Creating film history

... first woman motion picture director, producer and supervisor

by George Nelson Torrey

Alice Guy Blache' is the first woman director in history and she is often referred to as the first motion-picture pioneer. In her lifetime she not only directed nearly 300 films but she also helped overcome the repression of women in society.

Balche' gave women greater opportunities by becoming a successful director, producer and supervisor. After accomplishing the greatest goals of a woman in the early 1900's, Alice Guy Blache' spent the rest of her life trying to prove to others her success.

Alice Guy Blache' was born Alice Guy on July 1, 1873 in the outskirts of Paris. Blache's father taught her the love of literature and the arts. She was the youngest of four daughters and received most of her education at convent schools around Paris.

After her father's death, Alice, to earn a living, took upon herself to learn shorthand and typing, the first of many accomplishments.

In 1885, Alice was hired as a secretary by the Gaumont organization who manufactured still-photography equipment. In 1896, Alice Guy was fascinated by the new invention that made still photographs appear as a series of moving pictures.

Gaumont couldn't imagine what this new camera could be used for, but Alice had the vision. She knew that the camera was invented to entertain and mystify the world. Gaumont didn't take Alice's idea seriously and let her play with the "child's toy," as he often referred to it.

Later the same year, 1896, Alice showed her first film La Fee aux Choux (The Cabbage Fairy) at the International Exhibition in Paris. The premise was based on an old French fable about a fairy who "produces" children in a cabbage patch.

Alice was so successful with her "child's toy" that she was placed in charge of Gaumont's new production entity. Alice Guy produced nearly all the films made by the firm through 1906. She specialized in the talking Chronophone films, and trained future film directors.

Alice's film subjects varied from operas, cowboys and military. Many of her films utilized cinematic tricks, such as running the film backwards, masking and double exposure.

In 1907, while filming bullfights in Nimes, she met and soon married an English cameraman, Herbert Blache'. The couple moved to America, where they soon had a daughter, Simone and a son, Reginald. In 1910, Alice became bored with the simplicities of domestic life and went back to directing.

Alice Guy Blache' started, organized and owned "The Solax Company." Her mission was to cater films specific to American tastes and acted in by American artists. The company produced over 325 films.

Alice was so successful she moved the company from New York to Fort Lee, New Jersey, where she constructed the best moving picture plant in the world. By 1919 it was virtually impossible for any independent film company to compete with the onslaught of the major Hollywood studios.

She began to work as a consultant to the major companies but it was clear that her career in the American industry was finished and so was her marriage. She returned to France in 1922 with her two children, hoping to pick up the pieces of her career. She was without prints of her films, and now a middle aged woman, no one would employ her.

In 1927, she returned to the United States to search for her films. Alice visited the Library of Congress and many other film depositories and found nothing. Blache' then began supporting herself by producing conferences at universities on "feminine psychology and film making."

Alice believed in both marriage and in a working life for women. Her success came naturally yet she was forced to spend the rest of her life correcting the mistakes of historians and trying to prove her accomplishments to society.

Alice Guy Blache' at age 78 was finally honored in France as the first woman filmmaker in the world and made a Knight of the French Legion of Honor. Yet, in Mahway, New Jersey, the place where she made her major contributions to film history, she died anonymous at the age of 95.

August 5, 2005

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