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Pamela B Green’s hectic, garrulous, fascinating documentary recovers the story of French film-maker Alice Guy-Blaché (working from Alison McMahan’s book Alice Guy-Blaché: Lost Visionary of the Cinema). She was a hugely important pioneer of early cinema who was the first woman to direct a feature film – perhaps the first director ever – a figure admired by Eisenstein and Hitchcock, and a prolific director, screenwriter, producer and prototypical studio chief who helped invent the idiom of modern movie-making. The notice “Be Natural” on the wall of her Solax studio in New Jersey was a testament to her belief that, however stylised and generic, acting and films in general should not be bizarre pantomimes but artworks connected to the real world.
The documentary is narrated by its producer Jodie Foster, and tells the remarkable life story of a woman who was one of the first entranced witnesses to the Lumières’ initial screenings of their cinematograph invention in Paris. She was employed by a photography company taken over by Léon Gaumont, and from there developed her own interest in the cinema, directing what is perhaps the world’s first narrative film, entitled The Cabbage Fairy (1896) and then establishing a studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey – the place where American movie-making happened before the big move west to Hollywood.
However, after her divorce and her return to France, Guy-Blaché found herself erased from history, as she failed to find work and then saw successive generations of film historians become professionally invested in the alpha-male reputations of Gaumont, Feuillade, Lumière etc.
In an age when reels of celluloid easily became lost, the films themselves could not speak for Guy-Blaché, and even the great Henri Langlois, revered head of the Cinémathèque Française, appeared oblivious to her achievements. Now that is all changing.
• Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché is released in the UK on 17 January.
Source: The Guardian
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