She Made Film History. So Why Is She Mostly Unknown?

A new documentary revives the career of Alice Guy-Blaché
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 25, 2019 4:45 PM CDT
Updated Aug 26, 2019 12:21 AM CDT

Heard of Alice Guy-Blaché? Don't worry, you're not alone. That's why there's a new documentary about the pre-World War I film pioneer, the Smithsonian reports. Born in 1873, Guy-Blaché directed hundreds of movies and was among the first to use synchronized sound, close-ups, and hand-tinted color. She was also head of production at the world's first film studio—Gaumont, in Paris—and in 1896 directed what may be the first narrative film ever, La Fée aux choux (The Cabbage Fairy), about how babies are made. By 1910 she had her own film studio in New York City after moving there with her husband, cameraman Herbert Blaché. A sign hung in the studio told actors to "Be Natural"—advice that's still true today.

She directed A Fool and His Money, likely the first movie with an all-black cast, but hit a bad-luck streak when their business and marriage fell apart and she barely survived the Spanish flu. Returning to France in 1922, she learned that a woman with 1,000 films under her belt couldn't get work. She also learned film historians and academics were writing her out of movie history, with much of her work credited to her husband or male assistants. She fought back, but died mostly obscure in New Jersey in 1968, per Artnet. Now Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché shows filmmaker Pamela Green finding Blaché's family and rediscovering her life's work. "How could such an important figure in the birth of cinema not be known?" Green asks in the trailer. (More film stories.)

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