Guy-Blaché, Alice (1875–1968)
Guy-Blaché, Alice (1875–1968)
First woman film director and probably the first director to produce a story film, who was a pioneer in motion-picture production in France and the U.S. Name variations: Alice Guy; Alice Guy Blache; Alice Guy Blaché. Pronunciation: blah-SHAY. Born Alice Guy on July 1, 1875 (some give the year as 1873 but her daughter maintained that 1875 was correct) at Saint-Mondé, France; died on March 24, 1968, in a nursing home in New Jersey; daughter of Emile Guy (a bookshop owner) and Madame Guy; attended convent schools at Viry and Ferney, France; studied briefly in Paris; studied typing and stenography; marriedHerbert Blaché-Bolton (known as Herbert Blaché after moving to the United States), in 1907 (divorced 1922); children: daughter Simone Blaché (b. 1908), son Reginald (b. 1912).
Spent early years with her family in Chile; sent to France for schooling; family later returned to live in France; after father's death, found employment as secretary to Léon Gaumont in a company that sold film and photographic equipment; directed her first story film La Fée aux choux (1896); promoted to head of film production for Gaumont where she directed some 400 films, including the first sound films using Gaumont's Chronophone; married (1907) and accompanied her husband to U.S. when he was transferred to Gaumont's New York operation; resumed film directing after birth of her daughter; was president and director-in-chief of Solax Company (1910–14) where she directed or supervised production of more than 300 films; was vice-president of Blaché Features founded in 1913; was director of U.S. Amusement Corporation founded in 1914; directed several films for Popular Plays and Players; lectured on film at Columbia University (1917); returned to France following her divorce; honored with the award of the Legion of Honor for pioneer work in the French film industry (1955); spent final years with daughter Simone in U.S.
Films directed by Alice Guy for Gaumont: Le Fée aux choux (later retitled Sage-femme de première classe, 1896); Le Pêcheur dans le torrent; Leçon de danse; Baignade dans le torrent; Une nuit agitée; Coucher d'Yvette; Danse fleur de lotus; Ballet Libella; Le Planton du colonel; Idylle; L'Aveugle (1897); L'Arroseur arrosé; Au réfectoire; En classe; Les Cambrioleurs; Le Cocher de fiacre endormi; Idylle inter-rompue; Chez le magnétiseur; Les Farces de Jocko; Scène d'escamotage; Déménagement à la cloche de bois; Je vous y prrrrends! (1897–98); Leçons de boxe; La Vie de Christ (11 tableaux) (1898–99); Le Tondeur de chiens; Le Déjeuner des enfants; Au cabaret; La Mauvaise Soupe; Un Lunch; Erreur judiciaire; L'Aveugle; La Bonne Absinthe; Danse serpentine par Mme Bob Walter; Mésaventure d'un charbonnier; Monnaie de lapin; Les Dangers de l'alcoolisme; Le Tonnelier; Transformations; Le Chiffonnier; Retour des champs; Chez le Maréchal-Ferrant; Marché à la volaille; Courte échelle; L'Angélus; Bataille d'oreillers; Bataille de boules de neige; Le marchand de coco (1899–1900); Avenue de l'Opéra; La petite magicienne; Leçon de danse; Chez le photographe; Sidney's Joujoux (series); Dans les coulisses; Au Bal de Flore (series); Ballet Japonais (series); Danse serpentine; Danse du pas des foulards par des almées; Dance de l'ivresse; Coucher d'une Parisienne; Les Fredaines de Pierette (series); Vénus et Adonis (series); La Tarentelle; Danse des Saisons (series); La Source; Danse du papillon; La Concierge; Danses (series); Chirurgie fin de siècle; Und Rage de dents; Saut humidifié de M. Plick (1900); La Danse du ventre; Lavatory moderne; Lecture quotidienne (1900–01); Folies Masquées (series); Frivolité; Les Vagues; Danses basques; Hussards et grisettes; Charmant Froufrou; Tel est pris qui croyait prendre (1901); La fiole enchantée; L'Equilibriste; En faction; La Première Gamelle; La Dent récalcitrante; Le Marchand de ballons; Les Chiens savants; Miss Lina Esbrard Danseuse Cosmopolite et Serpentine (series); Les Clowns; Quadrille réaliste; Und Scène en cabinet particulier vue à travers le trou de la serrure; Farces de cuisinière; Danse mauresque; Le Lion savant; Le Pommier; La Cour des miracles; La Gavotte; Trompé mais content; Fruits de saison; Pour secouer la salade (1902); Potage indigeste; Illusionniste renversant; Le Fiancé ensorcelé; Les apaches pas veinards; Les Aventures d'un voyageur trop pressé; Ne bougeons plus; Comment monsieur prend son bain; Le Main du professeur Hamilton ou le Roi des dollars; Service précipité; La Poule fantaisiste; Modelage express; Faust et Méphistophélès; Lutteurs américains; La Valise enchantée; Compagnons de voyage encombrants; Cake-Walk de la pendule; Répétition dans un cirque; Jocko musicien; Les Braconniers; La Liqueur du couvent; Le voleur Sacrilège; Enlèvement en automobile et mariage precipite (1903); Secours aux naufrages; La Mouche; La Chasse au cambrioleur; Nos Bons Etudiants; Les Surprises de l'affichage; Comme on fait son lit on se couche; Le Pompon malencontreux; Comment on disperse les foules; Les Enfants du miracle; Pierrot assassin; Les Deux Rivaux (1903–04); L'Assassinat du Courrier de Lyon; Vieilles Estampes (series); Mauvais coeur puni; Magie noire; Rafle de chiens; Cambrioleur et agent; Scènes Directoire (series); Duel tragique; L'Attaque d'une diligence; Culture intensive ou Le Vieux Mari; Cible humaine; Transformations; Le Jour du terme; Robert Macaire et Bertrand; Electrocutée; Le Rêve du chasseur; Le Monolutteur; Les Petits Coupeurs de bois vert; Clown en sac; Triste Fin d'un vieux savant; Le Testament de Pierrot; Les Secrets de la prestidigitation dévoilés; La Faim… L'occasion… L'herbe tendre; Militaire et nourrice; La Première Cigarette; Depart pour les vacances; Tentative d'assassinat en chemin de fer; Paris la nuit ou Exploits d'apaches à Mont-Martre; Concours de bébés; Erreur de poivrot; Volée par les bohémiens; Les Bienfaits du cinématographe; Patissier et ramoneur; Gage d'amour; L'Assassinat de la rue du Temple; Le Réveil du jardinier; Les Cambrioleurs de Paris (1904); Réhabilitation; Douaniers et contrebandiers; Le Bébé embarrassant; Comment on dort à Paris!; Le Lorgnon accusateur; La Charité du Prestidigitateur; Une Noce au lac Saint-Fargeau; Le Képi; Le Pantalon coupé; Le Plateau; Roméo pris au piége; Chien jouant à la Balle; Le Fantassin Guignard; La Statue; Villa dévalisée; Mort de Robert Macaire et Bertrand; Le Pavé; Les Maçons; La Esmeralda; Peintre et ivrogne; On est poivrot, mais on a du coeur; Au Poulailler! (1905); La Fée printemps; La Vie du marin; La Chaussette; La Messe de minuit; Pauvre pompier; Le Régiment moderne; Les Druides; Voyage en Espagne (series); La Vie du Christ (25 tableaux); Conscience de prêtre; L'Honneur du corse; J'Ai un hanneton dans mon pantalon; Le Fils du garde-chasse; Course de taureaux à Nimes; La Pègre de Paris; Lèvres closes; La Crinoline; La Voiture cellulaire; La Marâtre; Le Matelas alcoolique; A la recherche d'un appartement (1906); La vérité sur l'homme-singe; Déménagement à la cloche de bois; Les Gendarmes; Sur la barricade (1907). Sound films: Carmen (opera series); Mireille (opera series); Carmen (suite series); Les Dragons de Villars (opera series); Mignon (opera series); Faust (opera series); Polin (series); Mayol (series); Dranem (comic song series); music series recorded in Spain: La Prière de Gounod (1900–07).
