Searching for Alice Guy Blaché

Crossing the Line 2009
Alice Guy Blaché Film Score Project with Tender Forever, Du Yun, Tamar Muskal, and Missy Mazzoli
Tuesday, September 29, 2009 at 8pm
Florence Gould Hall 55 East 59th Street New York, NY 10022
Tickets from ticketmaster: Call: 212 307 4100

My first encounter with Alice Guy Blaché, the one that changed my life forever, happened on a sunny day in New York City in 1985. I was in my second year of film school in the Graduate Film Production program at New York University, and I was working on a movie shoot with a friend. During our lunch break we were leafing through the newspaper and saw an advertisement for a screening of films by the first woman filmmakers at the Museum of Modern Art. The series was organized by The Women’s Independent Film Exchange, directed by Cecile Starr (her papers are now at Columbia University, you can find them here ). It was entitled “75th Anniversary of Women Filmmakers in the U.S.” In spite of our weariness after a long day on an outdoor set, my friend and I went to the screening.

            Fast Forward to 1990. I had left film production for a while and was at home with my beautiful baby daughter, writing magazine articles on the side. I was in our local library looking in an encyclopedia for something completely unrelated, and I happened to stumble on a biographical entry for the first woman physician, Elizabeth Blackwell “Hmmph,” I thought. “If the first woman doctor has a whole entry, the first woman filmmaker should have one too.” So I looked for the entry that I knew should be there. But there was no entry, not under Guy, not under Blaché. She wasn’t listed in any of the encyclopedias in that library, nor in the card catalogue, nor anywhere else.

            Now I was filled with righteous indignation. How would young girls like my daughter learn about their role models if they could not find them listed anywhere in a library? I tried to remember how I knew about her, remembered the MOMA screening, and by some miracle, found the program in my files. By now I had the idea that I would write an article, so I went to visit Cecile Starr, who was the director of the Women's Independent Film Exchange and the long-time keeper of the flame of the Pioneer Women Filmmakers Project. Cecile convinced me that enough articles on early women filmmakers had been written; what was needed now were book-length studies. But first I had to find the films.

Guy herself had conducted an intensive search at various archives for her own films, first in 1927 and again throughout the fifties, both times without success.  At the time of her death in 1968, she believed that most of her films had been lost.

Guy's memoirs were published in French in 1976. The English version, The Memoirs of Alice Guy Blaché (1986), translated by Roberta and Simone Blaché, daughter-in-law and daughter of Alice Guy, and edited by Anthony Slide was published in 1986 (Scarecrow Press released a new paperback version in 1996).

The autobiography also led to some retrospectives, most notably at the Festival des Films des Femmes at Créteil (near Paris).  In order to attend this retrospective, I spent ten days in Paris in the spring of 1994.

Anthony Slide, who had edited the memoirs in English, was a guest speaker.  It was a great opportunity to meet him in person and also my first opportunity to see his film, The Silent Feminists.   A portion of this film is devoted to Guy and includes an interview with her daughter, Simone. 

            After the discussion with Anthony Slide I was approached by Joan Simon, an American woman who lives in Paris, a curator for MOMA who later became a curator for the Whitney Museum of Art. This was the beginning of fifteen years of conversations with Joan about Alice Guy Blaché, as both of us were looking for her films and for any sources of information about her. I spent ten years searching through archives all over Europe and the U.S. for her extant films.  I identified, or assisted in the identification, of approximately 40 films and participated in fundraising efforts for their preservation, including a talk Joan organized for the ArtTable screening of the films of Alice Guy Blaché, in Paris in March of 1995.

My efforts culminated, first, in my critical analysis of Guy Blaché’s films   published in 2002; now I am working on a biography.


Joan’s efforts are bearing fruit this fall with the opening of the film retrospective of Alice Guy’s films at the Whitney this fall. The Whitney event has inspired a series of related events, starting with tonight’s  event: the Alice Guy Blaché film score project, with performance of scores by four women composers written specifically for films by Alice Guy.  <!--[endif]-->

You can read a review of this event here.  

The purpose of this blog is to keep readers posted on various events surrounding the Whitney exhibit, to put each of these events into context, and for me to share my latest discoveries in my ongoing research on Alice Guy.