Nationality: French. Born: Born in Saint-Mandé, 1 July 1873. Also known as Alice Guy-Blaché and Alice Blaché. Education: Convent du Sacré-Coeur, Viry, France 1879–85; religious school at Ferney, and brief term in Paris; studied stenography. Family: Married Herbert Blaché-Bolton, 1907 (divorced 1922), two children. Career: Secretary to Léon Gaumont, 1895; directed first film, La Fée aux choux, 1896 (some sources give 1900); director of Gaumont film production, 1897–1907; using Gaumont "chronophone," made first sound films, 1900; moved to United States with husband, who was to supervise Gaumont subsidiary Solax, 1907; ceased independent production, lectured on filmmaking at Columbia University, 1917; assistant director to husband, 1919–20; returned to France, 1922; moved to United States, 1964. Awards: Legion of Honor, 1955. Died: In Mahwah, New Jersey, 24 March 1968.
Films as Director and Scriptwriter:
La Fée aux choux (The Cabbage Fairy)
Le Pêcheur dans le torrent; Leçon de danse; Baignade dans letorrent; Une nuit agitée; Coucher d'Yvette; Danse fleur delotus; Ballet Libella; Le Planton du colonel; Idylle; L'Aveugle
L'Arroseur arrosé; Au réfectoire; En classe; LesCambrioleurs; Le Cocher de fiacre endormi; Idylleinterrompue; Chez le magnétiseur; Les Farces de Jocko; Scène d'escamotage; Déménagement à la cloche de bois; Je vous y prrrends!
Leçons de boxe; La Vie du Christ (11 tableaux)
Le Tondeur de chiens; Le Déjeuner des enfants; Aucabaret; La Mauvaise Soupe; Un Lunch; Erreur judiciaire; L'Aveugle; La Bonne Absinthe; Danse serpentine par MmeBob Walter; Mésaventure d'un charbonnier; Monnaie delapin; Les Dangers de l'acoolisme; Le Tonnelier; Transformations; Le Chiffonier; Retour des champs; Chez leMaréchal-Ferrant; Marché à la volaille; Courte échelle; L'Angélus; Bataille d'oreillers; Bataille de boules de neige; Le marchand de coco
Avenue de l'Opéra; La petite magicienne; Leçon de danse; Chez le photographe; Sidney's Joujoux series (nine titles); Dans les coulisses; Au Bal de Flore series (three titles); Ballet Japonais series (three titles); Danse serpentine; Danse du pas des foulards par des almées; Danse del'ivresse; Coucher d'une Parisienne; Les Fredaines dePierrette series (four titles); Vénus et Adonis series (five titles); La Tarantelle; Danse des Saisons series (four titles); La Source; Danse du papillon; La Concierge; Danses series (three titles); Chirurgie fin de siècle; Une Rage de dents; Saut humidifié de M. Plick
La Danse du ventre; Lavatory moderne; Lecture quotidienne
(Gaumont "Phonoscènes", i.e. films with synchronized sound recorded on a wax cylinder): Carmen (twelve scenes); Mireille (five scenes); Les Dragons de Villars (nine scenes); Mignon (seven scenes); Faust (twenty-two scenes); Polin series (thirteen titles); Mayol series (thirteen titles); Dranem series of comic songs (twelve titles); Series recorded in Spain (eleven titles); La Prière by Gounod
Folies Masquées series (three titles); Frivolité; Les Vagues; Danse basque; Hussards et grisettes; Charmant FrouFrou; Tel est pris qui croyait prendre
La fiole enchantée; L'Equilibriste; En faction; La PremièreGamelle; La Dent récalcitrante; Le Marchand de ballons; Les Chiens savants; Miss Lina Esbrard Danseuse Cosmopolite et Serpentine series (four titles); Les Clowns; Sage-femme de première classe; Quadrille réaliste; UneScène en cabinet particulier vue à travers le trou de laserrure; Farces de cuisinière; Danse mauresque; Le Lionsavant; Le Pommier; La Cour des miracles; La Gavotte; Trompé mais content; Fruits de saison; Pour secourer lasalade
Potage indigeste; Illusioniste renversant; Le Fiancé ensorcelé; Les Apaches pas veinards; Les Aventures d'un voyageurtrop pressé; Ne bougeons plus; Comment monsieur prendson bain; La Main du professeur Hamilton ou Le Roi desdollars; Service précipité, La Poule fantaisiste; Modelageexpress; Faust et Méphistophélès; Lutteurs américains; LaValise enchantée; Compagnons de voyage encombrants; Cake-Walk de la pendule; Répétition dans un cirque; Jockomusicien; Les Braconniers; La Liqueur du couvent; LeVoleur sacrilège; Enlèvement en automobile et mariageprécipite
