Women have made gigantic strides in almost every field. And the film industry is no exception as there are women who have made their mark as actors. But, given the inadequacy in the number of lady filmmakers even in this 21st century, we bring to you the first lady filmmaker of the world - Alice Guy Blaché. She has shown the world what a woman is capable of if given a fair chance to prove her skills. A lady being fiercely active in a male-dominated industry in the late 19th century is no mean feat.
Alice was born in 1873 to Emile Guy, an owner of a bookstore and publishing company, and Marie Clotilde Franceline Aubert. She lived in Switzerland with her grandmother till the age of three after which she lived with her mother in Chile. At the age of six, Alice moved to France to attend school. The death of her father in 1891 forced Alice to consider working as a typist and stenographer, a relatively new field at the time, to support her family.
Later her stint as a Secretary at Felix-Max Richard, a camera manufacturing and photography supply company, paved the route to getting acquainted with different marketing strategies and multi-talented clientele. Becoming familiar with the first demonstration of film projection, she was confident of incorporating fictional story-telling elements into film. Having got the consent of the founders, she made her own film, arguably the world's first narrative film, La Fée aux Choux (The Cabbage Fairy), in 1896. In fact, she was crowned as the first woman director.
For a decade, she reigned as the only lady filmmaker in this entire world when she explored dance and travel films, which became hugely popular back then. From 1896 to 1906, the only lady filmmaker in this entire world directed close to a thousand films, indeed mind-boggling to find someone with this staggering number of projects to her credit, leave alone the gender of the person.
In 1906, she made The Life of Christ, an expensive production project for the time. She was also one of the pioneers who used audio recordings in conjunction with the images on screen. She was also the first to incorporate special effects, including techniques like double exposure, masking and running a film backwards and experimented films with Chronophone sync-sound system with color-tinting, interracial casting.
After her marriage to Herbert Blaché, Alice founded The Solax Company, the largest pre-Hollywood studio in America. The couple maintained a personal and business partnership. To focus on her family and her career, she appointed her husband the president of Solax in 1913. Meanwhile, Herbert Blaché started a film company called Blaché Features, Inc and the couple continued to collaborate on their projects till 1918 when her husband left his family for a career in films.
In 1919, Alice was almost dead due to Spanish Flu, a pandemic that had claimed many lives back then. Guy-Blaché directed her last film in 1919. By 1921, it was a riches to rags story as she was forced to auction her film studio and other possessions in bankruptcy.
But, history had most of the time been cruel to women. Despite being one of the pioneers of film making, Alice's name is lost in obscurity. A hugely important personality - a prolific filmmaker, a screenwriter, a producer, a studio head, credited to be a pioneer in modern filmmaking had to meet such cold apathy.
Her contribution to cinema is masked as her works were credited to her male assistants, blame it on the fragility of the medium called cinema as record keeping and conserving were expensive. She was immensely concerned about not being credited for her works and continued relentlessly to create a historical record of her ventures. She drafted long lists of her projects hoping to get the due credit and rightful ownership.
The multi-talented legend died in New Jersey, aged 94, conveniently overlooked by her posterity in the film industry.
Recognition came in rather very late to this unsung legend. She failed to get her due during her successful years but won it when she went into oblivion. In 1953, Alice was awarded the Légion d'honneur, the highest non-military award of France.
In the 21st century, works depicting her as the lead character of documentaries were premiered in theaters. In 2004, a historic marker dedicated to her was unveiled at the location of Solax Studio by the Fort Lee Film Commission. In 2012, for the centennial commemoration of the founding and building of the studio, funds were raised to replace her grave marker, the newer one which included the Solax logo.
In 2010, the Academy Film Archive were magnanimous to preserve Alice Guy-Blaché's short film The Girl in the Armchair. In 2011, the Fort Lee Film Commission coaxed the Directors Guild of America to accept Alice Guy-Blaché as a member. She bagged the posthumous 'Special Directorial Award for Lifetime Achievement' at the 2011 DGA Honors and was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2013.
A few determined hearts made a film that showcased her works which was screened at 2018 Cannes Film Festival, and it threw light on Guy-Blaché’s art, her prowess as a business woman, and her lasting contribution to cinema.
It is indeed a matter of shame for the entire film fraternity that a legend who was a trailblazer and a pioneer had to meet with such a fate and had to seek what was rightfully hers. The world owes Alice an apology.