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Alice Guy Blaché: Lost Visionary of the Cinema Kindle Edition
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Blaché also directed many synchronized sound films in 1906 and 1907! They were actually like music videos of today. A singer or dancer would have their performance recorded on a disc (much like the Vitaphone disks twenty years later). Then Guy (pronounced "Giy") would film the performance, while the singer lip-synced their performance, or the dancers tried to keep up with the music. Of course the synchronization was not that great, but these films were screened in France, Germany, and the USA at the time.
After Guy and writer/director Herbert Blaché got married, she temporarily retired from Gaumont (France). But Herbert was not successful making films in the US for Gaumont, so she began working again writing, directing and producing films in New Jersey. By the way, Herbert was much younger than Alice!
After a couple of successful years directing films in Fort Lee, New Jersey, her studio closed. Other authors have always claimed that it was because Herbert Blaché was reckless with money, as well as unfaithful to his wife Alice, but the author can pretty much prove that theory wrong.
Like any book on early cinema, the author has to cover the filmmaker's struggle to figure out film language. It difficult to write about film theory, but luckily the focus of this book is historical. I only saw the word "diegesis" a few times, so don't let that scare you away. The book also explains how the early French filmmakers Méliès, Gaumont, and Pathé, plus the American Edison studio copied each other's films -- either by re-filming them or copying them in the lab -- in the days before copyright laws had any teeth.
Ms. McMahan has done an incredible research job on her subject. The filmography alone is worth the price of the book. It lists all of Ms. Guy's films, and which archive holds the existing films. Unfortunately, many of her films are lost forever.
The book is a little disappointing in that more of her personal life is not covered, especially since Ms. Guy's daughter assisted with the book. However, until her forced retirement, it appears that Ms. Guy's work was her life. This book is highly recommended for the serious silent film fan.
For starters, my recommendation is to purchase in addition to Ms. McMahan's book "The Memoirs of Alice Guy Blache" (a fairly brief but absolutely fascinating account of Alice Guy's life and adventures in her own words).
McMahan's book is scholarly -- but certainly not dry. This is a labor of love that had come out of the author's doctoral dissertation. During ten years of researech for her book, McMahan first followed the trail of Alice Guy in America, and then back to France (where Guy had been born), Germany and other regions of Europe where the pioneering filmmaker had worked. As a matter of fact, McMahan took a job teaching at a university in Holland for three years to complete her pursuit of Alice Guy life's story. The result is the reconstruction of the adventures of Alice Guy, a courageous young woman who dared to show a male dominated world how to write screen plays, and then use actors, sets and a motion picture camera to create an exciting story for the screen.
Most of what today we take for granted had been first done by Alice Guy Blache: narrative film (three reels long), colored film, sound synchronized film, special effects, animation. But life was never easy for Alice. She had married an Englishman, Herbert Blache (a cameraman), and then three days later the couple was ordered by their employer Lois Gaumont to travel to America for selling his motion picture equipment. At first, Alice didn't speak a word of English -- her new husband had to do all the talking. But soon she learned the language, and several years later she had raised $100,000 (the equivalent today of $25- to $50-million!!) for build the then largest film studio in America in Fort Lee, New Jersey that Alice named Solax.
In 1910, Fort Lee had been the early home of American filmmaking. Several years later, in 1914 Alice's husband, who had begun to have affairs with actresses, sold her out by secretly selling a film "The Lure" (a story about the "White Slave" trade of prostitution) that she had produced for another studio to the studio head for $10,000. But within a month the film had made $300,000. Alice never got over it. This bit of chicanery illustrates how even the most creative and hard driving woman had very little control over her own property in those days. Eventually, Alice divorced the creep. But that made her life even more difficult. Divorced men could pick themsleves up and get back to work for earning a living. What about a woman having to care for her two young children in 1922?
The reason McMahan calls her heroin a "Lost Visionary" is that Alice Guy had been all but forgotten, until relatively recently. Prior to the arrival of this book, Anthony Slide -- the prominent film historian -- had chronicled the films of Alice Guy Blache. And indeed, by 1996 Alice's daughter Simone Blache had translated, and Anthony Slide edited, her mother's memoirs. So then why do we need another book? In fact, McMahan ties it all together and fills in the missing pieces of the Alice Guy puzzle not included in Slide's monograph and Alice's memoir.
This is an excellent read for anyone interested in how a turn of the century woman managed to cope with all kinds of obstacles put in her way by men who either envied and resented her talent, or simply wished to steal what she had created: more than 1,000 story films.
Discover the lost visionary of the cinema in Alison McMahan's well written and fascinating book.
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