Secours aux naufragés; La Mouche; La Chasse aucambrioleur; Nos Bon Etudiants; Les Surprises del'affichage; Comme on fait son lit on se couche; Le Pomponmalencontreux 1; Comment on disperse les foules; LesEnfants du miracle; Pierrot assassin; Les Deux Rivaux
L'Assassinat du Courrier de Lyon; Vieilles Estampes series (four titles); Mauvais coeur puni; Magie noire; Rafle dechiens; Cambrioleur et agent; Scènes Directoire series (three titles); Duel tragique; L'Attaque d'un diligence; Culture intensive ou Le Vieux Mari; Cible humaine; Transformations; Le Jour du terme; Robert Macaire et Bertrand; Electrocutée; La Rêve du chasseur; Le Monolutteur; LesPetits Coupeurs de bois vert; Clown en sac; Triste Fin d'unvieux savant; Le Testament de Pierrot; Les Secrets de laprestidigitation dévoilés; La Faim . . . L' occasion . . .L'herbe tendre; Militaire et nourrice; La Première Cigarette; Départ pour les vacances; Tentative d'assassinat enchemin de fer; Paris la nuit ou Exploits d' apaches àMontamartre; Concours de bébés; Erreur de poivrot; Voléepar les bohémiens (Rapt d' enfant par les romanichels); LesBienfaits du cinématographe; P tissier et ramoneur; Gaged'amour; L'Assassinat de la rue du Temple (Le Crime de larue du Temple); Le Réveil du jardinier; Les Cambrioleursde Paris
Réhabilitation; Douaniers et contrebandiers (La Guérité); LeBébé embarrassant; Comment on dort á Paris!; Le Lorgnonaccusateur; La Charité du prestidigitateur; Une Noce aulac Saint-Fargeau; Le Képi; Le Pantalon coupé; Le Plateau; Roméo pris au piége; Chien jouant á la balle; LaFantassin Guignard; La Statue; Villa dévalisée; Mort deRobert Macaire et Bertrand; Le Pavé; Les Maçons; LaEsmeralda; Peintre et ivrogne; On est poivrot, mais on a ducœur; Au Poulailler!
La Fée au printemps; La Vie du marin; La Chaussette; LaMesse de minuit; Pauvre pompier; Le Régiment moderne; Les Druides; Voyage en Espagne series (fifteen titles); LaVie de Christ (25 tableaux); Conscience de prêtre; L'Honneurdu Corse; J'ai un hanneton dans mon pantalon; Le Fils dugarde-chasse; Course de taureaux à Nîmes; La Pègre deParis; Lèvres closes (Sealed Lips); La Crinoline; La Voiturecellulaire; La Marâtre; Le Matelas alcoolique; A la recherche d'un appartement
La vérité sur l'homme-singe (Ballet de Singe); Déménagement à la cloche de bois; Les Gendarmes; Sur la barricade (L'enfant de la barricade)
A Child's Sacrifice (The Doll)
Rose of the Circus; Across the Mexican Line; Eclipse; A Daughter of the Navajos; The Silent Signal; The Girl and the Bronco Buster; The Mascot of Troop "C"; An Enlisted Man's Honor; The Stampede; The Hold-Up; The Altered Message; His Sister's Sweetheart; His Better Self; A Revolutionary Romance; The Violin Maker of Nuremberg
Mignon or The Child of Fate; A Terrible Lesson; His Lordship's White Feather; Falling Leaves; The Sewer; In the Year 2000; A Terrible Night; Mickey's Pal; Fra Diavolo; Hotel Honeymoon; The Equine Spy; Two Little Rangers; The Bloodstain; At the Phone; Flesh and Blood; The Paralytic; The Face at the Window
The Beasts of the Jungle; Dick Whittington and His Cat; Kelly from the Emerald Isle; The Pit and the Pendulum; Western Love; Rogues of Paris; Blood and Water; Ben Bolt; The Shadows of the Moulin Rouge; The Eyes that Could Not Close; The Star of India; The Fortune Hunters
Beneath the Czar; The Monster and the Girl; The Million Dollar Robbery; The Prisoner of the Harem; The Dream Woman; Hook and Hand; The Woman of Mystery; The Yellow Traffic; The Lure; Michael Strogoff; or The Courier to the Czar; The Tigress; The Cricket on the Hearth
The Heart of a Painted Woman; Greater Love Hath No Man; The Vampire; My Madonna; Barbara Frietchie (co-d)
What Will People Say?; The Girl with the Green Eyes; The Ocean Waif; House of Cards;
The Empress; The Adventurer; A Man and the Woman; When You and I Were Young; Behind the Mask
The Great Adventure
The Divorcee (asst d); The Brat (asst d)
Stronger than Death (asst d)
By GUY: book—
Autobiographie d'une pionnière du cinéma 1873–1968, Paris, 1976; published as The Memoirs of Alice Guy-Blaché, edited by Anthony Slide, Metuchen, New Jersey, 1986.
