Born in Paris on July 1, 1873, Alice Guy-Blaché was a pioneer filmmaker and the first to make a narrative fiction film. In 1895, French brothers Louis and Auguste Lumière created the Cinématographe, a three-in-one device that could record, develop and project motion pictures. Using it, the Lumière shot footage of workers at their factory leaving at the end of the day. The resulting film that the brothers showed at an industrial meeting in Paris in March of the same year is considered to be the very first motion picture. However, Alice Guy-Blaché was the one who discovered a brand new way to tell stories. In 1896, she directed La Fee Aux Choux, the world’s first narrative film, which combined theatrical fiction with moving images. Alice became the very first film director and executive producer in the entire history of cinematography.
From 1896 to 1906 she was probably the only female filmmaker in the world. In 1907, Alice Guy married Herbert Blaché, who was soon appointed production manager of the Gaumont film studio in the United States. After working together for Gaumont, the couple decided to continue on their own, partnering with George A. Magie in formation of the Solax Studios in Flushing, New York in 1910. Guy was an innovative woman and experimented with Gaumont’s Chronophone sound syncing system, color tinting, and interracial casting. She employed some of the first special effects, including using double exposure, masking techniques, and running a film backwards. Alice’s new groundbreaking style made their company, Solax, so successful that in 1912 the partners invested more than $100,000 into new and technologically advanced production facilities in Fort Lee, New Jersey, the birthplace of the American film industry. It was mentioned in publications of the era that Guy-Blaché hung a large sign on the wall in her studio, instructing her actors to ‘Be Natural’.
In 1912, being on the leading edge of the field, she made the film A Fool and His Money, with a cast comprised entirely of African-American actors, which was and still is considered avant-garde. She explored dance and travel films, often combining the two, such as Le Bolero performed by Miss Saharet (1950), and Tango (1905). Many of her early dance films were popular in music-hall attractions, such as the serpentine dance films – also an important element of the Lumières and Thomas Edison film catalogs. In 1906, she made The Life of Christ, a thirty-minute extravaganza that featured twenty-five sets as well as numerous exterior locations and over three hundred extras.
Around 1913, Herbert Blaché started a film company called Blaché Features, Inc. For the next few years, the couple maintained a personal and business partnership, working together on many projects. In 1918, Herbert Blaché left his wife and two children to pursue a career in Hollywood. After their divorce, and with the rise of the more hospitable and cost-effective climate in Hollywood, their film partnership also ended. Alice directed her last film in 1919. In 1921 she was forced to auction her film studio and other possessions in bankruptcy, after which she returned to her home country, France, and never made a film again.
A creator of over 1,000 films during her 20-year career, Alice is credited with having influenced many artists, including Alfred Hitchcock and Barbra Streisand. The films mentioned in this article, and several other surviving works of the director are now at the National Center for Film and Video Preservation at the American Film Institute. The first woman in her field, Alice Guy-Blaché was and continues to be an inspiration, not only for she was a pioneering force in multiple aspects of the burgeoning film industry, having built a career that most women didn’t dare to aspire after at that time; but also for she was breaking the ground and literally turning dreams into reality through her art.