Within a year, she was directing films for Gaumont – and not simple “actualities” of real events like everyone else was doing.
She told stories. That makes her one of the first, if not the first, person to do that.
American director Pamela Green claims she was also one of the first to use close-ups, hand-tinted images and synchronised sound. It’s not necessary to accept all these claims to recognise that Alice Guy, who would soon marry Englishman Herbert Blaché, was an extraordinary woman who deserves to be better known. As Green keeps asking: why haven’t we heard of her?
The answer, in part, is that we have. Guy-Blaché is well known in Europe, if not America. There were at least two documentaries and three books before this film. Alison McMahan’s biography, Alice Guy-Blaché: Lost Visionary of the Cinema, came out in 2002. It is one of the foundations for Green’s film, so her question is partly rhetorical. She emphasises it to dramatise her own “discovery” of Guy-Blaché.
There’s another reason too – and this might be an actual discovery. Green presents compelling evidence that a number of influential French critics and historians wrote her out of the history, possibly deliberately. These include the famous Henri Langlois, founder of the French Cinematheque. We might ask: what’s French for chauvinism?
Guy-Blaché left France in 1907 with her husband, bound for America. They set up a studio at Fort Lee, New Jersey – the centre of American filmmaking at the time. She made hundreds of films there as producer, writer and director. Her career blossomed, but she was soon forgotten at home. When she returned to France many years later needing a job, the industry slammed the door in her face.
Green treats all this as a detective story – a strategy that eventually wears thin. She has uncovered many original documents; watching how she did this is not necessarily worth the telling.
More importantly, the film contains many fascinating sequences from Guy-Blaché’s films. There are also two filmed interviews, conducted in the late 1950s and 1960s, with her. These are the film history equivalent of gold dust, bringing us much closer to a real understanding of who Guy-Blaché was – and what she accomplished. The film is a must for aficionados.