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A movie tonight

After a fun-filled family Christmas Day at my house in NJ, I drove my granddaughter Sophie and her parents to their home in New York City. That meant accessing the George Washington Bridge (GWB) in Fort Lee. Midway across the GWB, Sophie's mother Katrin said, "I want to watch a movie tonight." Her comment prompted me on my way home to revisit a landmark in Fort Lee, once the motion picture capital in America. Located on Lemoine Avenue on a grassy spot between the sidewalk and the Acme supermarket parking lot, the large illustrated sign marks the site of Solax Studios, a state-of-the art motion picture studio built in 1912 and the first studio owned and operated by a woman—the pioneering film director Alice Guy-Blaché.



Born in France, Alice Guy-Blaché, was working as a secretary for Léon Gaumont, an inventor, who manufactured motion-picture cameras and produced short films. In 1895, Alice asked Léon if she could film a few scenes. She later recalled his response—"It seems like a silly, girlish thing to do, but you can try if you want. On one condition: that your office work does not suffer," Within a year, he put her in charge of film production. In 1907, she left France to manage Gaumont's operations in America.

Alice Guy-Blaché directed, produced and/or supervised over 1,000 films, both short and feature films, from 1896 to 1920, and innovated techniques that are still used today—slow motion, fade-outs, and double exposure. According the historian Alison McMahan, Guy-Blaché, would "almost single-handedly develop the art of cinematic narrative and define the role of movie director as separate from that of camera operator. . . .She pioneered the use of close-ups to dramatic effect in film several years before D.W. Griffith, who is usually given credit for the innovation, even started working in film. And most important, she was the earliest to deploy character arc and the psychological perspective of a lead character in a film story."

Guy-Blaché did not survive professionally as movie making was taken over by big business, rarely a hospitable environment for women. She returned to France with her two children, eventually returning to America to live with her daughter. Well aware that she was not being written into film history and that many of her films were lost

or attributed to men, she wrote a memoir and gave interviews. Reflecting on her life, she once wrote, "Is it a failure; is it a success? I don't know."

Alice Guy-Blaché, died on March 24, 1968, and was buried in Maryrest Cemetery in Mahwah, New Jersey. Just her name and birth and death date dates were inscribed on her headstone. Forty-four years later, the Fort Lee Film Commission raised the money for a new headstone that was dedicated on July 1, 2012, on what would have been her 139th birthday.



Images left, right, left, right: Solax Studios historical marker, photo by Penny Colman; clipping from Stone, Jay, "The First Lady of Film," The Ottawa Citizen, Nov. 7, 1995, p. 23; photo by Fort Lee Film Commission, Alice Guy-Blaché in 1913, public domain. Quotations: "It seems..." Dargis, Manohla, "Overlooked No More: Alice Guy-Blaché, the World's First Female Filmmaker,” The New York Times, Sept 9, 2019, A 24; "almost single-handedly . . .” Stiansen, Laura Adams, "Celebrating the birthday of first woman filmmaker," The Record, July 1, 1017, p. BL 2; "Is it a . . .", Dargis, A24.


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