Alice Guy-Blaché: cinema pioneer

Madame a des envies (1906), directed by Alice Guy

I’m a little late in taking note of an exhibition with associated screenings and events which is running at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Alice Guy Blaché: Cinema Pioneer runs 6 November 2009-24 January 2010, and is dedicated to one of the most interesting of cinema pioneers. Usually described as the first women film director (hmm, maybe), Alice Guy (later Alice Guy-Blaché) (1873–1968) played a significant role in both French and American cinema, writing, directing and producing early silent and sound-on-disc films, running her own studio (Solax) and establishing an individual vision as a filmmaker which makes her of that much more interest that just an historical ‘first’, however enterprising.

The blurb on the exhibition site describes things thus:

This is the first comprehensive retrospective of the films of Alice Guy Blaché (1873–1968), a key but unsung figure of the early years of cinema, the first woman director, and the first woman to establish and preside over her own film studio. Between 1896 and 1920, first in France and then in the United States, she wrote, directed, supervised, and/or produced more than 1,000 films. These ranged from short films of less than a minute’s duration to full-length multi-reel features and include some hand-tinted in color, and more than one hundred films with synchronized sound made between 1902 and 1906, some twenty years before sound revolutionized motion pictures as we now know them.

A screenwriter as well as director, she worked in a remarkable variety of genres including comedies, westerns, dramas, detective stories, and a biblical epic, as well as making films based on literary classics and theatrical productions. Alice Guy (as she was known at Gaumont Film Company), made her first story film at a time when the earliest motion pictures were used in the service of science and selling cameras—a time when the notion of motion pictures as a form of popular entertainment was not yet on the horizon. Radically shifting the parameters of cinematic imagination, production, and distribution, Blaché participated in every aspect of the evolving motion picture business, and her careers in the two countries where cinema was born testify to her extraordinary accomplishments.

The exhibition is organized by Whitney curator-at-large Joan Simon. It is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue, published by Yale University Press in association with the Whitney, with contributions by noted film scholars Jane Gaines, Alison McMahan, Charles Musser, Alan Williams, film historian and preservationist Kim Tomadjoglou, and the show’s organizer, Joan Simon.

As well as the exhibition, there was a symposium (now past) and a series of screenings, which began yesterday and continues until December 4. For the record (since this is the most comprehensive Guy retrospective mounted, and because usefully the print sources are given), these are films being shown:

PROGRAM 1: Myth & Magic
Chirurgie fin de siècle [Turn-of-the-century Surgery], 1900 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
La Petite magicienne [The Little Magician], 1900 (Gaumont).
Lobster Films, Paris
Intervention malencontreuse [Untimely Intervention], 1902 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Chiens savants [Performing Dogs], 1902 (Gaumont). Featuring Miss Dundee and her trained dogs. Lobster Films, Paris
Faust et Méphistophélès [Faust and Mephistopheles], 1903 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Une Histoire roulante [A Rolling Story], 1906 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Ballon dirigeable—Lebaudy N3 [The Dirigible—Lebaudy No. 3], 1906 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Greater Love Hath No Man 1911 (Solax). Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Algie the Miner 1912 (Solax). Directed by Edward Warren and Harry Shenck. Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Alice Guy tourne une phonoscène [Alice Guy directs a phonoscène], 1905 (Gaumont). Gaumont Pathé Archives, Paris
L’Anatomie du conscrip [Anatomy of a Recruit], 1905 (Gaumont, 1905; phonoscène) Performed by Polin. Gaumont. Pathé Archives, Paris. Sound
Questions indiscrètes [Indiscreet Questions], 1905 (Gaumont; phonoscène) Performed by Félix Mayol. Gaumont Pathé Archives, Paris. Sound

PROGRAM 2: Scoring Guy Blaché: Selections from the Alice Guy Blaché Film Score Project

Roads Lead Home, 1913 (Solax). Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Sound: Alice Guy Blaché Film Score Project: A Whitney Live Commission. Musical score composed by Tamar Muskal and performed for the recording by Erin Keefe (violin), Pedja Muzijevic (piano), and Wilhelmina Smith (cello), 2009
Falling Leaves 1912 (Solax). Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Sound: Alice Guy Blaché Film Score Project: A Whitney Live Commission. Musical score composed by Tamar Muskal and performed for the recording by Erin Keefe (violin), Pedja Muzijevic (piano), and Wilhelmina Smith (cello), 2009

PROGRAM 3: Saving Guy Blaché: Newly Restored Films

Mixed Pets 1911 (Solax) Library of Congress, Washington, DC
A House Divided 1913 (Solax) Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Sound: musical score by Barbara Harbach

PROGRAM 4: Detective Story

Burstop Holmes’ Murder Case 1913 (Solax) Em Gee Film Library, Reseda, CA

PROGRAM 5: Sound Meets Silents: Featuring 35mm Films and Live Musical Accompaniment by Donald Sosin

Baignade dans le torrent [Swimming in the Stream], 1897 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Le Pêcheur dans le torrent [The Fisherman in the Stream], 1897 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Ballet libella 1897 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Danse du papillon [Butterfly Dance], 1897 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Danse serpentine [Serpentine Dance], 1897 (Gaumont). Performances by Mme Bob Walter. Lobster Films, Paris
Les Malabares [The Malabares], 1902 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Chapellerie et charcuterie mécaniques [Mechanical Hat-and-sausage-maker], 1900 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Chirurgie fin de siècle [Turn-of-the-century Surgery], 1900 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
La Petite magicienne [The Little Magician], 1900 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Intervention malencontreuse [Untimely Intervention], 1902 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Faust et Méphistophélès [Faust and Mephistopheles], 1903 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Chiens savants [Performing Dogs], 1902 (Gaumont). Featuring Miss Dundee and her trained dogs. Lobster Films, Paris
Une Histoire roulante [A Rolling Story], 1906 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Ballon dirigeable—Lebaudy N3 [The Dirigible—Lebaudy No. 3], 1906 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
The Ocean Waif 1916 (Golden Eagle Features/International Film Service) Library of Congress, Washington, DC

