Reversing Mass Amnesia: Alice Guy-Blaché

“Suddenly there was a mass amnesia, and no one remembered that women had been strong.” – Trina Robbins speaking of the role of women post-WWII (from ‘Wonder Women! The Untold Story Of American Superheroines’).

This quote struck a particular chord for me. Similar in sentiment to one I often cite by Mary Harron, it reiterates a truth all too common. The erasure of women’s presence in powerful and meaningfully contributing roles throughout history. Save for a few whose names (from what I’ve found at the time of this point) which managed to survive the erosion of historical accounts. Names that stand as isolated beacons given to bear the weight of their accomplishments (rather than say, include others who made a mark in the same or similar fields). It’s no wonder there’s so many women focused tomes, readers, events – no one else seems to be telling our stories.

It’s through one such book (Reel Women by Ally Acker) that I first learned of Alice Guy-Blaché. Widely acknowledged as the first filmmaker to direct a narrative film, Alice Guy-Blaché was more than a pioneer – she is point zero for everything we know as cinema today.

She saw the many possibilities of the medium early on. Only two years after joining the photography turned filmmaking Gaumont Film studio, she  directed what is now considered to be the first film narrative, ‘The Cabbage Fairy’. Alice quickly rose to become head of production for Gaumont, eventually moving to the United States with her husband, founding their own studio (Solax).

Thought to be lost, many of her films have since been discovered and shared in exhibits (like this one at the Whitney Museum). Many of these (including the ‘Cabbage Patch Baby’) can now be seen on YouTube.

As I was researching for this post, I learned Alice (in part due to a campaign by the Fort Lee Film commission and others according to this page) was presented a posthumous lifetime achievement award by the Directors Guild of America in 2011.

“Are we ever going to be bothered to rewrite his-tory and make it our-story?” I’m not the first to ponder this but hope to tackle it in some small part as I continue my own work.

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