Alice Guy Blache’s Life & Times

On Saturday, March 24th, it will be 50 years. Alice Guy Blaché b. July 1, 1873 – d. March 24, 1968.

Alice GuyShe was the first woman film director and the first to make fiction films before women had the right to vote according to Alison McMahon, Alice Guy Blache Lost Visionary of the Cinema, Alice Guy developed narrative film stories at a time when it really didn’t exist. Born July 1, 1873, to French parents, her father owned a chain of bookstores in Chile and her mother returned home to give birth to Alice in Saint-Mandé. They returned to Chile for her early years, remaining there until an earthquake destroyed her father’s bookselling business. While she and her sisters were sent to a boarding school in Convent du Sacré-Coeur, Viry, France 1879–85 for a strict Catholic education, her father encouraged Alice to learn a practical skill so she can always support herself. Taking up stenography, Alice was hired as a secretary by Leon Gaumont for his still photography company in 1894. Gaumont allowed Alice to learn the new technology as long as it didn’t interfere with her secreterial duties. In her spare time, Alice experimented using inventions and techniques for still photography integrating into moving pictures. She became head of production for the Gaumont Film Company between 1896 to 1906 and directed her first film, La Fee aux Choux (The Cabbage Fairy) in 1896. Using Gaumont’s “chronophone,” she made her first sound synchronized and colorized films around 1900. In doing so, Alice Guy became the first woman filmmaker in the world, directing at least 324 films.

Alice Guy married Herbert Blache in 1907 and were sent to start up Gaumont’s Chronophone (sound synced talking film system) business in America. However, American filmmaking and exhibiting seemed behind the times, and it took another three years before Alice creates her own studio, Solax, renting Gaumont’s underused studio space. She gives birth to a daughter, Simone in 1908 and son, Reginald in 1911 when the Solax Company was formed on Lemoine Avenue in Fort Lee, New Jersey.

By 1912, the entire studio and factory, Solax Company, was planned, owned and operated by Madame Alice Guy Blaché. It was completed with an outlay of $100,000 and had all departments. It was large enough to accommodate five stage settings, a shipping department for finished products to be shipped for distribution including printed posters and marketing materials. There were laboratories and dark rooms for film development; a projection room to check product; drying rooms capable of drying 6,000 feet of film at a time. The accessory department included property rooms, scene painting, carpentry shop, costume design. As a director for twenty-eight years, Alice Guy Blaché accomplished things that no one was doing at the time– special effects, super imposition, synchronized sound films between 1902 and 1906. Up until 1912, she was the only woman film director who was producing a consistent body of work in the world.

Herbert Blaché’s contract with Gaumont expired in 1913 and Alice Guy makes him president of Solax so that she can concentrate on writing and directing. After three months, Blaché resigns and starts his own film company, Blaché Features using Solax Company’s factory, inventory and actors eventually superseding Solax production, so that by 1914, Solax Company is virtually defunct. Things go downhill following several bad business deals as well Herbert’s move to Hollywood with Catrine Calvert, an actress, who starred in four films that Alice Guy directed.

After eventual bankruptcy and final divorce proceedings, Alice Guy Blaché returns with her children to France in 1922. Despite her successes, efforts to work in the French film industry do not bear fruit. She returns to the U.S. in 1927 to find copies of her films, but finds none, not even at the Library of Congress where some were copyrighted. When the silent film era ends in 1929, it becomes clear that she will not make films again. She becomes financially dependent on her children, especially her daughter, Simone.

From 1947-1952  Simone and Alice Guy live in Washington D.C. In Georgetown, she begins to seriously work on her memoirs and filmography, and renews the search for her films. She also begins a correspondence with Louis Gaumont, Léon Gaumont’s son and in 1954, Louis Gaumont gives a speech in Paris on “Madame Alice Guy Blaché, the First Woman Filmmaker” whom, he says, “has been unjustly forgotten.” Film historians such as: Jean Mitry, Georges Sadoul, René Jeanne and Charles Ford begin to take notice of her and in 1955, Alice Guy is awarded the Légion d’Honneur, France’s highest nonmilitary honor. On March 16, 1957, Alice Guy is honored in a Cinémathèque Francaise ceremony which goes unnoticed by the press. In 1963, Victor Bachy, the professor who initiated the academic study of cinema in Belgium, meets Alice Guy by accident and begins researching her work. By 1965, Alice Guy and Simone move to Mahwah, New Jersey. On March 24, 1968, Alice Guy Blaché dies in a nursing home at the age of 95 and is buried at Maryrest Cemetery in Mahwah.

