Sage-femme de première classe

France 1902, silent, 5' | Director Alice Guy | Production Gaumont | Contact Library of Congress

Alice Guy shot La Fée aux choux twice, this time outside the garden gate and then inside the garden where the fairy offers the married couple a choice of children!

In the entire history of film, ALICE GUY (1873 – 1968) is a truly exceptional and unique woman. She was the first female film-maker as such and one of the first to shoot films that met the needs of audiences thirsty for the new. By the end of the 19th century, she had begun to work on film with both Georges Meliès and the Lumière Brothers. Compared to these »pioneers«, however, she is today hardly known to cinema specialists, a sore point that feminist critics have often addressed since the 1970s. After all, Alice Guy went on to make in excess of a thousand films between 1896 and 1920 – until 1907 in France and subsequently in the USA: Despite the boom that Early Cinema enjoyed in the 1980s, most archives have also neglected her work. One milestone in her rediscovery was the posthumous publication of the Autobiographie d´une pionnière du cinéma (1873 – 1968) by the L’Association Musidora. Researchers such as Alison McMahan1 and Kim Tomadjoglou have in the meantime identified numerous works of hers and restored them (or had them restored). In 2009, the first retrospective took place at the Whitney Museum – followed by two further shows in Paris and Bologna in 2011. Similarly, in 2012, the Kinothek Asta Nielsen organised a film symposium entitled »Alice Guy. First among Equals«.

The story and history of pioneer Alice Guy is as extreme as her own energy and passion. Even at an early age, she was unusually independent for a bourgeois young lady. By 1895, she was working as a secretary to Léon Gaumont at the Comptoire Général de Photographie in Paris. Only shortly afterwards, she supported her somewhat hesitant boss in taking over the company. And that was the origin of the world-renowned Gaumont Film Productions which at the time was more of a factory for optical devices frequented by any number of leading scientists and engineers. Yet Alice Guy wanted to break rank with these circles and use the camera to make entertaining films. Well, she pulled it off with much success, not least financially, and established herself as the first woman director and film producer at the Gaumont Company. In 1907, she and her husband – the cameraman Herbert Blaché – moved to the USA. She gave birth to two daughters. But this did not prevent her from continuing to make films. On the contrary, she now produced full-length films as well as setting up her own company Solax (1910 – 1914).

Her excessive passion for the cinema is amply reflected in the versatile and varying styles of her films. As a film director, Alice Guy ran the gamut of genres with impressive ease, played with popular myths – e.g. her celebrated debut film La Fée au choux (of which Sage-femme de première classe is the remake) – and then filmed the Paris World Exposition with as much enthusiasm as that she brought to the celluloid for excursions into more fantastic worlds. She was, above all, taken with fairies, but also with female dancers and a dog that with dream-like certainty could launch a ball into the air. Indeed, in the world of film according to Alice Guy, there’s much that happens with a twinkle in the eye. Her films frequently begin with a comic incident that finishes up in tumult – Madame a des envies, for example, in which a pregnant woman lusts for a child’s lollypop at which she uninhibitedly grabs, causing the members of the audience to laugh. This is because, although they may wish to condemn the antics as unseemly, they must also acknowledge the special circumstances in which the woman finds herself. For her part, she shamelessly exploits her position, repeatedly making a fool of herself with her wolfish acts of assault … until, amidst increasing indignation all round, her baby emerges. The End. (Text by Heide Schlüpmann)|-Kino-im-U/14-04-2013_14-00.html

Alice Guy
Short Film, Silent Film
Focus: Excess, Finally Back on the Silver Screen