Films directed or supervised by Alice Guy-Blaché for Solax: A Child's Sacrifice; The Sergeant's Daughter; A Fateful Gift; A Widow and her Child; Her Father's Sin; One Touch of Nature; What Is To Be, Will be; Lady Betty's Strategy; Two Suits; The Pawnshop; Mrs. Richard Dare (1910); The Nightcap; Salmon Fishing in Canada; The Girl and the Burglar; A Reporter's Romance; His Best Friend; Ring of Love; Mixed Pets; Corinne in Dollyland; Love's Test; A Costly Pledge; Out of the Arctic; Put Out; Caribou Hunting; A Midnight Visitor; Highlands of New Brunswick, Canada; A Hindu Prince; Cupid's Victory; Out of the Depths; A Package of Trouble; She Was Not Afraid; The Mill of the Gods; A Maid's Revenge; The Rose of the Circus; Tramp Strategy; The Scheme that Failed; The Little Flower Girl; The Old Excuse; The Voice of his Conscience; The Count of No Account; Across the Mexican Line; Sensible Dad; The Somnambulist; Nearly a Hero; Beneath the Moon; Between Life and Duty; His Dumb Wife; In the Nick of Time; The Devil in a Tin Cup; An Officer and a Gentleman; A Marvelous Cow; Never Too Late to Mend; Bridget the Flirt; A Mexican Girl's Love; A Bad Egg; A Daughter of the Navajo; Cupid and the Comet; Johnnie Waters the Garden; Marked for Life; The Fascinating Widow; A Terrible Catastrophe; Greater Love Hath No Man; Starting Something; The Silent Signal; Baby's Rattle; That June Bug; The Girl and the Broncho Buster; All Aboard for Reno; Sergeant Dillon's Bravery; The Double Elopement; Outwitted by Horse and Lariat; When Reuben Came to Town; The Mascot of Troop "C"; His Wife's Insurance; A Bum and a Bomb; An Enlisted Man's Honor; The Phoney Ring; Let No Man Put Asunder; A Gay Bachelor; The Stampede; The Patched Shoe; The Hold-up; Hector's Inheritance; The Best Policy; Her Uncle's Will; The Altered Message; Oh! You Stenographer!; Nellie's Soldier; How Hopkins Raised the Rent; An Italian's Gratitude; A Breezy Morning; His Sister's Sweetheart; He Was a Millionaire; His Mother's Hymn; A Corner in Criminals; A Lover's Ruse; His Better Self; Percy and His Squaw; For Big Brother's Sake; Following Cousin's Footsteps; A Heroine of the Revolution; An Interrupted Elopement; Grandmother Love; Baby Needs Medicine; Only a Squaw; Husbands Wanted; The Will of Providence; A Troublesome Picture; Life on Board a Battleship; A Revolutionary Romance; Baby's Choice; The Paper Making Industry; The Little Shoe; Fickle Bridget; The Little Kiddie Mine; Love, Whiskers, and Letters; The Violin Maker of Nuremberg; When Marian was Married; The Divided Ring; Christmas Presents; His Musical Soul (1911); Our Poor Relation; Economical Brown; Black Sheep; By the Hand of a Child; Parson Sue; A Man's Man; The Legend of the Balanced Rock; The Little Soldier; Memories of '49; Frozen on Love's Trail; The Wonderful Oswego Falls; The Fixer Fixed; Mignon; The Snowman; A Guilty Conscience; Mrs. Cranston's Jewels; Lend Me Your Wife; Bessie's Suitors; A Terrible Lesson; The Wise Witch of Fairyland; Hubby Does the Washing; God Disposes; His Lordship's White Feather; Algie the Miner; Blighted Lives; Sealed Lips; The Animated Bathtub; The Boarding House Heiress; Falling Leaves; Count Henri, the Hunter; The Bachelor's Club; The Child of the Tenements; Billy's Shoes; Handle with Care; The Witch's Necklace; Billy's Troublesome Grip; The Detective's Dog; Billy's Nurse; Saved