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Alice Guy-Blaché

Alice Guy-Blache

Alice Guy-Blaché, July 1, 1873 - died March 24, 1968, was a pioneer filmmaker who was the first female director in the motion picture industry and is considered to be the first ever director of a fiction film.

Born Alice Guy to French parents who were working in Chile where her father owned a chain of bookstores, her mother returned home to give birth to Alice in Paris. For the first few years of her life she was left in the care of her grandmother in Switzerland until her mother came to take her to Chile where she lived with her family for about two years. She was then sent to study at a boarding school in France and was a young girl entering her teens when her parents returned from Chile. However, shortly thereafter, her father and brother both died.

In 1894 Alice Guy was hired by Léon Gaumont to work for a still-photography company as a secretary. The company soon went out of business but Gaumont bought the defunct operations inventory and began his own company that soon became a major force in the fledgling motion picture industry in France. Alice Guy decided to join the new Gaumont Film Company, a decision that led to a pioneering career in filmmaking spanning more than twenty-five years and involving her directing, producing, and/or overseeing more than 700 films.

From 1897 to 1906, Alice Guy was Gaumont's head of production and was the world's first filmmaker to systematically develop narrative filmmaking. In 1906, she made her first full length feature film titled The Life of Christ, a big budget production for the time, which included 300 extras. That same year she also made the film La Fee Printemps (The Spring Fairy), one of the first movies ever to be shot in color. As well, she pioneered the use of recordings on a wax cylinder in conjunction with the images on screen. An innovator, she employed special effects, using double exposure masking techniques and even running a film backwards.

In 1907 Alice Guy married Herbert Blaché who was soon appointed the production manager for Gaumont's operations in the United States. After working with her husband for Gaumont in the USA, the two struck out on their own in 1910, partnering with George A. Magie in the formation of The Solax Company. With production facilities for their new company in Flushing, New York, her husband served as production manager as well as cinematographer and Alice Guy-Blaché worked as the artistic director, directing many of its releases. Within two years they had become so successful that they were able to invest more than $100,000 into new and technologically advanced production facilities in Fort Lee, New Jersey, a place that was quickly becoming the film capital of America and home to many major film studios.

Alice Guy and her husband divorced several years later and with the decline of the East Coast film industry in favour of the more hospitable and cost effective climate in Hollywood, their film partnership also ended.

Following her separation, and after Solax ceased production, Alice Guy-Blaché went to work for William Randolph Hearst's International Film Service. She returned to France in 1922 and although she never made another film, for the next 30 years she gave lectures on film and wrote novels from film scripts. All but forgotten for decades, in 1953 the government of France awarded her the Legion of Honor.

Alice Guy-Blaché never remarried and in 1964 she returned to the United States to stay with one of her daughters. She died in a nursing home in Mahwah, New Jersey. In 1995, a French language film with a title translated as The Lost Garden: The Life and Cinema of Alice Guy-Blaché told her pioneering story. In 2002, author Alison Mcmahan published Alice Guy Blaché: Lost Visionary of the Cinema.


Note: This profile was written in or before 2004.

Alice Guy-Blache Facts

OccupationDirector, Screenwriter
BirthdayJuly 1, 1873
SignCancer
BirthplaceParis, France
Date of deathMarch 24, 1968 (age 94)

Selected Filmography

Not available.