This blog is named after Alice Guy-Blaché - a pioneer in filmmaking who has not only been forgotten, but was forgotten during her own lifetime. By taking a look at her life, I hope in a small way to help restore her reputation as a groundbreaking filmmaker whose influence is still felt today.
- Born on
1 July 1873 near , Alice Guy-Blaché was definitively the 1st Woman Filmmaker in the World - and for 17 years she was the only woman filmmaker in the world. Paris, France
- After spending her childhood in
, Switzerland and Chile , she learned typing and shorthand to become a secretary. In 1894, she was hired by Léon Gaumont in his photographic company. France
- In 1895, Gaumont and Guy-Blaché were invited by the Lumière brothers to witness a demonstration of their 35mm film camera. At that time, people were still filming street scenes, not narrative films. The daughter of a bookseller and an avid reader - who had dabbled in amateur theatre - Guy-Blaché thought "something better can be done".
She asked Gaumont if she could shoot a few scenes with his camera. He agreed, "so long as your office work doesn't suffer".
- In 1896 Guy-Blaché became the first person to ever write, produce and direct a film. (She is credited for being the second person - after her colleagues the Lumière brothers - to make a narrative film.) The Cabbage Fairy was such a success - selling 80 copies - that Gaumont appointed her Head of All Moving Picture Production.
|Still from The Cabbage Fairy|
- For 10 years, Guy-Blaché was head of production for Gaumont - one of the world's major film studios - supervising script preparation, set design and costumes, and overseeing the work of all of the company's film directors. This, in addition to the films she wrote and directed.
- Between 1900 - 1907, Guy-Blaché directed more than 100 phonoscènes (short films made for Gaumont's chronophone.)
- In 1906, her film The Life of Christ was a huge hit in
, noted for its groundbreaking creativity and technical advances. France
She's one of the most important figures in the history
of French cinema.
- Alan Williams, author of Republic of Images: A History of French Filmmaking
- In 1906, Alice Guy met Herbert Blaché, a Gaumont manager. They married in the spring of 1907.
- In 1907 Guy-Blaché reluctantly left
to follow her husband to the France . (Gaumont hired Herbert Blaché to manage his studio in United States for the production of English phonoscènes) Flushing, NY
- In 1908, Guy-Blaché gave birth to her daughter Simone. She took two years off before getting back into film production.
7 Sept. 1910 Guy-Blaché founded her own studio, Solax. She created melodramas, westerns, and slapstick comedies - years before Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton.
- In 1911, rich, famous, and happily married,
gave birth to her son, Reginald. Alice
- In 1912, Guy-Blaché was the only woman in the
earning over $25,000 a year. Her films were so successful that she relocated to United States where her film studio was the largest in the Fort Lee, New Jersey . Her rate of production equaled that of D.W. Griffith, who worked just a few miles away at Biograph. United States
from newspapers of the time:
"Idea" Woman is Efficient Head of Big Film Company
"Solax owes the success it has enjoyed since its early days entirely to one major asset: Madame Blaché's mastery of cinematic techniques. The result has been excellent production standards."
"The leading figure in the world of cinema could one day be a woman, and that woman will be Alice Guy-Blaché."
- After Herbert Blaché's contract with Gaumont expired in 1913, Guy-Blaché made her husband president of Solax. After three months, Herbert Blaché resigned to start his own company, Blaché Features. By 1914 Blaché Features effectively took over Solax.
It has long been a source of wonder to me that many women have not seized upon the wonderful opportunities offered to them by the motion picture art, to make their own fame and fortune as producers of photodramas. Of all of the arts there is probably none in which they can make such splendid use of talents so much more natural to a woman than to a man and so necessary to its perfection.
- Alice Guy-Blaché in the film journal Moving Picture World, 1914
- 1914 - 1916: As films became longer, Alice Guy-Blaché began directing features for a number of companies. Guy-Blaché directed 7 features, shot in the studio in
(which still belonged to the Blachés). Fort Lee, New Jersey
- During this time, smaller film companies were being bought by larger conglomerates, and Guy-Blaché's husband began making poor business decisions, including handing over the rights to Guy-Blaché's The Lure for almost no money, after being convinced the film was worthless. The Lure went on to become one of the biggest box office hits of its day.
I put signs all around my studio that said BE NATURAL - that is all I wanted from my actors.
