film, 1913.
(And producer; under name Alice Blaché) Shadows of the Moulin Rouge, Solax Film, 1913.
(And director; under name Alice Blaché) Beneath the Czar, Solax Film, 1914.
The Dream Woman (adapted from the novel by Wilkie Collins), Blaché Features, 1914.
(And producer and director; under name Alice Blaché) The Woman of Mystery, Blaché Features, 1914.
(And director) The Lure, Blaché Features, 1914.
(And director; under name Alice Blaché; with Aaron Hoffman) My Madonna, Popular Plays and Players, 1915.
(And director; with Frederick Chapin and Holbrook Blinn) The Empress, Popular Plays and Players, 1917.
(And director, with Herbert Blaché; under name Alice Blaché) A Man and the Woman (adapted from the novel by Émile Zola), U.S. Amusement, 1917.
(And director; under name Alice Guy-Blaché) House of Cards, U.S. Amusement, 1917.
Alice Guy is widely considered the first female movie director in history, as well as being the first person to make a narrative film. The storyfilm was quite possibly "invented" by her in 1896 when she made The Cabbage Fairy (La Fée aux choux) a whimsical short film about a magical being who creates children in a cabbage patch. Some historians claim that films of Louis Lumière and Georges Méliès preceded Guy's first film. The question remains under debate; Guy claimed precedence, devoting much of her lifetime to correcting recorded errors attributing her films to her male colleagues, and trying to secure her earned niche in film history.
The daughter of a bookseller who imparted in her a deep love of literature and the arts, Guy demonstrated a strong sense of independence by learning shorthand and typing, skills that would allow her to make a living even after her father died, "a still rare accomplishment for women of pre-turn of the century France," according to Ally Acker on the Reel Women Web site. She became a secretary for French filmmaker Léon Gaumont in 1885, when Gaumont was still solely a manufacturer of still-photography equipment. A visit by the renowned Louis Lumière in 1885 introduced Guy to the newly devised movie camera, an invention that captivated Guy. After Gaumont made his own version of Lumière's camera, there still seemed to be little practical use for the device. Guy, however, realized the camera's potential. She proposed to Gaumont that she be allowed to showcase the camera's use by making very short films of her own creation, which Gaumont agreed to as long as her secretarial duties did not suffer, Acker reported. La Fée aux choux was shown at the International Exhibition in France in 1896, and proved to be a sensation, creating intense interest in Gaumont's motion picture camera and equipment. Guy was subsequently relieved of her secretarial duties when she was reassigned as head of Gaumont's new motion picture production company.
Between 1896 and 1901, Guy made films averaging just seventy-five feet in length, with a running time of one or two minutes; from 1902 to 1907 she made numerous films of all types and lengths using acrobats, clowns, and opera singers, as well as large casts in ambitious productions based on fairy and folk tales, biblical themes, paintings, and myths. In 1906, Guy is credited for filming La Fée printemps (The Spring Fairy) one of the first movies ever shot in color. Guy was also known for pioneering a number of visual techniques and special effects, such as running film in reverse and the use of double exposure, which were learned through trial and error. In the mid-1900s, she also produced "talking pictures," using Gaumont's Chronophone, a recording device that synchronized a projector with sound recorded on a wax cylinder.
One of these sound films, Mireille, was made by Guy in 1906, and its production would have far-reaching consequences for her when Herbert Blaché, an English cameraman and head of Gaumont's London office, joined the film crew to learn directing. The collaboration produced more than a film; Alice Guy and Herbert Blaché were married in early 1907. The couple moved to the United States, where they eventually set up a studio in Flushing, New York. The Blachés then established the Solax Company in Manhattan. In its four years of existence, Solax released 325 films, including westerns, military movies, thrillers, and historical romances. Guy's first picture in the United States was 1910's A Child's Sacrifice, which centers on a girl's attempts to earn money for her family. In her 1912 film Hotel Honeymoon, the moon comes alive to smile at human lovers, while in The Violin Maker of Nuremberg two apprentices contend for the affections of their instructor's daughter.
