Alice Guy, the film pioneer who spoke before anyone else about transsexuality and feminism

Film history books have always been clear that George Méliès was the first person to use cinema to tell a story. An unforgettable pioneer, he created images for posterity that are engraved on everyone’s retina. The rocket on the moon, the incredible tricks that anticipated the special effects… so many things that changed the future of cinema as art. However, as has almost always happened, society took it upon itself to annul and hide many women who should have a prominent presence in the books and who, many times, do not even appear.

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Alice Guy, for example, has been mentioned in many publications on film history as a simple secretary of Léon Gaumont, another of the (men) pioneers of the seventh art. Little by little, she has been recovering and claiming her figure until placing her in the place she deserves, that of someone whose importance is as vital as that of Méliès and who could even compete with him for the title of first creator of a fiction. filmic In recent years there have been several books and documentaries about Guy. Now the essay Alice Guy, in the center of the void there’s another party (Editorial Huso), by the writer Juan Laborda, tries not only to place that pioneer label on her, but to delve into the content of her work to show how revolutionary and modern she was when dealing with issues such as trans, feminism or including racialized people in their works.

Juan Laborda believes that the case of Alice Guy is the perfect example that “the history of cinema needs a lot of revision from a gender perspective”. Remember that Roman Gubern in his legendary book on the History of Cinema, one of the most widely read and recommended in universities, speaks of Guy as a secretary and not as a creator: “I don’t think there was any bad intention, but he was working with the data of the moment , but we already have more data on her work, so a feminist review is needed”.

The objective of this book is “to recover Alice Guy, her memory and her work, because she was not only a pioneer in her own right, but also an innovator”, explains Juan Laborda. For the author, it is not necessary to enter into the debate about whether it was Méliès or her before, but it must be recovered for justice and to ensure that more and more people enjoy his works after more than 100 years of abandonment and oblivion that occurred ” Mainly because of being a woman. Laborda places the thematic issue at the center of his work, because although there were already doctoral theses or biographies, there were not so many works on the topics he dealt with, which were “very innovative, controversial and courageous”.

“Her life gives way to many biographies, but I did not want to take a historical tour, although history is always heavy, but rather focus on her great themes, such as lesbianism, transvestism, criticism of the army and social hierarchies, her defense of black workers, where she shoots entirely with a black cast, social criticism of traditional behavior… there is a very fine irony in her work”, Labora highlights of her more than 1,000 films, most of which have disappeared although she believes that many may go appearing By placing Alice Guy in the history books, by analyzing her works, it will be easier to put her signature to films that are missing or have been attributed to men, as some of her works were thought to be her husband’s or even of Gaumont. Value what Laborda qualifies as “a feminine story that places women at the center with a rhetoric that questions the roles of men and women and that speaks at the end of the 19th century of complex issues such as transsexuality or lesbianism”.

As an example of how ahead of its time Alice Guy was, the short film The consequences of feminism, shot in 1906 and in which he already spoke of the macho roles that society perpetuated. He, too, was developing dystopia long before Hollywood made it fashionable. “It poses a situation in which women have dominated life on earth and men are effeminate. While they take the initiative and wear ties, they do housework. It is a distorted image that is critical of society sexist”, explains Juan Laborda. A feminist whirlwind that turned the established norms upside down and even placed a black cast at the helm of A fool and his money in 1912. He did it long before The jazz singer show that racism was still embedded in society by painting the face of a white actor to give life to an African American.

If the machismo of society had not had its effect, surely today everyone would recognize the images of Alice Guy’s cinema just as they do with that of Méliès. Her works have frames destined to pass into the collective imagination, some of them have even done so although few recognize it. You just have to see her first work, cabbage fairy (1896), in which a woman gathers newborns as if it were a harvest. Babies are planted like cabbages, an idea that has been repeated in many directors later and that does not seem to be by chance. “In the cinema and in art it is difficult to speak of coincidences. There are tributes or references. She takes a classic image of French literature and that she has permeated. Not only in Sunrise, which is no small thingby José Luis Cuerda, but much earlier Vittorio De Sica in Miracle in Milanwhich is a very striking case, because there is that character, who is Toto, who appears in a garden, among the lettuces… everything is connected, and there is a clear relationship between the work of Alice Guy and current cinema”, says Laborda .

Alice Guy is beginning to occupy her rightful place, but there are many other pioneers whose works are found in lost cans or have been attributed to directors. Juan Laborda highlights the work that the Anglo-Saxon world is doing with names like Lois Webber or Elena Cortesía, an actress and director of Argentine origin “whose works are not known.” Names that show that there is still much to be done and that this feminist revision of the history of cinema must take place as soon as possible.