Saturday, June 25, 2011

Alice Guy: Tribute to a Movie Pioneer (intro by Kim Tomadjoglou)

Alice Guy: Omaggio a una pioniera del cinema
Il Cinema Ritrovato (Bologna), 2011.
Section, programmes and notes curated by Kim Tomadjoglou.

Catalogue: "A truly transnational figure, pioneer Alice Guy was at the forefront of international, technological, industrial, and cultural changes that defined the cinema as a new popular form of mass-media entertainment in the twentieth-century. Her long impressive career comprises the novelty period through to the single-reel film and the nickelodeon era – to the multi-reel feature and photoplay of the mid to late teens. Not only was Guy the first woman to direct films, she also wrote, produced, supervised, and distributed films. To this day, she is the only woman to have owned and operated her own studio plant, Solax, first located in Flushing, N.Y., and then in Fort Lee, New Jersey (1910 to 1914).""

"In 1894 when Léon Gaumont hired a young Alice Guy to work as his secretary at a still-photography company, he likely never imagined (nor she) that Guy would be at his side when he decided to purchase that business and establish a firm of his own. Guy was indispensable to the success of Gaumont, fulfilling a variety of roles from personal secretary, to managing the business, to directing and writing scenarios, to overseeing and directing performers for Gaumont’s chronophone synchronized sound system (1902-1906). For eleven years, as head of production she helped create a Gaumont “house style” by training a number of her male colleagues, including the renowned director, Louis Feuillade. A remarkable achievement for a woman of her time! Perhaps Guy’s crowning French glory was having directed the biblical passion play, La Vie du Christ (Gaumont, 1906), one of the earliest films of increased length and high production values that harnessed a new direction in the industry in which cinema found its vocation as an art form of serious commercial value, marketability, and didacticism.""

"If Guy’s life was not already exciting enough, then leaving France in 1907 to immigrate to the United States was simply the next chapter of her already adventurous story. From 1910 to 1914, the newly married Alice Guy Blaché managed her own production company Solax, in which she was part-owner with her new husband Herbert. Building on her professional experience in France, Guy managed the Solax studio during the cinema’s international period of transition which saw cinematic attractions, exhibitionism and performance acts of the European café-chantant, American dime theaters, nickelodeons, and vaudeville stage being gradually integrated with narrative modes of storytelling, as the cinema drew on a range of intermedial nineteenth-century artistic forms, among them literary novels, theatrical plays, painting, and pantomime. Following the French model, Guy employed a steady cast of players, artisans and technicians and trained a diversified team of metteur-en-scene to direct a wide range of genres, from westerns to comedy, from drama to melodrama – to mystery and detective stories. Guy’s special touch of course, was her unique ability to combine comedic situations and to present often controversial and conservative points of view regarding traditional gender roles and sexuality as expressed in the form of character cross-dressing and role reversal.""

"In August of 1913, with the establishment of Blaché Features, a new company formed by Herbert Blaché with Alice Guy Blaché listed as “vice president,” Solax was gradually absorbed into the new company and ceased production one year later. While Solax’s demise was likely due to ongoing distribution problem resulting from the Motion Picture Patent Company Trust and its dominance over the U.S. market through vertical and horizontal integration, distribution problems continued to plague the Blaché’s despite Herbert’s effort to form his own distribution branch. The increased cost and investment required of feature filmmaking had significantly shifted the terms of international film production. Faced with the economic reality of survival, both Blaché’s found themselves becoming independent directors. From 1914 to 1919, Guy directed a number of features for other companies, most notably, The Lure (1914), a lost film based on the theatrical play of the same name and dealing with the controversial but then-intriguing topic of white slavery. While the move to independent direction offered Guy an opportunity to remain attached to the film industry she helped to create, it also denied her the freedom of expression and control she once reveled in as a studio head. Finally, the end of her marriage to Herbert and the dissolution of their long-term partnership seemed to further seal the fate of Guy’s unfortunate departure from the cinema. Tarnished Reputations of a Soul Adrift (Perret Pictures, 1920), written by fellow French national Léonce Perret was her last film." Kim Tomadjoglou.

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