“Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché,” narrated by Jodie Foster, excavates the work of the first woman director, screenwriter, producer and studio owner, Alice Guy-Blaché. Her career began in 1896, and by the age of twenty-four, headed the production powerhouse Gaumont. A list of her accomplishments alone strikes wonder: she was there at the beginning, shunned in the middle, ignored by the end of her life.
Illustrations and animation are plentiful, as are the talking heads: Stephanie Allain, John Bailey, Lake Bell, Peter Billingsley, Serge Bromberg, Julie Corman, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Diablo Cody, Geena Davis, Julie Delpy, Ava DuVernay, Peter Farrelly, Jean-Michel Frodon, Janeane Garofalo, Catherine Hardwicke, Michel Hazanavicius, Gale Anne Hurd, Patty Jenkins, Ben Kingsley, Wayne Kramer, Deborah Nadoolman Landis, Kevin Macdonald, Walter Murch, Mark Romanek, Andy Samberg, Marjane Satrapi, Floria Sigismondi, Julie Taymor, Agnès Varda and Evan Rachel Wood. (That disparate kaleidoscope of interviews runs the risk of narrative death-by-a-thousand-banalities itself.) Filmmaker Alice Guy-Blaché produced, wrote or directed more than a thousand films, many on pressing social issues that matter to this day, surveying a range of genres at their infancy. But why was she forgotten? Pamela B. Green’s doc piles on detail after detail after detail, equal parts detective story, biography and agreeable hagiography. Still, Green could have done with fewer faces expressing wonderment at their ignorance of film history. 103m. (Ray Pride)
“Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché” plays Friday, May 24-Sunday, May 26 and Tuesday May 28 at Siskel.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.