- Alice Guy-Blaché
With those two simple words [BE NATURAL] Alice Guy-Blaché transformed the art of screenacting for all time.
- Anthony Slide, film historian
- 1917: The former Solax studio was rented out to another company. Now 44, Guy-Blaché had the reputation of being an excellent director - much loved by the people she worked with, and always willing to share her technical expertise - but her last few films had not been commercially successful.
- In 1917, after both of his children became seriously ill, Herbert Blaché sent his wife and children to
to recuperate. While there, Guy-Blaché served the war effort by volunteering for the Red Cross. Herbert Blaché stayed behind in North Carolina to manage business in New Jersey Fort Lee.
- In 1918, Herbert Blaché moved to
with one of his leading ladies, leaving Alice and his two children behind. Guy-Blaché moved to Hollywood with her children. New York City
- In 1919, Guy-Blaché was hired to write and direct what would be her last film, Tarnished Reputations. Guy-Blaché contracted Spanish Influenza during production, which killed four of her colleagues. Herbert Blaché, passing through
, was so alarmed by New York 's poor health that he invited her to Alice . California
- In 1920
moved to Alice with her children, hoping to repair her marriage. She worked on two films with her husband - though they did not live together. Los Angeles
- In 1921, with her marriage and her business in ruins, Guy-Blaché was forced back east to deal with the auctioning off of all of her possessions at the former Solax studio, which had been seized to cover back taxes that the new tenants had neglected to pay. Alice Guy-Blaché watched as everything she owned was sold for a pittance.
They say that
takes back whatever it gives you. America
- Alice Guy-Blaché
- Hopeless, penniless, and divorced, Guy-Blaché returned to
with her children in 1922, having lost her husband, her studio, and her career. She lived with her sister in Nice. France
- 1922 - 1930: Guy-Blaché tried to get back into film, but
had forgotten about her. Even her former boss, Gaumont, neglected to mention her in his history of the Gaumont company. France
|Still from Falling Leaves|
- In an effort to support her children, she wrote children's stories and magazine articles - all under masculine pen names. Alice Guy-Blaché would only sign her real name to her screenplays - but during the difficult years between the wars in
Europe, she couldn't find a producer for any of her scripts.
- One of the most prolific filmmakers of her day, as writer, director, or producer (or all three) she made an estimated 700 films. She worked in every style, format and genre.
8 December 1954, Louis Gaumont - Léon Gaumont's son - gave a speech in about The First Woman Filmmaker in which he said that Guy-Blaché "has been unjustly forgotten". Film historians begin to take interest in her. Paris
- In 1955 Alice Guy-Blaché was awarded the Légion d'Honneur,
's highest non-military honor. France
- Alice Guy-Blaché made extensive efforts to find her films - both in the
and France. Only 50 were ever found. U.S.
- Alice Guy-Blaché was unable to find a publisher for her autobiography during her lifetime.
- She moved with her daughter to
in 1965 (after having lived with Simone for nearly three decades), where she died in a nursing home in 1968, at the age of 94. New Jersey
- Alice Guy-Blaché's Mémoires were finally published in French in 1976, and in English in 1986.
Early film reviewers and commentators were lavish in their praise of Alice Guy-Blaché's artistic accomplishments. They praised her sets, her use of natural locations... There seemed to be no challenge that this extraordinary woman would not take up... Alice Guy-Blaché strived for increasingly spectacular scenes, for more difficult stunts - she knew that was what audiences wanted, what the early reviewers appreciated in her films. It's very hard for a contemporary audience to understand just how sophisticated these films appeared to audiences back then... Pioneers such as Alice Guy-Blaché were discovering cinema, they were discovering the potential of filmmaking.
- Anthony Slide, film historian
The information here is gathered from two sources: the documentary The Lost Garden by Marquise Lepage, and the book Alice Guy-Blaché: Lost Visionary of the Cinema by Alison McMahan.
Near the end of the documentary, the narrator utters these chilling words:
"...the collective amnesia that shrouded her work..."
Please take a moment to ponder how someone with such a brilliant reputation and heralded accomplishments could be erased from history - first by the very community in which she worked, and subsequently by the world at large. Guy-Blaché became the world's first auteur filmmaker - 50 years before women in
were given the vote, and 70 years before the French New Wave. France
She may have been forgotten because she was a woman, but Alice Guy-Blaché should be remembered for her important contributions as a trailblazing filmmaker.