Catel & Bocquet, Alice Guy (2021)

The tandem of authors, Catel (pseudonym for Catherine Muller) as a visual artist and José-Louis Bocquet as a writer, are now well established in France for creating graphic biographies of overlooked (female) celebrities, like Olympe de Gouges, or Kiki de Montparnasse. Alice Guy is exactly the kind of feminist heroine that needed such a biography.

I’m pretty sure that the name Alice Guy doesn’t ring a bell to most of you, but if it does, kudos to you! Alice Guy is the first female movie producer and director worldwide: she starts creating just 3 years after the first movies are invented by Lumière in 1895. Originally working as the secretary to Léon Gaumont, she had the idea to create fiction movies, instead of real-life scenes, and as those were successful she went on to direct literally hundreds of short movies.

In 1907, she married and left Gaumont to follow her French husband to the United States where they wanted to develop the movie industry, before the rise of Hollywood. She owned movie studios in Flushing NY, then in New Jersey until about 1917, when her husband leaves her for an actress. Alone with kids and penniless, her career in the movie industry basically stops around 1920 at age 50. She dies in the US in 1968, but the history of cinema had long since blotted her out completely. Biographies of Gaumont and others didn’t mention her, and as most of her movies didn’t survive, her role was largely forgotten until the late 1990s where cinema specialists started to hear from her again.

Catel and Bocquet give Alice Guy a well-deserved spotlight. The biography is quite linear and not very innovative in form, but since the information is not well-known, it is very valuable. After the graphic section, a long postface provides a short biography and context for all the people mentioned in the book, it must have been a huge work! I don’t want to rant about patriarchy (again?), but as movies became more and more important and big money was involved, women like Alice Guy who had great ideas and business acumen were pushed to the sidelines, and now female directors and producers are still in the minority.

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