By 1976, Alice Guy Blache’s memoirs were published in French, with a filmography by Francis Lacassin. The Memoirs of Alice Guy Blache translated by Roberta and Simone Blaché and edited by Anthony Slide was published in 1986. Publication of Victor Bachy’s Alice Guy-Blaché: La Première femme cinéaste du monde in 1994 and Alice Guy-Blaché: Lost Visionary of the Cinema by Alison McMahon in 2002.

In 2011, Director’s Guild of America bestowed a Special Directorial Award for Lifetime Achievement upon this pioneer filmmaker, Alice Guy Blaché, in recognition of her groundbreaking career as the first female filmmaker and the first filmmaker to develop narrative filmmaking. On July 1, 2012, due to efforts by members of the Fort Lee Film Commission, supporters and friends, a new marker at Maryrest Cemetery reads: Alice Guy Blache – First Woman Motion Picture Director; First Woman Studio Head; President of the Solax Company, Fort Lee, New Jersey.


Susan Lazarus, New York Women in Film & Television (NYWiFT) Women’s Film Preservation Fund.

End-of-Year Strong Women Roles FilmFestivViews Episode 101

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Twelve years ago New Year’s Eve, I put out my first podcast program, Film Festival reViews, a tryst for indie film lovers around the film festival circuit worldwide. Since then, End-of-Year shows highlight the films, festivals, music comings and goings. This year, we focused on a few of the notable and personal preference for strong women roles in all platforms– The Novitiate (Sundance) with a current theatrical screening at the Village East Cinema in New York City through January 4th; Ice Mother (Tribeca Film Festival) an international film from the Czech Republic; Wonder Woman (Box Office sensation) and Gal Gadot’s next project; The Keepers (Netflix Docuseries); The Trouble With Angels (Director, Ida Lupino). Recording and audio engineer and long time musician, Yuri’s music choices reaches into the pocket and pulls out some gems that stays with us for a long time. Looking forward to the coming year’s film festival season. Thanks for listening– become a subscriber! Happy New Year…

Here’s Looking Into Bette Davis’ Eyes FilmFestivViews Episode 100

Wanting more about movie icon, Bette Davis, Christina Kotlar and Yuri Turchyn, co hosts for Film Festival reViews 100th show, went on a 1930s/40s cinema-watching Bette Davis movies binge after witnessing Jessica Sherr’s one-woman show, Bette Davis Ain’t for Sissies. It’s a firecracker of a show where “you fasten your seatbelts– it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

Music and melodrama, professional rivalries, fighting the studio system and life imitating art are among the topics and conversation on some of the films chosen by Yuri– Dangerous, Jezebel, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane and Dark Victory, elusive to Bette Davis’ triple crown Oscar achievement.

So, the Bette Davis Ain’t For Sissies show begins…

Bette Davis Ain't PosterIt’s early evening of the 1939 Academy Awards–young Miss Davis is nominated for Best Actress in Dark Victory, and the Los Angeles Times LEAKS the OSCAR winners EARLY!! “This year Vivian Leigh will take home the Oscar for Best Actress!”… With newspaper in hand the BOLD, DEFIANT and DISILLUSIONED Bette Davis decides to leave! Journey into the young starlet’s battle to win freedom from the grip and control of Hollywood’s studio moguls. Witness Bette’s most defining moments as a tenacious young actor fighting her way to the top!! See what happens when someone who always wins…loses.

