January 15, 2020
This intriguing documentary shines a light on the astonishing career of the first woman to direct a film – and possibly the first director ever
Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché review – paean to a movie pioneer
Pamela B Green’s hectic, garrulous, fascinating documentary recovers the story of French film-maker Alice Guy-Blaché (working from Alison McMahan’s book Alice Guy-Blaché: Lost Visionary of the Cinema). She was a hugely important pioneer of early cinema who was the first woman to direct a feature film – perhaps the first director ever – a figure admired by Eisenstein and Hitchcock, and a prolific director, screenwriter, producer and prototypical studio chief who helped invent the idiom of modern movie-making. The notice “Be Natural” on the wall of her Solax studio in New Jersey was a testament to her belief that, however stylised and generic, acting and films in general should not be bizarre pantomimes but artworks connected to the real world.
The documentary is narrated by its producer Jodie Foster, and tells the remarkable life story of a woman who was one of the first entranced witnesses to the Lumières’ initial screenings of their cinematograph invention in Paris. She was employed by a photography company taken over by Léon Gaumont, and from there developed her own interest in the cinema, directing what is perhaps the world’s first narrative film, entitled The Cabbage Fairy (1896) and then establishing a studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey – the place where American movie-making happened before the big move west to Hollywood.
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