I came across this new children’s book when I was doing a library search for Alice Guy Blaché’s memoirs, which, by the way, are very hard to get a hold of. (More on that in another post, as this blog slowly morphs into a Alice Guy Blaché research site.)
Lights! Camera! Alice! is what my 6-year-old son would call a “true-story book.” It tells Blaché’s biography with a high degree of historical accuracy (with an index of sources) and doesn’t embellish, though it does have to skip over a lot of details as it jumps through times. There are a couple cinematic touches throughout, with title cards to announce different periods in Alice’s life and a newspaper montage to show the outside world events. The illustrations are charming with a color palette that is subtly reminiscent of old movies.
It was funny to read it after seeing Pamela B. Green’s Be Natural, because many of the illustrations were based on documentary images that I saw in the film. In a way, this book is a good companion to that documentary because it’s very accessible — as it should be, since it’s for children who presumably know nothing about Alice Guy Blaché or cinema history. I read to my 6-year-old son, and the pacing of the story was just right for him.
I recently read a different children’s book about the history of cinema, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick, which was the basis of the Martin Scorcese movie, Hugo. The Invention of Hugo Cabret concerns Georges Méliès, a much more well-known cinema pioneer, who was working at the same time as Alice Guy Blache. (According Alison McMahan’s Alice Guy Blaché: Lost Visionary of Cinema, it seems that neither was the first to make a narrative film, but that they made their first movies weeks apart.) Like Blaché, Méliès lost most of his films, but the book shows stills from some of his recovered films. Blaché has cited Méliès as an influence, and it seems likely that Blaché influenced him. There was a lot of plagiarism going on at that time, though it wasn’t seen as such, and both Be Natural and Lights, Camera, Alice! mention how rival moviemakers would remake Blaché films and vice versa.
The more I learn about this time, whether it’s through childrens books or academic studies, I’m most fascinated by the creative process of these people who didn’t necessarily see themselves as artists but were drawn to the medium because it was a new technology and it was fun. At some point it became clear to the outside world that there was money to be made and it hardened into the movie biz but before that, it seems that it was a much more amorphous medium.