With “Alice Guy, the unknown woman of the 7th art”, Arte brings the pioneer of cinema back to life


First director and first producer of fiction films, active actress in the invention of the cinematograph, Alice Guy (1873-1968) has almost disappeared from memories as from the history of the 7the art. Like her works, more than 500, forgotten, destroyed or attributed to men around her the better to erase the trace of this unparalleled pioneer.

Could this finally be the time for consecration? His autobiography, published eight years after his death, aroused no interest – it would not be translated into English until twenty years later. And if, twenty-five years ago, the singer Juliette celebrated among the heroines of her Female rhymes this memorable woman, between Arletty, Kiki de Montparnasse, Yourcenar or Joséphine Baker, she remains well isolated, until the publication twelve years later of several DVDs (Looking for Alice, by Claudia Collao, or the first part of Gaumont, the premier cinema, by Pierre Philippe, who offers, in addition to a documentary, more than sixty short films from the “The world’s first female filmmaker”).

Ten years of patience again and finally comes the action of Véronique Le Bris, who chooses this incredible figure for the annual prize that she created in 2018 to celebrate and enhance the work of women filmmakers – the first Alice-Guy prize crowned Paris the white, by Lidia Terki -, before selecting two works by Alice Guy among the 100 great films by female directors. Of The Cabbage Fairy to Wonder Woman, when women take over the cinema (Gründ-Arte ed., 2021).

The same year in which Julia Ducornau, finalist, with Serious, of the first Alice-Guy prize, won, for Titanium, the first Palme d’Or unquestionably vested in a woman, is published by Casterman Alice guy (400 pages, 24.95 euros), fourth heroine of these “Clandestine of history” celebrated, drawing and screenplay, Catel Muller and José-Louis Bocquet. A formidable sum for a major designer, who scrupulously accounts for the beginnings of cinema as well as those of Alice Guy.

Feminist audacity

Catel Muller is also present in the documentary signed by Valérie Urrea and Nathalie Masduraud, an ideal complement to Casterman’s “bio-graphic”, since, if the subject is naturally the same – however more talkative on the American career of Alice Guy – , we discover extracts from the director’s films, such as the testimony of an old lady with a sparkling eye and a refreshing memory.

Curious and astute, inventive and determined, the young woman, a shorthand typist, at the age of 21 became the secretary of Léon Gaumont, director of the Comptoir Général de Photographie, and in 1895, when the cinematograph was born, offered to make fictions to support sales. home cameras and projectors. More than ten years, sometimes with an assumed feminist daring, she feeds the Gaumont catalog and achieves a success comparable to that of the fairies of Georges Méliès.

Later, established across the Atlantic, she was the first woman to create a production company, the Solax Film Co (1910). In search of her films that have become invisible, Alice Guy, octogenarian, recounts without bitterness the pitfalls set by a very real machismo environment and the disappointments that she recorded, betrayed by her husband, Herbert Blaché, operator for the Gaumont agency, which she followed in the United States, without finding again, ruined and divorced, on her return to France (1922) of employment to her measure, her name having disappeared from the nascent stories of the cinema. One hundred years later, it is only time to do him full justice.

Alice Guy, the unknown of the 7e art, by Valérie Urrea and Nathalie Masduraud (Fr., 2021, 53 min). Available on Arte.tv until March 5, 2022.

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With “Alice Guy, the unknown woman of the 7th art”, Arte brings the pioneer of cinema back to life