BE NATURAL: THE UNTOLD STORY OF ALICE GUY-BLACHE

Reviewed by GREG KING

Documentary

Dir: Pamela B Green.

Be Natural

Pioneering French filmmaker Alice Guy-Blache was a contemporary of those pioneers of early silent cinema, including the Lumiere Brothers and George Melies. She made one of the first narrative films with The Cabbage Fairy in 1896. She pioneered many film techniques and a more naturalistic style of acting for films. In the 1890s she worked with Gaumont Studios. She established Solax, her own studio, and set up business in Fort Lee, New Jersey. She was incredibly prolific, making some 1000 films. Her films covered a wide range of genres and explored some tough themes such as child abuse and feminism. However as a female in a largely male dominated industry, her work was never given the credit it was due, and she has largely been forgotten by the very industry she helped to create.

This keenly researched, informative and fascinating documentary from first time feature filmmaker Pamela B Green sets out to discover the real woman and explore her legacy. Green explores the reasons why she has been forgotten and sets out to rehabilitate her reputation and cement her rightful place as one of the true founding figures in cinema history. Tellingly the film opens with a montage of famous filmmakers and writers (Gillian Armstrong, Diablo Cody, Catherine Hardwicke, etc) who confess that they didn’t know who she was.

Green spent some eight years researching for this film, and she and her team have unearthed plenty of archival footage, some footage from her films and even some rare interviews. There is even some footage from a rare interview with Alice herself from the 60s. Through this we learn a little about her personal life as well.

In this diligently researched and informative documentary, Green also includes some fascinating history about the film industry, including early cinema in America at the start of the twentieth century and the story behind the founding of Hollywood. Green uses some clever 3D animation to provide this information. We also follow Green’s own efforts to track down material from Alice’s films, a difficult task as they are archived in a number of different locations on different continents. A few of her films have survived and are available, while most exist in fragile nitrate form. This element turns the film into something of a detective story as Green chases down leads.

Be Natural has been narrated by Jodie Foster, who is also one of the producers, and she does an excellent job with her characteristic wit and intelligence. Be Natural is a fast paced and informative documentary, but it is also a film mainly for cinephiles or anyone with an interest in the early history of cinema.

★★★☆

Speak Your Mind