Film pioneer, Alice Guy-Blaché gets her due

Pamela Green and Jarik van Sluijs are founding partners at PIC Agency, an audio-visual communications studio focused on entertainment and motion design based in Los Angeles, California. For more than two years Green and van Sluijs have worked on a documentary that tells the story of Alice Guy-Blaché, cinema’s first woman director.  With Be Natural: The untold story of Alice Guy-Blaché, Green (director) and van Sluijs (co-director) are giving proper credit and bringing attention to the work of Guy-Blaché, who for some reason fell off the timeline in the retelling of film history.

Taken directly from their site, here’s how and why Green and van Sluijs came up with the title for their documentary, Be Natural:

“When Alice Guy-Blaché directed actors – many of whom had never seen a film camera before – she advised them to “Be Natural.” As she recalled in an interview, she had signs saying that in her Solax studio.”

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 Recognized by masters like Hitchcock…

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…there’s no doubt Alice Guy-Blaché made a definitive mark on motion pictures and due to that, the efforts of Green and van Sluijs must be supported.  This is my humble attempt to bring what attention I can to their efforts in telling the untold story of Alice Guy-Blaché to the masses.  For details of their journey and the resulting documentary, please visit the site here.  The story of making the film is interesting in its own right.

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Coincidentally, a couple of weeks before I learned of Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché, I’d decided to venture through Fort Lee, New Jersey in search of early film sites.  I’d come across a downloadable map that anyone interested can follow to take a self-guided tour of early film sites in the area. The map pinpoints sites where early studios sat and includes details of where certain silent films were shot.  Among the markers posted by the Fort Lee Film Commission is a plaque near a supermarket at 2160 Lemoine Avenue, which notes that in 1912 filmmaker, Alice Guy-Blaché set up a film studio there called Solax.

solax

The film site map of Fort Lee, history notations and many early film preservation projects connected to the area are administered by the Fort Lee Film Commission.  An August 15, 2013 New York Times article, “Getting a Close-Up of the Silent-Film Era,” describes the work of the Commission and the history of film in Fort Lee and surrounding areas, with special mention given to Alice Guy-Blaché.

After taking the self-guided tour, I sent an email to Tom Meyers, Director of the Fort Lee Film Commission to let him know how much I’d enjoyed discovering the trail of early film pioneers by using the map as a guide. I also asked Mr. Meyers about the work of the Commission and his response included details of how much time and energy has been spent to ensure Alice Guy-Blaché is recognized and given her rightful place on that front:

“We have worked to get recognition for the first woman filmmaker, Alice Guy Blache.  She was born in France and was one of the first three filmmakers in France in the 1890s where she worked for Gaumont.  By 1912 she moved to Fort Lee where she built Solax Studio and here she produced, wrote and directed hundreds of films before women in this nation had the right to vote.  We placed the only historic marker dedicated to Alice Guy in this nation at the site of her Solax Studio in Fort Lee.  Since then we have lobbied the Director’s Guild of America successfully to honor Alice Guy, which they did in 2011 at the 75th Anniversary of the DGA where Martin Scorsese introduced a clip reel tribute to Alice Guy.  This year we lobbied the NJ Hall of Fame and Alice Guy will be inducted into the NJ Hall of Fame on October 21.  We also raised funds to replace the marker on her grave at Maryrest Cemetery in Mahwah. NJ with a marker that lists her as a cinema pioneer.”

Green, van Sluijs and supporters of their documentary have done a fantastic job spreading the word about Alice Guy-Blaché and as a classic film fan I feel it’s my duty to play whatever part I can.  So here I am noting officially how excited I am to watch Be Natural.  By the way, it’s worthy of note that Be Natural boasts Robert Redford as Executive Producer and Jodie Foster as narrator, just two of the impressive names attached to it – further proof that Madame Blaché’s story is well worth telling.

I sincerely hope people turn out in droves to take a look at Be Natural. Alice Guy-Blaché was not only the first female film director, which would have made her worthy of attention in its own right, but she went much further, defying conventions by becoming “the first female movie studio owner, and one of the most prominent filmmakers in the industry, making her one of the highest paid women in the U.S.” (Green/van Sluijs)  It’s astounding her story’s not known, but this week you can rectify that!

UPDATE:  January 15, 2014

I thought making note of the following announcement here, to follow the information I’d originally posted (above) would bring this to a nice conclusion – for the time being.

By Tom Meyers, Director of the Fort Lee Film Commission:

I am very pleased to announce that last night at the Newark Museum the New Jersey Hall of Fame inducted pioneer Fort Lee filmmaker Alice Guy Blache’. Madame Blache’, born in France, came to Fort Lee in 1912 and built her studio Solax here where she directed, wrote and produced hundreds of films between 1912 and World War I before women in this nation had the right to vote. As a voting member and Commissioner of the NJ Hall of Fame I have to thank both Senator Weinberg and Senator Sweeney for their support. Senator Weinberg requested that Senator Sweeney consider me for his nomination to the NJ Hall of Fame Board of Commissioners last year and without that support we wouldn’t have Alice in the NJ Hall of Fame today.

I have to commend and celebrate the work of Tom Meyers and the Fort Lee Film Commission.  I happen to follow the Commission’s page on Facebook and can attest to the passion, excitement and pride with which Mr. Meyers shares the ties that bind his home town to the history of film.

Aurora

6 thoughts

  1. It seems that, at last, Alice’s time in the sun may be coming. As you know, I spend the bulk of my research (both for my tour and also for my unquenchable curiosity) on the entertainment industry as it existed in Hollywood, but it’s so great to hear stories from the earliest days; without which there never would have been a Hollywood.

    1. I DO KNOW and credit your wonderful tours and fabulous storytelling with sparking my (renewed) interest in the earliest days of filmdom. I was planning a post on your tour but when I lost my pictures I put it aside.

      Aurora

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