The Blachés next built their own studio at Fort Lee, New Jersey, a facility with a daily printing capacity of 16,000 feet of positive film. For its inauguration in February 1912, Guy presented an evening of Solax films at Weber's Theatre on Broadway. In that year she filmed two movies based on operas: Fra Diavolo and Mignon, both of which were three-reelers that included orchestral accompaniment. Her boldest enterprises were films using animals and automobiles.
A number of Guy's films have strong political overtones and offer sharp social commentaries, especially in what has been recognized as their feminist sensibility in a time when feminism as a modern concept and movement did not exist. The Lure, for example, which Guy also wrote, was a reaction to a tour of the notorious Sing-Sing prison. The film criticizes white slavery and calls for prison reform. Other films address religious subjects, such as La vie du Christ, which reconstructs the life of Christ in film. "Guy populates the symbolic imagination of her biblical illustrations with a female gaze that includes the manufacture of a life of Christ that is significantly feminist in nature and takes place in the feminized, privatized home-like sphere," observed Gwendolyn Audrey Foster in Film Criticism. Guy "has been unfairly dismissed by some critics as a nonfeminist, apparently because her practical, direct feminism does not fit categorically within prescribed late twentieth century models of performative feminist discourse," added Foster. "In performing her own style of feminism, Guy, like many other women of her time, was able to embody both the archetype of the New Woman and the Angel of the House," Foster concluded. By 1919 the rise of the major motion picture studios had made it nearly impossible for independent studios to compete, and Guy's studio felt these pressures acutely. Major changes in the film industry finally forced the Blachés out of business. They rented, and later sold, their studio, then directed films for others. Guy "began to hire out her talents to the larger companies, but it was clear that her career as an independent voice in the industry was all but finished," Acker reported. In 1922 the Blachés divorced. Herbert directed films until 1930, but Alice could not find film work and never made another film. She returned to France, but without prints of her films she had no evidence of her accomplishments and could not find work in the French film industry. She returned to the United States in 1927 to search the Library of Congress and other film depositories for her films, but her efforts were in vain: only a half-dozen of her onereelers survive today.
Guy wrote a number of children's books, but she never achieved the level of fame from her literary works that she had with her films. In 1953 she returned to Paris, where, at age eighty, she was honored as the first woman filmmaker in the world and made a knight of the French Legion of Honor. Her films, characterized by innovation and novelty, explored all genres and successfully appealed to both French and American audiences. After nearly a century, she is finally being recognized as a unique pioneer of the film industry. Foster commented of Guy: "For the most part, her films have been overlooked by historians because of the incorrect assumption that they represent a footnote to film history, rather than being one of the first major bodies of performative narrative cinema. Indeed, as one of the first persons to direct a film with a narrative structure, and thus to direct actors to convey the essence of the narrative through gestures and actions, Alice Guy is one of the originators of filmic performativity, both in theory and in practice."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Acker, Ally, Reel Women: Pioneers of the Cinema, 1896 to the Present, Chrysalis Books (New York, NY), 1991.
Guy-Blaché, Alice, The Memoirs of Alice Guy Blaché, translated by Roberta and Simone Blaché, edited by Anthony Slide, Scarecrow Press (Metuchen, NJ), 1986.
Film Criticism, fall, 1998, Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, "Performativity and Gender in Alice Guy's La Vie du Christ," p. 6.
Films in Review, March, 1964, Charles Ford, "The First Female Producer"; April, 1964, F.L. Smith, "Alice Guy-Blaché."
Photoplay, March, 1912, H.Z. Levine, "Madame Alice Blaché."
Screen, winter, 1990, Ginette Vincendeau, "Feminism and the French Cinema."
Sight and Sound, summer, 1971, Francis Lacassin, "Out of Oblivion: Alice Guy-Blaché."
Reel Women Web site,http://www.reelwomen.com/ (July 14, 2006), Ally Acker, biography of Alice Guy-Blaché.
Who's Who of Victorian Cinema Web site,http://www.victorian-cinema.net/ (June 14, 2006), Luke McKernan, biography of Alice Guy-Blaché.