by a Cat; Billy, the Detective; The Sewer; Billy's Insomnia; The Reformation of Mary; A Question of Hair; The Wooing of Alice; Auto Suggestion; Souls in the Shadow; In the Year 2000; The Glory of Light; The Knight in Armor; A Message from Beyond; Just a Boy; The Old Violin; The Dog-gone Question; Billy Boy; Mickey's Pal; The Great Discovery; Four Friends; Indian Summer; Planting Time; Love's Railroad; The Call of the Rose; Father and the Boys; Between Two Fires; Winsome but Wise; Fra Diavolo; Hotel Honeymoon; Slippery Jim; The Four Flush Actor; Broken Hearts; The Requital; Bottles; Imagination; Buddy and his Dog; Two Little Rangers; The Pink Garters; The Blood Stain; The Strike; The Equine Spy; Phantom Paradise; Playing Trumps; The Fight in the Dark; Open to Proposals; Treasures on the Wing; The Soul of the Violin; The Spry Spinsters; The Life of a Rose; The Love of the Flag; The Fugitive; Si's Surprise Party; The Retreat from Eden; Dublin Dan; Canned Harmony; A Fool and his Money; The Gold Brick; The Maverick; The High Cost of Living; The Idol Worshipper; Making an American Citizen; At the Phone; The New Love and the Old; Just Hats; The Prodigal Wife; Flesh and Blood; A Comedy of Errors; The Power of Money; The Paralytic; The Jenkins-Perkins War; The Raffle; The Face at the Window; The Hater of Women; The Girl in the Armchair; Hearts Unknown; Five Evenings; The Finger Prints; The Woman Behind the Man (1912); Cousins of Sherlock Holmes; Canine Rivals; A Million Dollars; Beasts of the Jungle; The Mutiny of Mr. Henpeck; Mother and Daughter; The Quarrellers; The Coming of Sunbeam; The Roads that Lead Home; The Wrong Box; The Scheming Woman; Overcoats; The Monkey Accomplice; The Eyes of Satan; The Thief; Burstop Holmes, Detective; Till the Day Breaks; The Bashful Boy; The Veteran's Mascot; Dick Whittington and his Cat; Napoleon; The Kiss of Judas; What Happened to Officer Henderson; The Plans of the House; In the Wrong Flat; The Way of the Transgressor; Burstop Holmes' Murder Case; The Climax; The Bachelor's Housekeeper; The Ogres; The Lady Doctor; His Son-in-law; The Mystery of the Lost Cat; Where Love Dwells; His Wife's Affinity; A Severe Test; The Silver Cross; A House Divided; The Case of the Missing Girl; The Past Forgiven; Dad's Orders; The Man in the Sick Room; Kelly from the Emerald Isle; The Amateur Highwayman; The Man Who Failed; The Henpecked Burglar; The King's Messenger; The Hopes of Belinda; Blood and Water; Gregory's Shadow; Matrimony's Speed Limit; Her Mother's Pictures; Romeo in Pajamas; Strangers from Nowhere; The Merry Widow; The Dynamited Dog; The Message to Heaven; An Unexpected Meeting; True Hearts; The Flea Circus; As the Bell Rings; Cooking for Trouble; Brennan of the Moor; The Intruder; That Dog; As Ye Sow; The Coat that Came Back; When the Tide Turns; The Heavenly Widow; Falsely Accused; Four Fools and a Maid; A Drop of Blood; The Pit and the Pendulum; The Smuggler's Child; A Terrible Night; A Child's Intuition; Men and Muslin; Retribution; Dooley and his Dog; Gratitude; Invisible Ink; Western Love; The Quality of Mercy; The Soul of Man; Tale of a Cat; The Lame Man; Blood and Water; The Little Hunchback; Handcuffed for Life; Ish Ga Bibble; Fisherman's Luck; The Rogues of Paris; Ben Bolt; Shadows of the Moulin Rouge (1913); Beneath the Czar; The Monster and the Girl (1914).
