Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blache (2018) Prime

May 18th, 2021
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Pamela B. Green | Writers: Pamela B. Green, Joan Simon| with Jodie Foster, Evan Rachel Wood, Ava Duvernay, Julie Delpy, Agnes Varda, Ben Kingsley, Michel Hazanavicius, Catherine Hardwicke, Julie Taymor, Gale Anne Hurd, Andy Sandberg, John Bailey, Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Marjane Satrapi, Anne Fontaine, Peter Farrelly, Jonathan Glickman, Mark Romanek, Kevin Brownlow, Kevin Macdonald, Geena Davis, Pierre William Glenn, Jan-Christopher Horak, Glenn Myrent, Serge Bromberg, Howard Cohen, Valerie Steele, Jean-Michel Frodon, Diablo Cody, Patty Jenkins, Janeane Garofalo, Jon M. Chu, Mark Stetson, Anastasia Masaro, Dino Everett, Stephanie Allain, Claire Clouzot, Anthony Slide, Cecile Starr | US Doc 103′

Pamela B. Green’s fast-moving and fascinating first film chronicles the life of one of cinema’s early pioneers and female filmmakers, Alice Guy-Blaché

Green started her own career as a title sequence director and that very much comes to the fore in this well-crafted and informative documentary that uses a wide variety of visual effects to enliven a collection of old photographs and drawings, including Guy-Blaché’s own film archives (The Cabbage Fairy (1896) is a particular delight), and even interview footage taken just before she died in her early 90s. There are a few too many random talking heads making this often feel bitty. Some don’t have anything to say beyond admitting they had never heard of the French director, but it could well have been condition of funding that each contributor had their ‘say’.

Guy-Blaché (1873-1968) was born in Paris and would go on to make over a 1,000 films, including silents and those with sound (which she pre-recorded), although many of these were attributed to men. Clearly luck played a big part in her success: women in the late 19th century were – on the whole – housewives and mothers. But Guy-Blaché had dogged perseverance along with her talent, working as a secretary for inventor Leon Gaumont – considered a plum job at the time – she was there when the Lumiere Brothers first set their apparatus running on everyday life in their local town of Lyon.

Narrated by Jodie Foster, the film (funded through Kickstarter) charts the early days of cinema from Paris to New Jersey and California before going back to Europe, tracing an art form where women seem to be very involved, much more so than nowadays, possibly because commercialisation hadn’t quite taken hold of the cottage industry: films were still considered the domain of the female chattering classes and kids. Something to keep women amused while men were doing more important things.

But the film’s co-writer Joan Simon and curators and historians such as Kevin Brownlow and Claire Clouzot offer the most salient contribution to the film, outlining the cultural significance of Gay-Blaché’s contribution, including the invention of synchronised sound. Above all, she was a highly inventive pioneer who just happened to be a woman, and whose talent and perseverance is celebrated in this valuable feature debut. MT

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