EA fairytale derivation of the gender difference goes like this: girls come from roses, boys from cabbage heads. There are cultures where the stork brings the children, and then there are some where they grow in vegetables. The French filmmaker Alice Guy knew the story with the vegetables and adapted it in the spring of 1896 into a small film: “La Fée aux Choux”, on German “The Fairy of the Cabbage Heads”, is now considered the first feature film in history.
It was a good minute long, is lost, is sometimes confused with a remake from 1902 (“Sage-femme de première classe”, directed again by Alice Guy), but despite the incomplete sources, a claim can be made that is becoming increasingly important today: The beginnings of cinema have so far been insufficiently told. The common version that the Lumière brothers invented the cinematograph and the documentary moving image, the competitor Méliès then the spectacle cinema, must be supplemented. In this new constellation, Alice Guy is either the founder of narrative cinema or, more precisely, “the first great comic director”.
That’s what you hear in the film “Be Natural – The Film Pioneer Alice Guy-Blaché” by Pamela B. Green. Alice Guy married the cinematographer Herbert Blaché in 1907, who in a way became her undoing, but she bore the double name all her life, and so she is now canonized. At the end of the 19th century, however, when she was a stenotypist at the Gaumont company, her name was Alice Guy. And she did something that superiors did not welcome at the time: she exceeded her area of responsibility. How she actually came to work as a filmmaker can no longer be reconstructed in detail, but it definitely had to do with her own initiative. Gaumont was a media group in the making, the devices were there, because at that time the company was working intensively on sound-image couplings, i.e. basically on preforms of the sound film, which then only became commonplace more than thirty years later.
Films were initially very short, with a wide variety of formats circulating. Alice Guy mainly made 60 mm films (or even more precisely: 58 mm), and she contributed significantly to the development of a narrative language in early cinema. “The Fairy of the Cabbage Heads” is still completely unbiased, the picture is taken frontally, the highlight is the trick or special effect that behind the large cabbage heads there was room for a baby who brought out the fairy with aplomb. The first years of cinema were marked by the enthusiasm that almost always goes hand in hand with new media at the beginning. It is no coincidence that one of the comparisons made in “Be Natural” is aimed at the disruptions that almost naturally determine the current everyday life: Alice Guy-Blaché was in this view the “Steve Jobs of her time”.
There is not enough time for a detailed reconstruction of this period in “Be Natural”, for this one better consults the book by Alice McMahan, which served as a template: “Alice Guy-Blaché. Lost Visionary of Cinema” is now almost twenty years old. In these years, the editorial situation has continued to improve. Again and again, old nitrate-based films are found and reconstructed, and also in questions of assignment one is now more attentive. For a long time, the historiography of cinema was characterized by standard works from the years after the Second World War, when the critical viewing and collection of film treasures was just beginning and often half-knowledge shaped the presentation.
Even beyond the early “cinema of attractions”
For example, georges Sadoul’s film history, which was almost undisputed for a long time, led the Jesus story “La Vie du Christ” from 1906 under the name of an alice guy employee. On the basis of the motifs of the then very widespread Tissot Bible, she had made a life of Jesus film, which on the one hand wanted to score points through the realism of the (painted) landscapes of the Holy Land, on the other hand followed the “intuitions” of Jacques Joseph Tissot. In any case, Alice Guy proved to be a filmmaker who was already beyond the very early “cinema of attractions” (i.e. largely unconnected individual ideas). In 1906 “Les Résultats du féminisme” was created, of which it is said in “Be Natural” that Sergei Eisenstein sich was inspired by it. This film title is of course suggestive for today’s readings. And there is indeed a “feminist” self-interpretation by Alice Guy-Blaché, in which she simply attaches importance to the fact that cinema does not pose tasks in any of its areas that cannot also be fulfilled by women.