Alice Guy or Alice Guy-Blaché (July 1, 1873 – March 24, 1968) was a French pioneer filmmaker, active from the late 19th century. She was the first woman to direct a film. From 1896 to 1906, she was probably the only female filmmaker in the world. She experimented with Gaumont's Chronophone sync-sound system, and with color-tinting, interracial casting, and special effects.
She was an artistic director and a co-founder of Solax Studios in Flushing, New York. In 1912, Solax established inNew Jersey, the center of American filmmaking prior to the establishment of Hollywood. That year, she made the film A Fool and His Money, probably the first to have an all-African-American cast.
Alice's father died on January 5, 1891, following his death, Alice trained as a typist and stenographer, a new field at the time, to support herself and her widowed mother. She landed her first stenography-typist job at a varnish factory. In March 1894, she began working at the 'Comptoir général de la photographie' owned by Felix-Max Richard. Léon Gaumont would later take over and head the company.
In 1894, Guy-Blaché was hired by Felix-Max Richard to work for a camera manufacturing and photography supply company as a secretary. The company changed hands in 1895 due to a court decision against Felix-Max Richard who sold the company to four men: Gustave Eiffel, Joseph Vallot, Alfred Besnier, and Leon Gaumont. Gustave Eiffel was president of the company, and Leon Gaumont, thirty years Eiffel's junior, was the manager. The company was named after Gaumont because Eiffel was the subject of a national scandal regarding the Panama Canal. L. Gaumont et Cie became a major force in the fledgling motion-picture industry in France. Alice continued to work at Gaumont et Cie, a decision that led to a pioneering career in filmmaking that spanned more than 25 years and involved her directing, producing, writing, and/or overseeing more than 700 films.
Although she initially began working for Léon Gaumont as his secretary, she began to become familiar with the company's stock of cameras. She also met a handful of pioneering film engineers such as Georges Demenÿ and Auguste and Louis Lumière.
She asked Gaumont for permission to make her own film, and he granted it.
Guy-Blaché's first film, and arguably the world's first narrative film, was called La Fée aux Choux (The Cabbage Fairy), in 1896. A July 30, 1896 newspaper describes a "chaste fiction of children born under the cabbages in a wonderfully framed chromo landscape" and provides other details that confirm Alice's description of her first film.
From 1896 to 1906, Alice Guy-Blaché was Gaumont's head of production and is generally considered to be the first filmmaker to systematically develop narrative filmmaking. Her earlier films share many characteristics and themes with her contemporary competitors, such as the Lumières and Méliès. She explored dance and travel films, often combining the two, such as Le Bolero performed by Miss Saharet (1905) and Tango (1905). Many of Guy-Blaché's early dance films were popular in music-hall attractions such as the serpentine dance films – also a staple of the Lumières and Thomas Edison film catalogs.
In 1906, she made The Life of Christ, a big-budget production for the time, which included 300 extras. She used the illustrated Tissot Bible as reference material for the film, which featured twenty-five episodes and was her largest production at Gaumont to date. In addition to this, she was one of the pioneers in the use of audio recordings in conjunction with the images on the screen in Gaumont's "Chronophone" system, which used a vertical-cut disc synchronized to the film. She employed some of the first special effects, including using double exposure, masking techniques, and running a film backward.
n 1907, Alice Guy married Herbert Blaché, who was soon appointed the production manager for Gaumont's operations in the United States. After working with her husband for Gaumont in the U.S., the two struck out on their own in 1910, partnering with George A. Magie in the formation of The Solax Company, the largest pre-Hollywood studio in America.
With production facilities for their new company in Flushing, Queens, New York City, her husband served as production manager as well as cinematographer, and Alice Guy-Blaché worked as the artistic director and directed many of its releases. Within two years, they had become so successful that they invested more than $100,000 into new and technologically advanced production facilities in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Many early film studios were based in Fort Lee at the beginning of the 20th century It was mentioned in publications of the era that Guy-Blaché placed a large sign in her studio that read: 'Be Natural'.
Alice Guy-Blaché and her husband divorced several years later, and with the rise of the more hospitable and cost-effective climate in Hollywood, their film partnership also ended.
Guy-Blaché's marriage meant that she had to resign from her position working with Gaumont. The couple was sent by the Gaumont company to Cleveland to facilitate the franchise of Gaumont equipment. Early in 1908, the couple went to New York where Alice gave birth to her daughter, Simone in September 1908. Two years later, Guy-Blaché became the first woman to run her own studio when she created Solax in Gaumont's Flushing studio. In 1912, when she was pregnant with her second child, she built a studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey, and continued to complete one to three films a week. To focus on writing and directing, Alice made her husband the president of Solax in 1913.
Shortly after taking the position, Herbert Blaché started a film company called Blaché Features, Inc. For the next few years, the couple maintained a personal and business partnership, working together on many projects. In 1918, Herbert Blaché left his wife and children to pursue a career in Hollywood. Alice almost died from the Spanish flu pandemic in October 1919 while filming her final film Tarnished Reputations. Following her illness, she joined Herbert in Hollywood in 1919 but they lived separately. She worked as Herbert's directing assistant on his two films starring Alla Nazimova.
Alice directed her last film in 1919. In 1921, she was forced to auction her film studio and other possessions in bankruptcy. Alice and Herbert were officially divorced in 1922. She returned to France in 1922 and never made a film again.