Films directed by Alice Guy-Blaché for Blaché Features, Popular Plays and Players, U.S. Amusement Corporation, and other companies: Hook and Hand (may have been directed by Herbert Blaché); The Dream Woman; The Million Dollar Robbery; The Woman of Mystery; The Yellow Traffic; The Lure; The Tigress (1914); The Heart of a Painted Woman; Greater Love Hath No Man; The Vampire; My Madonna (1915); What Will People Say?; The Ocean Waif (1916); The Adventurer; The Empress; A Man and the Woman; House of Cards; When You and I Were Young; Behind the Mask (1917); The Great Adventure (1918); Tarnished Reputations (1920).
The painted backdrop of a garden fence was in place. Against this view were arranged large wooden cutouts of cabbages. A few friends dressed in rental costumes waited to act out their parts. Alice Guy was about to direct La Fée aux Choux (The Cabbage Fairy), the short film that would earn her an undisputed place in film history
as the first woman film director and probably the first film director to produce narrative films.
Alice Guy was born at Saint-Mondé on the outskirts of Paris on July 1, 1875, because her mother (whose name has been lost to history) was determined that her fifth child be born in France. Alice's father Emile Guy owned bookshops in Valparaiso and Santiago, Chile. Within a few months of her birth, her parents returned to Chile, leaving her in the care of her maternal grandmother. Three-year-old Alice rejoined her parents in South America, but when she reached school age, she was returned to France and enrolled in the same school her three sisters attended at the Convent of the Sacred Heart at Viry. Then a series of disasters, including an earthquake, left the family bankrupt, and Alice was sent to a less expensive convent in the château of Voltaire at Ferney. Following the death of their only son, the Guys returned to France, settled in Paris, and Alice completed her education there.
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 why she cannot completely master every technicality of the art.
When Emile Guy died at age 51, his wife was poorly prepared to support the two daughters who remained at home. A family friend suggested that Alice take typing and stenography lessons. Noting her rapid progress, her instructor recommended her for a secretarial position at Comptoir général de Photographie. This company, which made and sold film and equipment for still photography, was soon acquired by Alice Guy's employer, Léon Gaumont, and renamed the Société des établissements Gaumont.
In 1895, Louis Lumière brought Gaumont his new invention, a camera that filmed moving objects. Though Gaumont soon developed his own version of the camera, he saw little practical use for it. Alice, however, was intrigued by the possibilities. To demonstrate the new cameras, Lumière and Gaumont both shot short films of actual events: parades, trains arriving at railroad stations, and portraits of laboratory personnel. Alice was convinced that there would be more interest in films that told stories. Gaumont, thinking the camera was little more than a toy, agreed to her making a film as long as it did not interfere with her secretarial duties.
Guy was in the office every morning at eight to open, record, and distribute the mail. Then she would commute to the Buttes Chaumont to work on her films. She returned to the office by 4:30 and often worked until 10 or 11 at night handling correspondence and other details. To help shorten her commute, Gaumont arranged for her to rent a house behind the photographic studio and granted the use of a paved terrace covered by a glass roof next to the studios.
In 1896, she directed La Fée aux choux, based on an old French tale about a fairy who raises children in a cabbage patch. Whether this was the first story film is still unsettled. Most film histories, which make no mention at all of Alice Guy-Blaché, credit French filmmaker Georges Méliès (known as "father of the fiction film") with making the first narrative films. Anthony Slide, Charles Ford, and others believe that La Fée aux Choux preceded Méliès' first effort by a few months. According to Guy-Blaché's daughter Simone Blaché , this film was shown in 1896 at the International Exhibition in Paris. Regardless, Alice Guy and Méliès, working independently, were discovering and using similar story-telling techniques at about the same time.
Guy describes some of those techniques in her memoirs. By reversing the film, a house that fell down could be magically reconstructed. Slowing down or speeding up the turn of the handle on the camera could produce frenzied movement or slow motion. Stopping the camera allowed objects to be moved, creating the impression they were animated by a supernatural life. Fade outs could be used for visions and dreams. Double exposures and masks allowed other special effects.
