Directed by Pamela B. Green
Written by Pamela B. Green and Joan Simon
Documentary about Alice Guy-Blaché, narrated by Jodie Foster
Running time: 1 hour and 43 minutes
by Rosalie Kicks, Old Sport
“There is nothing in motion picture production that a woman can’t do…” -Alice Guy-Blaché
I almost did not watch this movie.
I knew of legendary silent filmmaker, Alice Guy-Blaché from reading one of TCM Host, Alicia Malone’s books. So, there was no question; this documentary flick is right up my alley. The problem is my 9 to 5 gig. My day job often gets in the way of my movie watching and reviewing. I also tend to over-extend myself. I’ve somehow yet to catch on that only three to four hours of sleep is not realllllly healthy. Living that vampire life only leads to a day of fatigue and copious amounts of coffee.
However, when a publicist from the film contacted me via Twitter about reviewing Pamela B. Green’s documentary Be Natural I accepted, regardless of the other assignments in the chute. I may not get paid for this here writing gig at Moviejawn (not yet at least…) but I take my assignments very seriously. I feel a sense of responsibility when it comes to promoting smaller flicks, especially those made by women. Heck, if I have time to check out an alligator romp like Crawl, I sure as hell have time to watch a movie about a prominent and important female filmmaker from the past.
Here’s the real crux of this whole long winded story…this movie is absolutely fantastic and I almost ignored it. Coincidentally, ignorance is also a main theme throughout this film. The documentary opens with the filmmaker, Pamela B. Green, inquiring with many well known Hollywood folks (Lake Bell, Diablo Cody, Julie Delpy and so on…), asking the question “Have you heard of Alice Guy-Blaché?” and the responses are consistently, “No.”.
OK, so it may not be that shocking that someone is not familiar with a silent filmmaker. However it does raise the question, what does a girl have to do to get some recognition? Apparently making over a 1000 films within her lifetime wasn’t it. Through this film, director Pamela B. Green hopes to change that. At one point, someone remarks to the director, “If it wasn’t for people like you she would remain buried.”
After viewing the film, I feel that I have been given the charge from the director to continue this mission and inform everyone about the awesomeness that was Alice Guy-Blaché. This wonderfully constructed documentary is the perfect place to start. Through the use of archival interview footage with Alice, animation, talking head interviews and voice over narration from Jodie Foster, the filmmaker manages to paint a detailed picture of this astonishing woman’s cinematic life. When the end credits rolled, I felt extremely inspired by Alice. She was a true pioneer of cinema that did it all - writing, directing, producing and studio owner. Alice was the first woman to not only do all of this, but also direct one of the first narrative films.
What I found most fascinating was learning of the way in which Alice was first inspired to create films. It was at a demonstration by the Lumiere brothers. The brothers were known for creating the first cinematograph, which served as a camera and a projector. Like a traveling roadshow, the Lumiere brothers would journey to various cities with their camera screening films. Their films depicted aspects of everyday life, such as people walking within a city or a famously well known short of a train arriving at a station.
Alice attended one of these showings and she left motivated and ready to create. However, instead of filming the mundane activities, she wanted to tell stories. This method of filmmaking is what, in turn, led to the cinema experience that we know of today. Throughout her time, she had an impact on multiple facets of film production and techniques; from the close-up, tinted color, synchronized sound to acting methods. Within her studio hung a sign “Be Natural,” posted as a reminder to the actors, that in order to tell the best stories, one needs to become the character and exist as them.
So, with all of these achievements, how does one become forgotten? It all comes down to who is telling the story. In Alice’s case, her story was being defined by the dominant voices, which just so happened to be men. Much of her work was credited to others such as assistant directors or camera operators. Some of her work was destroyed, particularly during World War I. Often as history was being defined, her name was not even included amongst other female filmmakers of the time such as Lois Weber and Dorothy Arzner. Alice was forgotten. In her later years, she spent much of her time searching for her work and wrote memoirs that no one wanted to publish.
I highly recommend watching this film. Alice’s story deserves to be told and not erased.
Find showtimes here
*Coming to Video on Demand 7/23 and DVD 8/20