Catch Jessica Sherr’s Bette Davis Ain’t For Sissies on Tuesday, Dec 12, 2017 at the Episcopal Actor’s Guild NYC

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Hedy Lamarr Bombshell @Tribeca Film Fest Episode099

Hedy Lamarr ImageWhile most films we’ve seen at Tribeca Film Festival depended upon programmer scheduling to fit with our own, there were several that fit perfectly with the women in film line up that I focus on. Yuri Turchyn found the most appropo music for this episode. Opening  starts with Music for Hedy (unknown); You Stepped Out of a Dream (Johnny Mathis); For Ice Mother, a Czech film (Tribeca Award Winner for Screenwriting) surrounding an older women’s rebirth and renaissance following a chance meeting with ice swimmers, we hear opening from the Moldau (Smetana); Do not listen to other reviews or poorly written program descriptions otherwise almost didn’t go see November, an Estonian film (Tribeca Award Winner for Cinematography) that encompasses Slavic folk music, legendary and pagan rites that drives women in their seasonal lives and loves. Closing theme finds full circle in Music for Hedy.

Punk Rock Music in Film@Tribeca FilmFestivViews Episode 098

Friday Night Opening Weekend at Tribeca Film Festival 2017 was a one of a kind cinematic experience under Special Screenings The Public Image is Rotten combining performance and after the film screening conversation with John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, original front man for the punk rock band, the Sex Pistols. After their break up in late 70s, he emerged as the lead singer of Public Image Ltd (PiL), continuing in an unconventional sight and sound style and structure.  There are no copy bands of the Sex Pistols or PiL and there’s a reason why– each performance is unique and unto itself.

From the beginning, punk rock became the voice for artists breaking free from a mainstream format and the record companies’ stranglehold on their creative artistry and earnings.  As Lydon recalls the many ups and downs of a live music performer’s lifestyle– from fellow band members comings and goings to the vastly changed music business landscape– his pondering becomes a poetic musing on survival and continuing performances as one artist with a decidedly different Bohemian lifestyle.

Tabbert Fiiller, former bassist for the band MaxSinger Z makes his directorial debut taking the audience on a remarkable free-from ride through the personal and professional POVs of Lydon and his band mates. I love the hair.

March is Women in Film History Month FilmFestivViews Episode097

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Women in Film History Month with Barbara Moss, founder of Women’s Film Preservation Fund, along with the amazing, committed women on this WFPF committee and New York Women in Film & Television (NYWiFT) as well as their partners –staunch and steadfast –in the quest to preserve the legacy of women who were the early cinema pioneers. This month is my crazy as a March Hare month as I recall falling into the rabbit hole a decade ago with Fort Lee Film Commission introducing me to Alice Guy Blache, first woman filmmaker and the godmother to all women in film.

Strad Style a Winner@Slamdance 2017 FilmFestivViews Episode096

Strad Style, winner of 2017 Slamdance Documentary Feature and Audience Award literally knocked us off our feet. Yuri’s choice of music introduction for our Strad Style experience is perfectly suited as it continues to inspire him, long after the crazy week in Park City was over. Very inspirational for me as well. This is my tenth year going to Sundance | Slamdance, while Yuri experienced it for the first time. I wanted him to really have the best film festival experience in all aspects from the film screenings, the filmmakers, the film festival  community and the burgeoning economic development of the film business itself– he did.

Music in Film@Woodstock Film Festival 2016 FilmFestivViews Episode 095

On a recent perfect autumn weekend spent in the Catskills, at the fiercely independent Woodstock Film Festival 2016, Christina Kotlar and Yuri Turchyn recap in an absorbed art of conversation sorting through a carefully chosen weekend schedule of award winning films– picking out the sounds that underscored the visually beautifully made sights. Highlights include Two Trains Runnin’, a juxtaposition of the civil rights movement and the search for 1930s recording musicians, saving their music from extinction; the American Epic music project preserving an incredible treasure trove of American music history and music scores galore.

Dark Horse a Winner@Sundance FilmFestivViews Episode093

“Waking Ned Devine Meets Mr. Ed” is how I describe Director Louise Osmond’s superbly crafted documentary Dark Horse. Dream Alliance  is the “talking” horse that became the talk of the town in the village of Cefn Fforest in one of the poorest Welsh mining valleys, Gwent, north of Newport.  The local Workingmen’s Club is the setting for the real life characters specifically Jan Vokes, a barmaid in the club, who has a burning desire to breed a champion racehorse. Aside from this quirky cast, Dream becomes his own pivotal character, a handsome devil, a rich chestnut color with white blaze and a deep gaze, intensely thoughtful and curious.  Dark Horse was a runaway hit at Sundance 2015 winning the Audience Award in the World Cinema Documentary Competition.