These early films were short, about 75 feet in length. The titles suggest the story lines: Leçon de danse (Dance Lesson, 1897), Le Déjeuner des enfants (The Children's Lunch, 1899–1900), Les Dangers de l'alcoolisme (The Dangers of Alcohol, 1899–1900). They were so successful that Gaumont named Alice Guy head of production and in 1901 built a studio for her use. There she began to produce more sophisticated films, many painstakingly tinted by hand by artisans working in the laboratory. As film quality improved and mechanical methods of film development replaced tedious hand developing, longer films were possible. These often ran 150 feet, while one, La Vie du Christ (1906), ran almost 2,000 feet.
When Gaumont bought the rights to the newly invented Chronophone, a device that synchronized sound, recorded on a wax cylinder, with the projector, Guy directed a series of talking pictures between 1900 and 1907. Some featured popular singers, others were scenes from operas including Carmen, Mignon, Manon, Faust, and Les Dragons de Villars. The work was demanding. The role of the director included responsibility for the scenario and choice of actors, working with the decorators and costumers, overseeing lighting, rehearsals and stage direction, editing and cutting the final film. It was also filled with unexpected problems. In one instance, Guy decided to use a gypsy (Rom) camp as the location for Volée par les bohémiens (1904). The scenario included a bear which the animal trainer had tied under a wagon. Startled by the screams of the actress whose foot he sniffed, the bear escaped and jumped on a goat. As the trainer tugged and the gypsies rushed to save the goat, the bear turned to a donkey which fled, braying wildly. The camera captured the melee and, according to Alice Guy, this "added greatly to the interest of the film."
As demand for films grew, Guy worked with several assistants, including Victorin Jasset. (Early film historians often erroneously credited direction of Guy's films to these assistants.) Jasset helped her manage the 250–300 extras and the outdoor scenes in La Vie du Christ (1906). The film, based on illustrations by James Tissot, was lavish by the standards of the time: 25 solid sets were constructed, costumes were carefully matched to Tissot's documents, and two Jesuits were brought in as consultants. La Vie du Christ was undoubtedly one of the first large spectacle films, with superimpositions used to depict Jesus rising from the sepulchre.
In 1906, Herbert Blaché-Bolton arrived at Gaumont headquarters from the company's English office to work with the camera. Intent on learning film directing, he accompanied Guy to film the bullfights at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. By Christmastime, they were engaged; they were married in 1907.
Meanwhile, Gaumont had the sold rights to the Chronophone to a Cleveland entrepreneur, and the newlyweds were sent to the United States to represent Gaumont's interests. (Once in the U.S., the couple dropped Bolton from their name and were known as Herbert Blaché and Alice Guy-Blaché.) When the Cleveland company went bankrupt, the Blachés moved to Flushing, New York, to head up Gaumont's manufacturing and film-production activities. In 1908, Alice Guy-Blaché gave birth to a daughter Simone, but she was soon restless with domestic life and decided to return to films.
On September 7, 1910, Guy-Blaché—along with her husband and George A. Magie—founded the Solax Company. Alice was president and director-in-chief. (Herbert was still under contract to Gaumont.) That same year, Solax released its first film, A Child's Sacrifice.Magda Foy , later known as the "Solax Kid," played an eight-year-old girl who tries to aid her starving family. With her father out on strike and her mother ill, the child sells her doll to a junk dealer who then gives it back as a present. The girl goes on to intervene in a bitter quarrel provoked by the strike.
At first, the new company rented the Gaumont's Flushing studio. But Solax prospered and, in 1912, moved production to a new studio complex in Fort Lee, New Jersey. News reports described the size and complexity of the nascent operation. The studio had south-facing windows two stories high. There were also shops for building sets and storing props, large dressing rooms for the actors, laboratories and dark-rooms for processing the film, and projection rooms for viewing.
