September 3, 2020  (Web Review)

Alice Guy Blaché Volume 1: The Gaumont Years

Kino Lorber, 103 min., not rated, DVD: $19.99, Blu-ray: $29.99, Mar. 17, (avail. from most distributors).

Reviewer rating: 3.5/4

This restored collection of Alice Guy Blache’s films illustrates early motion picture making from 1897-1906. Beginning her career in France, in 1897 Alice Guy was hired by Leon Gaumont at a still-photography and optical equipment company. Alice persuaded Gaumont to buy the firm and also establish a firm of his own known by the same name. Alice served as secretary, manager, and supervisor for talking pictures using the Chronophone synchronized sound system from 1902-1906. Alice also made her own films.

Part one contains films from Gaumont featuring women’s interests: pregnancy, babies, feminism, and love. These delightful and often hilarious short black and white silent films are a pleasure to watch. In the Midwife to the Upper Class, a lady chooses a baby; each of the babies is pulled out of the cabbage patch and laid down bare on blankets; you can tell they are live babies as they try to roll over and wiggle their arms and legs! In the Hierarchy of Love, a lady is walking with a basket and a soldier asks to accompany her. Soon a higher-ranked soldier gives the young man a task and takes over walking the lady. This repeats until the oldest highest-ranking gentleman succeeds in winning the lady. In The Results of Feminism, gender roles are switched for a hysterical romp. In The Coming of Sunbeam, a scrooge-like major learns to love the sweet granddaughter dropped on his doorstep.

In 1907 Alice married Herbert Blache and immigrated to the United States. They marketed the Chronophone on behalf of Gaumont and became part owners of the American Motion Picture Company Solax. Alice assumed the presidency of Solax and made comedic films from 1907–1912. Part two covers her work using phonoscenes—a combination of moving film and sound. One clip demonstrates Alice filming a phonoscene. These short works consist of silly musical numbers.

The Solax comedies are especially fun to watch. In A Sticky Woman, a lady buys stamps and before she applies each stamp to the envelope, the lady turns to her maid who sticks out her tongue and wets the stamp. This crazy stamp licking goes on awhile until a captivated gentleman reaches over and kisses the maid. In The Drunken Mattress, a lady sews a mattress back together after repairing it; she leaves briefly to buy some chocolate. Meanwhile, a man staggers drunkenly onto the mattress, climbs in, and goes to sleep. The lady returns and finishes sewing. When she tries to carry the mattress back to the house, all kinds of comical things happen: she loses the mattress over a bridge, drops it and it rolls down a hill– and so on. Bonus materials include 20 additional short films and a brief commentary on film restoration. Taken together, this is a wonderful sampling of early motion picture making – both silent and together with sound. Highly recommended. (T. Root)