PROGRAM 6: Players & the Played/Alice Guy in Spain

Au cabaret [At the Club], 1899 (Gaumont). Archival Film Collections of the Swedish Film Institute, Stockholm
Avenue de l’Opéra 1900 (Gaumont). Archival Film Collections of the Swedish Film Institute, Stockholm
La Bonne absinthe [The Good Absinthe], 1899 (Gaumont). Archival Film Collections of the Swedish Film Institute, Stockholm
L’Aveugle fin de siècle [The Turn-of-the-century Blind Man], 1898 (Gaumont). Archival Film Collections of the Swedish Film Institute, Stockholm
A Fool and His Money 1912 (Solax). Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Sound: Alice Guy Blaché Film Score Project: A Whitney Live Commission. Musical score composed by Missy Mazzoli and performed for the recording by the ensemble Victoire: Olivia De Prato (violin), Lorna Krier (keyboards), Eileen Mack (clarinet), Missy Mazzoli (keyboards), and Eleonore Oppenheim (double bass), 2009
Roads Lead Home 1913 (Solax). Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Sound: Alice Guy Blaché Film Score Project: A Whitney Live Commission. Musical score composed by Tamar Muskal and performed for the recording by Erin Keefe (violin), Pedja Muzijevic (piano), and Wilhelmina Smith (cello), 2009
Alice Guy in Spain 1905 (Gaumont). Gaumont Pathé Archives, Paris
Tango 1905 (Gaumont). Gaumont Pathé Archives, Paris
Le Bolero [The Bolero], 1905 (Gaumont). Performed by Miss Saharet. Gaumont Pathé Archives, Paris

PROGRAM 7: Scoring Guy Blaché: Selections from the Alice Guy Blaché Film Score Project

A Fool and His Money 1912 (Solax). Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Sound: Alice Guy Blaché Film Score Project: A Whitney Live Commission. Musical score composed by Missy Mazzoli and performed for the recording by the ensemble Victoire: Olivia De Prato (violin), Lorna Krier (keyboards), Eileen Mack (clarinet), Missy Mazzoli (keyboards), and Eleonore Oppenheim (double bass), 2009
When Marian Was Little 1911 (Solax). Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Sound: Alice Guy Blaché Film Score Project: A Whitney Live Commission. Musical score composed by Missy Mazzoli and performed for the recording by the ensemble Victoire: Olivia De Prato (violin), Lorna Krier (keyboards), Eileen Mack (clarinet), Missy Mazzoli (keyboards), and Eleonore Oppenheim (double bass), 2009

PROGRAM 8: Saving Guy Blaché: Newly Restored Films

The Sewer 1912 (Solax). Directed by Edward Warren; set design and script by Henri Menessier. Library of Congress, Washington, DC

PROGRAM 9: Seeing Sound

Canned Harmony 1912 (Solax). Em Gee Film Library, Reseda, CA

PROGRAM 10: Sound Meets Silents: Featuring 35mm Films and Live Musical Accompaniment by Donald Sosin

Alice Guy tourne une phonoscène [Alice Guy films a phonoscène], 1905 (Gaumont). Gaumont Pathé Archives, Paris
Lilas-Blanc [White Lilacs], 1905 (Gaumont; phonoscène). Performed by Félix Mayol. Gaumont Pathé Archives, Paris. Sound
Five O’Clock Tea 1905 (Gaumont; phonoscène). Performances by Dranem. Gaumont Pathé Archives, Paris. Sound
Les Maçons [The Builders], 1905 (Gaumont). Performed by the O’Mers. La Cinémathèque royale de Belgique, Brussels
La Course à la saucisse [The Race after the Sausage], 1906 (Gaumont). La Cinémathèque royale de Belgique, Brussels
Le Matelas alcoolique or Le Matelas épileptique [The Alcoholic Mattress or The Epileptic Mattress], 1906 (Gaumont). Library of Congress, Washington, DC
La Glu [The Glue], 1906 (Gaumont). Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Une Course d’obstacles [An Obstacle-course Race], 1906 (Gaumont). Restored by Archives Françaises du Film du CNC, Bois d’Arcy, France
Two Little Rangers 1912 (Solax). Filmmuseum, Amsterdam
Algie the Miner 1912 (Solax). Directed by Edward Warren and Harry Shenck. Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Greater Love Hath No Man 1911 (Solax). Library of Congress, Washington, DC

PUBLIC PROGRAM: Film Evening Honoring the Women’s Film Preservation Fund of New York Women in Film and Television with live musical accompaniment by Ben Model

Mixed Pets 1911 (Solax). Library of Congress, Washington, DC
A Fool and His Money 1912 (Solax). Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

The Ocean Waif (1916)

The Whitney website also includes an image gallery, with striking images such as this gem from her 1916 production, The Ocean Waif. And there is now a whole YouTube channel devoted to Alice Guy, courtesy of the Whitney Museum, with 16 titles so far (though I’d challenge the claim that Little Tich and his Big Boots is a Gaumont phonoscène – it was made by Clément-Maurice for the Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre at the Paris Exposition of 1900).

Finally, some Alice Guy links for you:

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 303 other followers

%d bloggers like this: