September 16, 2019

Winnipeg
29° C, A few clouds

Full Forecast

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Early 'lady filmmaker' overlooked by historians

Documentary offers passionate portrait of narrative film pioneer

If this compelling documentary were only about the achievements of Alice Guy-Blaché, an artist, entrepreneur and pioneer of early cinema, it would still be crucial viewing.

In Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché, American-born filmmaker Pamela Green gives a sharp, vivid specificity to Guy-Blaché’s vision. She also makes a larger argument about the uses and abuses of history. In particular, Green anatomizes the case of Guy-Blaché to show how women are often written out of official accounts, their work silenced and their lives effaced.

Guy-Blaché started out as a secretarial assistant at the Gaumont camera and photography company. In 1896, she made what might be the first-ever narrative film, The Cabbage Fairy. She experimented with sync-sound, hand-tinting and special effects, but her most important innovation was the realization that moving pictures could be used to tell stories.

In the next 20 years, she made knockabout comedies and hair-raising westerns. She also dealt with serious social issues such as birth control, child abuse, anti-Semitism and the immigrant experience. Her cheeky 1906 comedy The Consequences of Feminism influenced Eisenstein.

Keep reading free:

Already have an account? Log in here »

Keep reading free:

Already have an account? Log in here »

Subscribers Log in below to continue reading,
not a subscriber? Create an account to start a 30 day free trial.

Log in Create your account

Your free trial has come to an end.

We hope you have enjoyed your trial! To continue reading, we recommend our Read Now Pay Later membership. Simply add a form of payment and pay only 27¢ per article.

For unlimited access to the best local, national, and international news and much more, try an All Access Digital subscription:

Thank you for supporting the journalism that our community needs!

Your free trial has come to an end.

We hope you have enjoyed your trial! To continue reading, we recommend our Read Now Pay Later membership. Simply add a form of payment and pay only 27¢ per article.

For unlimited access to the best local, national, and international news and much more, try an All Access Digital subscription:

Thank you for supporting the journalism that our community needs!

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Mon to Sat Delivery

Pay

$34.36

per month

  • Includes all benefits of All Access Digital
  • 6-day delivery of our award-winning newspaper
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

If this compelling documentary were only about the achievements of Alice Guy-Blaché, an artist, entrepreneur and pioneer of early cinema, it would still be crucial viewing.

In Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché, American-born filmmaker Pamela Green gives a sharp, vivid specificity to Guy-Blaché’s vision. She also makes a larger argument about the uses and abuses of history. In particular, Green anatomizes the case of Guy-Blaché to show how women are often written out of official accounts, their work silenced and their lives effaced.

Be Natural Productions photo</p><p>Guy-Blache’s legacy has largely disappeared from film history, while her innovations are often credited to her husband or colleagues.</p>

Be Natural Productions photo

Guy-Blache’s legacy has largely disappeared from film history, while her innovations are often credited to her husband or colleagues.

Guy-Blaché started out as a secretarial assistant at the Gaumont camera and photography company. In 1896, she made what might be the first-ever narrative film, The Cabbage Fairy. She experimented with sync-sound, hand-tinting and special effects, but her most important innovation was the realization that moving pictures could be used to tell stories.

In the next 20 years, she made knockabout comedies and hair-raising westerns. She also dealt with serious social issues such as birth control, child abuse, anti-Semitism and the immigrant experience. Her cheeky 1906 comedy The Consequences of Feminism influenced Eisenstein.

While this "lady filmmaker" often made headlines while she was working, her legacy after the 1920s, as academics and critics started to shape the official canon of cinema, largely disappeared. Her work would often be credited to her feckless husband, her male assistant or one of her actors. Even in the 1970s, some French film experts condescended to her, dismissing her films as amiable, derivative little efforts.

Reclaiming Guy-Blaché’s history takes a lot of detective work on Green’s part, and rather than just present us with the final evidence, she brings us along. Using clever animation and graphics, she gives visual form to dense information, turning what could seem like dogged research into snappy cinema.

Be Natural occasionally wanders, but in the end it offers a passionate portrait of a remarkable woman, a necessary historical corrective and an urgent argument for the importance of film preservation.

alison.gillmor@freepress.mb.ca

Wisconsin Centre for Film and Theater Research</p><p>Alice Guy-Blaché, who began her career at the dawn of the film industry in the early 1890s, made comedies and westerns, but also dealt with serious social issues from birth control to the immigrant experience.</p>

Wisconsin Centre for Film and Theater Research

Alice Guy-Blaché, who began her career at the dawn of the film industry in the early 1890s, made comedies and westerns, but also dealt with serious social issues from birth control to the immigrant experience.

Alison Gillmor

Alison Gillmor
Writer

Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.

Read full biography

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us