Seeing this film is like taking a fascinating course in cinema. It is also akin to a scholarly detective story. Who was Alice Guy-Blaché and why don’t more people know about her?
In my 1979 book “Landmark Films: The Cinema and Our Century,” written with my wife, Lillian Kramer Wolf, who did the extensive research, in a chapter paragraph that listed prominent women in film, I am pleased to say that heading the list from Lillian’s research was Alice Guy-Blaché.
Unfortunately her contributions have been largely forgotten, partly because women were generally not given deserved credit and also because the early films that she produced and directed were generally not preserved. Guy-Blaché was born in France in 1873 and died in New Jersey in 1968. After working at the renowned Gaumont studio in France until 1906, she came to the United States. Unusual for a woman at the time, she founded her own movie-making company, Solax Studios, first in Flushing, N.Y., followed in 1912 by a move to Fort Lee, N.J., the renowned early location for filmmaking.
In an impassioned effort to set the record straight, Pamela B. Green has made the documentary, “Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché,” with a narration by Jodi Foster, also executive producer.
Green is due commendation for the diligence and devotion employed in hunting down available information, records, clips, interviews, including with Guy-Blaché, and everything she could find to help fill in the blanks of Guy-Blaché‘s pioneering achievements, which were amazing. For example, she made the earliest known narrative film with an all African-American cast. She wrote, produced or directed some 1000 films—think of that.
But it wasn’t only the volume; it was also her interest in adventurous subject matter, such as issues of child abuse, immigration and emphasis on women and their empowerment. In this era of seeking greater recognition for women this documentary is right on target.
Anyone interested in film history should see this account that attempts to set the record straight. Although it is a testament, information-filled and a story of discovery, it ultimately is also an affecting very personal story that begs to be told. A Zeitgeist Films release in association with Kino Lorber. Reviewed April 26, 2019.