By GUY: articles—
"Woman's Place in Photoplay Production," in The Moving PictureWorld (New York), 11 July 1914.
Letter in Films in Review (New York), May 1964.
"La Naissance du cinéma," in Image et Son (Paris), April 1974.
"Tournez, mesdames . . . ," in Ecran (Paris), August/September 1974.
On GUY: books—
Slide, Anthony, Early Women Directors, New York, 1977.
Elsaesser, Thomas, and Adam Barker, editors, Early Cinema: Space-Frame-Narrative, London, 1990.
Bachy, Victor, Alice Guy-Blaché, 1873–1968: La première femmecinéaste du monde, Perpignan, France, 1993.
On GUY: articles—
Levine, H.Z., "Madame Alice Blaché," in Photoplay (New York), March 1912.
Ford, Charles, "The First Female Producer," in Films in Review (New York), March 1964.
Smith, F.L., "Alice Guy-Blaché," in Films in Review (New York), April 1964.
Lacassin, Francis, "Out of Oblivion: Alice Guy-Blaché," in Sightand Sound (London), Summer 1971.
Mitry, Jean, "A propos d'Alice Guy," in Ecran (Paris), July 1976.
Deslandes, J., "Sur Alice Guy: polémique," in Ecran (Paris), September 1976.
Peary, Gerald, "Czarina of the Silent Screen," in Velvet Light Trap (Madison, Wisconsin), Winter 1977.
Dixon, W.W., "Alice Guy: Forgotten Pioneer of the Narrative Cinema," in New Orleans Review, vol. 19, no. 3–4, 1992.
* * *
Alice Guy was the first person, or among the first, to make a fictional film. The story-film was quite possibly "invented" by her in 1896 when she made La Fée aux choux (The Cabbage Fairy). Certain historians claim that films of Louis Lumière and Georges Méliès preceded Guy's first film. The question remains debatable; Guy claimed precedence, devoting much effort in her lifetime to correcting recorded errors attributing her films to her male colleagues, and trying to secure her earned niche in film history. There is no debate regarding Guy's position as the world's first woman filmmaker.
Between 1896 and 1901 Guy made films averaging just seventy-five feet in length; 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. The "tricks" she used—running film in reverse and the use of double exposure—were learned through trial-and-error. In this period she also produced "talking pictures," in which Gaumont's Chronophone synchronized a projector with sound recorded on a wax cylinder.
One of these sound films, Mireille, was made by Guy in 1906. Herbert Blaché-Bolton joined the film crew of Mireille to learn directing. Alice Guy and Herbert 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, with a Manhattan office. In its four years of existence, Solax released 325 films, including westerns, military movies, thrillers, and historical romances. Mme. Blaché's first picture in the United States was A Child's Sacrifice (in 1910), which centers on a girl's attempts to earn money for her family. In her Hotel Honeymoon of 1912, 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 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, Mme. Blaché 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, each of which were three-reelers that included orchestral accompaniment. Her boldest enterprises were films using animals and autos.
Cataclysmic changes in the film industry finally forced the Blachés out of business. They rented, and later sold, their studio, then directed films for others. 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. She could not find work in the French film industry either. She returned to the United States in 1927 to search the Library of Congress and other film depositories for her films, but her efforts in vain: only a half-dozen of her one-reelers survive. In 1953 she returned to Paris, where, at age seventy-eight, she was honored as the first woman filmmaker in the world. Her films, characterized by innovation and novelty, explored all genres and successfully appealed to both French and American audiences. Today she is finally being recognized as a unique pioneer of the film industry.
French filmmaker Alice Guy (1873–1968) was the first woman to make a movie, as well as one of the very first directors in the history of cinema to work with a script.
Her short film from 1896, La Fée aux choux (The Cabbage Fairy), which was one minute in length, is thought to have been only the second piece of cinema to depict a fictional tale. Over the next 20 years, Guy made hundreds of other short films, but many of them have been lost to time. Only later in her career did she gain recognition as a film pioneer and as the first of her gender to attain success.
Guy was born on July 1, 1873, in Saint-Mandé, a section of Paris, France. Her parents were bookstore owners in Chile, but her mother had sailed back to France to give birth, and then deposited her daughter in the care of a grandmother in Switzerland and returned to Chile. For a time, Guy lived with her parents in South America, and at the age of six entered a parochial school for girls, Convent du Sacré-Coeur, in Viry, France. After another stint at a school in Ferney, she headed to Paris to learn a skill so that she could support herself.
Quickly Learned New Technology
Guy took classes in stenography, a form of shorthand writing that was a necessary job requirement for a secretary at the time. In 1895, the year she turned 22, Guy was hired as the secretary to Léon Gaumont. He was a talented mechanical engineer and was working for a camera manufacturer at the time, but was fascinated by the new form of "moving" pictures. When his employer's company ran into financial trouble, Gaumont and a few others—including Gustav Eiffel, for whom the Eiffel Tower was named—bought the company and formed a new company they called L. Gaumont et Cie. The firm began manufacturing the equipment to make motion pictures, and began making short films to promote their product.
The first notable motion picture recorder was the Kinetograph, designed by American inventor Thomas Edison, which came onto the market in 1894 and was widely copied elsewhere. In France, two brothers, Auguste and Louis Lumière, entered the field in 1895 with their cinématographe, which was both a camera and projector. They briefly pursued the commercial possibilities, making dozens of short films that were shown in arcades to the paying public. By 1897, a magician named Georges Méliès was making films with a rooftop backdrop in Montreuil, just outside of Paris. Méliès used actors who performed in front of what were essentially stage sets.
In between the first films of Lumière and Méliès, Guy made a short film, La Fée aux choux (The Cabbage Fairy). It is just 60 seconds long, and she appears in it dressed as a man. It came after the Lumière brothers' L'Arroseur arrosé, first screened in December of 1895 and believed to be the first narrative, or non-documentary film. Film historians believe Guy shot The Cabbage Fairy in April of 1896, and Méliès made his first film within a month or two after that. Record keeping from this earliest era of filmmaking was imprecise, and there are debates over which of the pioneers were first in the industry with various camera and editing devices that later became standard.
Became Head of Production
Gaumont liked Guy's efforts so much that he put her in charge of production at his newly created film division by 1897. For the next few years, she made dozens of very short films, most averaging just 75 feet in length. She also worked on some of the first motion pictures that featured sound. This innovation, which occurred around 1900, came thanks to the Chronophone, designed by Gaumont and his engineers. It twinned the film projector with sound from a wax cylinder recording.
Within a decade, Gaumont's company had become the number-two filmmaker in France, just after Pathé, and began to own and operate its own movie theaters. They showed Guy's first full-length feature film, La Vie du Christ (The Life of Christ), in 1906. It was shot in 25 scenes at great expense, including payroll for 300 extras. She also made La Fée Printemps (The Spring Fairy), which used some rudimentary color special effects, that same year.
Technological advances and the success of Etablissements Gaumont, as the company was known after 1906, allowed Guy to make longer and more elaborate feature films. She wrote her own scripts, and her cast included clowns, acrobats, and opera singers who took roles in fanciful stories she based on fairy tales, folklore, or the Bible. Though she was not the first person to make a feature film, film historians have credited her with two technical innovations, each of which came by accident—running the film in reverse, and the double exposure.
Moved to United States
In 1906 Guy was working with another prolific director at Gaumont, Louis Feuillade, on a short titled Mireille when she met Herbert Blaché, who headed distribution for Gaumont in Britain and Germany. They were wed the following year, and Herbert Blaché was made head of a newly created Gaumont subsidiary for distribution in U.S. theaters. The newlyweds moved to the United States, and Guy had two daughters while serving as production manager and living in the New York City area. In 1910 she and her husband, along with a third Gaumont executive, founded their own company, Solax.
Guy's first American film credit was A Child's Sacrifice in 1910, which was also the first film released by Solax. Their company was based in Flushing, New York, and its studio and production facility made some 325 films over the next few years. Herbert Blaché usually served as the pro duction manager and cinematographer, while Guy was the artistic director. Titles from these years include The Violin Maker of Nuremberg from 1911, and Fra Diavolo and Mignon, both from 1912 and based on operas; they were shown in theaters with live orchestral accompaniment. In 1912 Guy directed A Fool and His Money, believed to be the first motion picture filmed with an entirely African-American cast, and later preserved at the American Film Institute archives.
Solax was so successful that Guy and her husband moved to a massive new studio in which they had invested $100,000—an enormous sum at the time-in Fort Lee, New Jersey. This was rapidly becoming the film capital of America, and nearly all the major studios making pictures in the pre-World War I era were based in or around the city, before the possibility of year-round outdoor shooting lured them to Southern California's warmer climate. A company called Metro Pictures was launched in 1916 as a distributor of Solax films, but one of its founders, Louis B. Mayer, launched his own production company, which became Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, or MGM, one of the major entertainment industry players of the twentieth century.
Guy was well-known in the industry during this era, and an article about her accomplishments appeared in the March 1912 issue of Photoplay. She wrote an article titled, "Woman's Place in Photoplay Production" for The Moving Picture World in its edition of July 11, 1914. She also taught some of the first courses in filmmaking at Columbia University in 1917.
Studio Went Under
Guy continued to make films, including Her Great Adventure, released in 1918. Its plot concerns a Broadway hopeful who becomes an overnight sensation, dates a movie star, and finally reunites with the humble chorus boy who was her first love. But after World War I, there were many changes in the film industry in the United States, and a period of consolidation began. Some suffered financial setbacks, and Solax was one of them. Guy and her husband were forced to rent their Fort Lee property to others, then finally sell it.
The 1920 film Tarnished Reputations would be the last film that Guy ever directed. By this time she and her husband were working under contract to other studios, including Pathé, where Tarnished Reputations originated. The story revolves around a naïve young woman from the countryside, whose portrait is painted by an artist passing through; she falls in love with him, the townspeople gossip about their relationship, and when the painting sells and makes the artist famous, she never hears from him again. She follows him to the city, is mistaken for a prostitute and arrested on a morals charge, and ends up in a reformatory for teenaged girls. Eventually she meets a writer, who casts her in his play, and in the end she is reunited with the artist.
Guy's own personal story was almost as melodramatic. By 1922 she and Blaché had divorced, and she suddenly found it impossible to find work as a director on her own. She went back to France with her daughters, and hoped to renew her contacts there. She was unable to bring with her any prints of her numerous films, however, and little had survived of her Gaumont years. Therefore she had no proof that she had ever done her own film work, and failed to win any jobs. In 1927 she returned to the United States. She spent hours in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., searching for prints of her work in its film depository, but most seemed to have been lost save for six early one-reelers.
Pioneer Across Several Genres
Guy remained an unknown pioneer in filmmaking until 1955, when she was honored with France's Legion of Honor medal as the world's first woman filmmaker. She had resettled in the country of her birth by then, but returned to the United States one final time at the age of 91, in 1964, to be near her daughter. Four years later, she died in Mahwah, New Jersey. A volume of her memoirs, Autobiographie d'une pionnière du cinéma 1873–1968, was published in 1976, and ten years later in English translation by her daughter Simone Blaché as The Memoirs of Alice Guy-Blaché. Later film historians succeeded where she did not, and managed to rescue about 110 of the films she directed. Some of these were featured in a 1995 documentary The Lost Garden: The Life and Cinema of Alice Guy.
A 2002 biography by Alison McMahan, Alice Guy-Blaché: Lost Visionary of the Cinema, settled some of the questions about Guy-Blaché 's early work. Though she was not the first person to make a feature film, for instance, she was the first filmmaker ever to use the close-up shot, a technique that had long been attributed to D.W. Griffith. McMahan's book also discussed Guy's role in the history of gay cinema. As noted, she sometimes appeared in men's clothing in her own films, which were some of the earliest representations of cross-dressing on film. One of her Solax films, Algie the Miner from 1912, relates the story of an effeminate young man who must prove his masculinity by heading West. This film is usually cited as the first portrayal of homosexuality in American film.
International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Volume 2: Directors, 4th edition, St. James Press, 2000.
McMahan, Alison, Alice Guy-Blaché: Lost Visionary of the Cinema, New York: Continuum, 2002.
Cineaste, Winter 2003.
New York Times, August 6, 1978.
"Who's Who of Victorian Cinema," British Film Institute, http://www.victorian-cinema.net/guy.htm (January 18, 2006).