Sunday, April 05, 2020

The Short Films of Alice Guy-Blache Vol. 1

One of the unsung pioneers of cinema, Alice Guy-Blache made more than hundreds of films from 1896 to 1922 as several of them are lost with others being rediscovered thanks in some part to Pamela B. Green’s documentary film Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blache. With that film, Guy-Blache’s contributions to cinema is now discussed as she left behind a massive catalog of films. Here are seven of the films that she made in her lifetime.

The Birth, the Life, and the Death of Christ

An ambitious yet multi-part 33-minute short film about the life of Jesus Christ is definitely Guy-Blache’s most ambitious work. Thanks in part to the attention to detail in the set design courtesy of art directors Henri Menessier and Robert-Jules Garnier as well as costume designer/assistant director Victorin-Hippolyte Jasset. Guy-Blache’s direction is largely straightforward in the composition as she doesn’t move the camera as she just puts the camera in a medium-wide shot to capture what is going on in the events of Christ’s life with the aid of cinematographer Anatole Thiberville. It goes from his birth and his time when he was this savior to then being crucified only to then be resurrected. It is a tremendous short that features a lush and bombastic orchestral score by Patrick Laviosa from its 2008 restored edition.

Algie the Miner

Starring Billy Quirk and Mary Foy, the 10-minute short film is a western-comedy about a man who is hoping to get the approval of his girlfriend’s father in order to marry her by going to the West. It’s a film that explores the idea of masculinity as a man goes to the West in hoping to become a man due to his quirks and such yet it is funny in some of the antics that occur. The film’s music by Marcus Sjowall, from its 2007 restoration, is playful in its approach to humor as well as its study of masculinity by Guy-Blache.

Falling Leaves

A young woman is ill with consumption as a doctor and believes she will not make it. However, the young woman’s adolescent younger sister believes it has to do with leaves as she finds a way in the hope that it would keep her sister alive and well. It’s a touching short film that explore what a young girl would do and inspire a doctor to help find a cure for consumption as it features a somber piano score by Tamar Muskal in its 2009/2010 restored edition.

Canned Harmony

Featuring music by Robert Israel from its 2009/2010 restored edition, the film is a whimsical comedy about a music teacher who refuses to have his daughter be with a young man whom he feels is unsuitable for her. In response, the young man pretends to be a revered musician to impress him. It’s a film that would feature the early usage of the Gaumont Chronophone as it has actors miming to music that is being played on set and then be re-used in post-production as an early idea of sound in silent film that showcases Guy-Blache’s approach to using music in film.

Matrimony’s Speed Limit

Starring Fraunie Fraunholz and Marian Swayne in their respective roles as a poor businessman and his rich girlfriend is a film that really diverts the idea of gender roles. The poor man breaks up with his girlfriend believing he isn’t worthy of her yet she would scheme to get him to marry her by creating a telegram claiming that an aunt of his had just died and is leaving him a fortune but he would only acquire it if he can find someone to marry by noon. It’s a funny short yet it is Guy-Blache’s approach to playing up gender roles and some of the visual gags despite a moment where the guy approaches a woman only to see what she is where it is an insensitive moment that doesn’t date well. It’s got a playful music score as it is one of Guy-Blache’s finest shorts.

A House Divided

Another short starring Fraunie Fraunholz and Marian Swayne respectively as Gerald and Diana Hutton, the 13-minute short revolves around a bickering couple who want to divorce but has to agree to live with each other for a certain amount of time while they run a perfume business. It’s a delightful comedy that showcases Guy-Blache’s usage of humor that is more about people reacting to another as well as try to live with each other as it is filled with gags that would become prevalent in comedies to come. The film features music by Christina Hunsack from its 2018 restored edition as its mixture of piano and strings help play into the humor.

The Ocean Waif

A young woman runs away from her cruel stepfather as she hides in an abandoned estate which was then purchased for rent by a young writer working on a novel as they meet and fall in love despite the fact that he’s engaged to someone else. It’s a short that showcases Guy-Blache’s approach to suspense and drama as well as humor while also featuring some incredible performances from Doris Kenyon in the titular role as well as Carlyle Blackwell as the writer. It also feature some inspired colored tints to display the feel of day and night as well as a playful and dramatic piano score piece by co-sound designer Maud Nielssen, in its 2018 restored edition, as it is one of Guy-Blache’s finest works though its presentation does feature still pictures considering that some of the footage is lost.

These seven short films by Alice Guy-Blache are some of the finest silent shorts created but also an example of Guy-Blache’s brilliance as a filmmaker. Especially in creating ideas and gags that would prove to be ahead of its time as they are shorts that anyone interested in film history must see. Especially from a woman who proved to be a real pioneer in the world of cinema as Alice Guy-Blache is a filmmaker that needs to be included in the conversation as one of its foremost figures in showing what cinema could be.

Related: Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blache

© thevoid99 2020


ThePunkTheory said...

We talked about her in a course at University. She was such an impressive person!

Brittani Burnham said...

Now I feel a bit silly for never having heard of her. I'm not well versed in silent film. I'll have to look into this.

thevoid99 said...

@ThePunkTheory-She totally is impressive as if you haven't seen the documentary Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blache. I'd suggest you check it out.

@Brittani-I think there's some films that she did are available on YouTube as they're worth checking out as she is a big discovery as well as someone that needs more exposure considering that she is a pioneer in cinema.

keith71_98 said...

This is REALLY enlightening.

thevoid99 said...

@keith71_98-They had a marathon of her short films on Turner Classic Movies along with the documentary Be Natural shown twice as it's something every film buff should see.