September 3, 2020  (Web Review)

Alice Guy Blaché Volume 2: The Solax Years

Kino Lorber, 251 min., not rated, DVD: $19.99, Blu-ray: $29.99, (avail. from most distributors).

Reviewer rating: 3.5/4

A pioneer in film making, Alice Guy Blache first began making films in France; in 1907, she assumed head of the Solax Company in New Jersey and started to produce silent films in America. This restored collection of films by Alice Guy covers her work from 1911-1914 during the silent era of motion picture making. A booklet accompanies the disc providing a description of her film style, narration, and film features. Like Volume 1 covering Alice Guy’s early years, Volume 2 is entirely composed of films and includes comedies that incorporate cross-dressing, courtship, and comedy of errors; serious and humorous westerns; social drama with stories about poverty, crime, and honor; and, features which contain mise-en-scene, children, and adventure. Films during this transitional period in motion picture making were silent, in black and white, and included title cards to set the next scene or offer information. Music was an important contribution to setting the mood of the story, and, these films are accompanied by entertaining piano music.

The films in this assemblage are short but still longer than Alice Guy’s earlier films. For instance, her westerns may run 10 minutes each. The comedies are very funny. In Officer Henderson (1913), two policemen are told to dress as women in order to catch pickpockets in a ladies’ department store. Following work, Henderson goes to a restaurant, and a gentleman approaches and starts a flirtation. Later, Officer Henderson goes home, puts the ladies’ clothes in his closet, and leaves again. His wife comes home and finds the outfit; outraged, she decides to confront him disguised as the “other woman” and give him a taste of her knuckles; the next day she goes to the restaurant to meet him, only to find it is another gentleman who is interested in flirting with her. Her husband has a good laugh.

In the western comedy Parson Sue, a lady preacher is dressed like a man and tries to promote spiritual leadership and teach the cowboys proper hygiene and sobriety. The cowboys are astounded to find out she is a female, begin buying soap and perfume, and washing vigorously at the water stand; one cowpuncher Billy becomes converted to Parson Sue’s ways and falls in love with her. Alice Guy features another independent female figure in Broken Oath.

Concerned with social issues, Alice Guy produced stories with social drama and these films from 1912-1913 include: A Terrible Lesson, A Man’s a Man, Making an American Citizen, The Strike, and The Thief. Dealing with immigration, Americanism, and society’s urban problems and their effect on employees and children, the films treat societal issues in an inventive way. Five miscellaneous features round out the collection. It is remarkable to see these century-old preserved films restored for viewing and study; this amazing collection deserves discovery by a new generation. Highly recommended. (T. Root)