Gal among guys: Pioneer director Alice Guy-Blache
When Alfred Hitchock recalled the filmmakers that inspired him, he rhapsodized about pioneer French directors George Melies (A Trip to the Moon) and Alice Guy, whose 1906 The Life of Christ is among the first narrative epics. You can see it here , its dreamy tableaux influenced by the compositions of Tissot.
She was hardly the only gal among guys: The early years of the film industry saw many female filmmakers including Lois Weber, who likewise had her own studio. By the 1920s the pioneers had been displaced by the settlers, the Zukors and Goldwyns and Mayers, proprietors of the Hollywood studios. And the likes of Guy, Melies and Weber were lost to the shadows.
Martin Scorsese’s Hugo introduced Melies’ fantasies to a new generation. And Joan Simon’s 2009 retrospective at the Whitney Museum brought to light the prolific career of Alice Guy (after her marriage to Herbert Blache, Alice Guy-Blache), the prolific Franco-American producer and director of over a thousand films. She was already a seasoned pro when D.W. Griffith began directing, founding her own studio, Solax, in Fort Lee, NJ in 1910.
I bring this up because there’s a Kickstarter campaign for an Alice Guy-Blache documentary, Be Natural (inspired by the slogan she emblazoned at the portals of Solax). Hers is a story begging to be told.
In 1930, scarcely 15 years after Guy-Blache’s heyday, Louella Parsons wrote a somewhat ahistorical article about Hollywood’s new “femme helmer”: “Paramount is proud of its only woman director, Dorothy Arzner. In fact, the whole film industry is proud of Miss Arzner, who with Lois Weber, is the only woman to achieve fame as a director. Years ago, of course, there was Mme. Blache. But we haven’t heard from her in a number of years.”
Time to hear from her now. Your thoughts? Other film pioneers equally deserving of rediscovery?