Alice Guy-Blaché may be the most important figure in the history of cinema that you've never heard of. An incredibly influential female filmmaker during the dawn of the art-form whose career spanned a longer time-period than Thomas Edison, The Lumiére brothers and Georges Méliés, Guy-Blaché has all but been erased from the annals of history...until now.
Anyone interested in film history, preservation or just movies in general, should seek out the new documentary, "Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché." For those unaware of Guy-Blaché's contribution to cinema...OK who am I kidding, we were ALL unaware. That's the point of this film: To finally correct the history books to include this pioneer, when she has all but been removed from them.
A Frenchwoman who worked for the French inventor Léon Gaumont, Guy-Blaché was the first female film director in the world, credited with the very first narrative film, "The Cabbage Fairy," in 1896. She made hundreds of films over her career, both in France and abroad, employing several woman and people of color and experimenting with color, sound and special effects well before many others. She was in fact, most likely the only female filmmaker in the world from 1896 until about 1906. Her 1912 film, "A Fool and His Money" wasn't necessarily progressive, but it is considered the first film to star an all African-American cast.
But as cinema became more and more popular and investors became more and more serious, women were pushed out and history was re-written. Alice lived to the ripe old age of 94, and before her death was able to give several interviews about her role in the history of film, which are used as the backbone of this documentary.
This is required viewing for any film student or for anyone who considers themselves a film buff...it's an astounding story about a woman whose contributions to the art form and to human culture in general simply cannot be measured. One instance, is how Guy-Blaché had direct influence over Soviet silent film director Sergei Eisentstein, whose "baby carriage on the steps" sequence in the classic film "Battleship Potemkin" is said to be inspired by Guy-Blaché...and that sequence is only regarded as the most famous scene of all-time.
As time marched on, and film historians of the 60s and 70s tried to make sense of the earliest days of film, loads of information was lost or had to be pieced together. The result is that much of Guy-Blaché's film library didn't survive the trials of time...and some works that did persevere ended up being credited to other (mostly male) directors or writers. In fact, the wonder of this documentary is how they come by a lot of the information about Alice Guy-Blaché, which consists of tracking down leads and connecting dots that lead them around the world and back more than a few times. Many recovered films were bought by collectors at flea markets, are still locked up in vaults, or are found in the most unlikeliest of places.
"Be Natural" is an amazing journey of discovery about a person who should be a household name, but isn't. It's also a testament to those that love film, and dedicate their lives to preserve and restore it when and where they can. Alice might not have set out to make history, but she sure as hell didn't deserve to be forgotten by it.
Run Time: 1 hour 43 minutes.
Directed by Pamela B. Green (feature-film directorial debut).
"Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché" opens in limited-release on Friday, July 26th, 2019.
Looking for a specific movie or review?