Madame Guy-Blaché directed or actively supervised all the films produced by Solax. Anthony Slide lists well over 300 films that were produced there. Since most of these films were lost and few carried director credits, it is difficult to ascertain which were directed by Guy-Blaché and which by Edward Warren who joined Solax in 1911.
Guy-Blaché attracted considerable interest from the press. Reporters, who often attended filmings, sought interviews frequently. When she could not comply, they wrote articles anyway, in which she learned, she said, "some absolutely unsuspected details about my beginnings, my family, my ancestors." At the time, a woman managing such complex activities was viewed as unique. If, to reassure an actor, Alice had to be the first to stroke the tiger or drape the snake around her neck, she did it. At times when the physical risks were obvious, her husband stepped in, as he would in setting off the explosion to sink the pirate ship in Dick Whittington and His Cat (1913).
In addition to the technical expertise she had developed, Guy-Blaché had a keen sense of the beauty of a photographic image. She took advantage of the most favorable hour for the best light, noted how the setting sun lengthened shadows, captured the reflections in a rippling pond, and was aware of the waves made by the wind blowing across a field of wheat.
At Solax, she directed a variety of films. An advertisement in the November 18, 1911, issue ofThe Moving Picture World listed several Solax releases. In the ad, An Interrupted Elopement was announced as a clever comedy in which a couple, held up and detained by thieves, escape as love triumphs. Grandmother Love was promoted as a small, simple drama of the heart, while Only a Squaw boasted beautiful photography. It also heralded a special release: the "Big Naval Review" with 102 naval vessels reviewed by President William Howard Taft in New York Harbor. Next to Solax's blazing sun logo was the reminder that "all our films are tinted and toned."
In 1912, Guy-Blaché gave birth to her second child, a son Reginald. Noting the number of films produced at Solax that year, it is reasonable to assume she was quickly back at the studio. Then, Herbert Blaché left Gaumont and established Blaché Features in October 1913, with himself as president and his wife as vice-president. He persuaded her to join in directing films for the new company, and Solax soon ceased production. The following year, Herbert was involved in another production company, U.S. Amusement Corporation.
While Guy-Blaché continued to work for the companies started by her husband, she also directed several films for a New York company, Popular Plays and Players. These included the first two films featuring the dramatic actress Olga Petrova : The Tigress (1914) and The Heart of a Painted Woman (1915). Petrova was impressed by Guy-Blaché's courtesy to artists; by earning their respect, she got the results she sought. Reporters writing for The Moving Picture World also had praise for her directing style. One who visited the location where Fra Diavolo (1912) was being filmed found Guy-Blaché conducting rehearsals on the elevated camera platform. She was never ruffled, never agitated, never annoyed, he wrote. "With a few simple directions, uttered without apparent emotion, she handles the interweaving movements like a military leader might [handle] the maneuvers of an army." Another who visited the set of Dick Whittington and His Cat (1913) commented on "how sharp and clear-cut is her visualizing power and how thoroughly she knows just what she wants." Yet, he observed, she was also quick to find the humor in situations, helping to ease the nervous strain of production.
In 1917, Guy-Blaché was invited to lecture on film at Columbia University. But small independent filmmakers like the Blachés were finding it more difficult to compete with large, well-financed companies. The last two films Alice directed, The Great Adventure (1918) and Tarnished Reputations (1920), were released through the Pathé Exchange. Lured by the sunny climate, many film companies were moving to California, and the Blachés joined the migration. Herbert was hired to direct several films, but Alice was restricted to a position as his assistant. By this time, the marriage was foundering, and, following a divorce, Guy-Blaché and her two children returned to France in 1922.
When Alice Guy-Blaché tried to reestablish herself in the French film industry, she found no one willing to hire her. Since she had left all of her work behind in America, she had no films to show as evidence of her ability. The only offers she received would have required her to make large financial investments in the projects. This she was in no position to do. From time to time, she earned some income by writing summaries of scenarios, short stories, and children's stories.
The difficulties Alice Guy-Blaché encountered in trying to continue working in film had been foreshadowed in an interview that had appeared in the November 6, 1912, issue of The New York Dramatic Mirror. Talking about her work as a filmmaker, she maintained that she "would not have been able to accomplish so much in any other country, particularly in France." In the United States, she felt, "the fight and victory is to the strong, irrespective of sex." In France, women are "commonly in a state of dependence, and are not likely to exercise their reason with freedom."
Petrova, Olga (1886–1977)
English actress. Born Muriel Harding in England in 1886; died in 1977.
Billed by studio publicists as the daughter of a Russian noble from Warsaw, Poland, Olga Petrova was born Muriel Harding in England in 1886. She played femmes fatales in Hollywood silents for Metro, including The Tigress (1914), The Soul Market (1916), The Undying Flame (1917), The Soul of a Magdalene (1917), Daughter of Destiny (1918), and Panther Woman (1918), and produced and wrote several of her own films. After retiring from the screen in 1918, Petrova returned to the stage, starring in many plays, including three that she had also written.
Petrova, Olga. Butter with my Bread (autobiography), 1942.
For the rest of her life, Guy-Blaché tried to reclaim her place in film history. She lived with her daughter Simone who, from about 1941, worked with the American foreign service, first in France, then in Switzerland. In 1952, when Simone was transferred to Washington, D.C., Alice came with her and began a search for her films but was unsuccessful. All had disappeared. Finally, in 1955, her work as a pioneer in France's motion picture industry was recognized by the award of the French Legion of Honor. Simone Blaché retired to live in the United States, accompanied by her mother. Alice Guy-Blaché died in New Jersey on March 24, 1968.
To date, film historians have uncovered a few of Guy-Blaché's films. A positive negative of La Fée aux choux exists at the Cinémathèque Française. Anthony Slide lists six one-reelers produced at Solax that are in the National Film Collection at the Library of Congress: Greater Love Hath No Man (1911), The Detective's Dog (1912), Canned Harmony (1912), The Girl in the Armchair (1912), A House Divided (1913) and Matrimony's Speed Limit (1913). A few other films may exist in private collections.
In trying to reach conclusions about Alice Guy-Blaché's contribution to film history, one fact is obvious. She was prolific. Film historian Francis Lacassin compiled a list of 403 films directed by Alice Guy for Gaumont alone. Anthony Slide asserts that of the 331 films produced by the Solax Company through 1913, she was involved in the production of all of them as supervising director and producer. He credits her with directing 23 more films that were released between 1914 and 1920. Her choice of subject matter ranged widely: comedy, fantasy, religious themes, drama, military and cowboy adventures, adaptations of plays and stories, dance, opera—the list goes on. In addition, she was inventive. While many of the techniques such as running film in reverse or masking or varying the speed of the film may have been discovered by trial and error, the ways in which she used these techniques as story-telling devices was truly creative. As Slide comments about the films in the National Film Collection, they demonstrate "a remarkable sophistication in storytelling." Whether or not historians reach agreement about who was first in producing a narrative film, Alice Guy-Blaché will retain her place as the first woman film director and a remarkably successful one.
Blaché, Alice Guy. The Memoirs of Alice Guy Blaché. Translated by Roberta and Simone Blaché and edited by Anthony Slide. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1986.
Lacassin, Francis. "Out of Oblivion: Alice Guy Blaché," in Sight and Sound. Summer 1971, pp. 151–154.
Slide, Anthony. Early Women Directors. NY: A.S. Barnes, 1977.
Acker, Ally. Reel Women: Pioneers of the Cinema. NY: Continuum, 1991.
Guy-Blaché, Alice. "Woman's Place in Photoplay Production," in Moving Picture World. July 11, 1914.
Heck-Rabi, Louise. Women Filmmakers: A Critical Reception. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1984.
Kay, Karyn, and Gerald Perry, eds. Women and the Cinema. NY: E.P. Dutton, 1977.
Smith, Sharon. Women Who Make Movies. NY: Hopkinson and Blake, 1975.
Lucy A. Liggett , Professor of Telecommunications and Film, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, Michigan