Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Monday, April 6th, 2020  

Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché

Studio: Zeitgeist Films
Directed by Pamela B. Green

Apr 26, 2019 Web Exclusive
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The importance of Alice Guy-Blaché to the history and evolution of filmmaking has been insultingly downplayed for the better part of a century, after the French artist established many of the traditional filmmaking conventions and techniques that have come to hallmark the artform. At the turn of the 20th Century, Guy-Blaché was the first to develop narrative filmmaking, with many of her early achievements often being credited to other creatives at Gaumont. She would eventually lead this budding entertainment industry with her experiments with synced sound systems, hand-colored film, and special photographic effects - she was a pioneer in every sense - before she was excluded from history books on hearsay and misinformation. She also made waves being the first director to utilize an all-African-American cast, and is often credited as the only woman directing films from 1896 to 1906. While there have been a couple documentaries and a substantial amount of material published on Guy-Blaché prior to now, Pamela B. Green’s debut feature film seeks to further illuminate her life and contributions. While bursting at the seams with a veritable mountain of compelling information and passion, Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché is ultimately a sprinting mess.

The film traipses through Guy-Blaché’s early years, her early work at Gaumont, her thoroughly impressive (yet tragic) professional career, and her twilight years attempting to salvage not only her physical film prints, but also her legacy in the filmmaking world. The history is interjected with Green’s contemporary investigation into uncovering the history, family, and life of Guy-Blaché, all narrated by Jodie Foster. Scores of industry professionals, critics, historians, and fans all weigh in on the import of Guy-Blaché’s contributions, how she continues to impact a world she had helped shape, and how little the general film world seems to know about this indispensable artist (all buttressed by a sizable hoard of archival footage). This journey is defined by swiftly edited sequences, and flashy and kinetic motion graphics - which is also where the film begins to unravel.

As aforementioned, this documentary is overflowing with fascinating and crucial information, however, the way it has been compiled honestly does Guy-Blaché a disservice. The film’s opening foundation as to the importance of its subject is undercut by a pace that is forcibly rushed; there is never a moment where the audience can adequately absorb all of the information being thrown at us, with many details constantly at risk of being lost in the scurry. The film always feels like it’s running through information, until it gets to its final act, where everything screeches to an unbearable crawl. This act also puts heavy stress upon the injustice wrought on Guy-Blaché’s memory and filmography (which is absolutely warranted), but it doesn’t put the necessary contextual weight on many prior details which would have naturally proved out this reality.

The diegetic and interview audio often has to fight the volume of the ill-used and (sometimes) hokey musical score, cheapening some of the more intense moments by robbing them of their natural drama. Minimal correlative connections throughout the majority of the film result in the concurrent timelines of Guy-Blaché’s life and Green’s investigation being shoved together without a whole lot of craft to make the two seamless. There is a considerable amount of material and good intentions present in this work, and as one of the only documentaries on Guy-Blaché currently in existence, it is worth the watch for its many moments of rich archival significance. However, as a coherent finished product, the film is severely lacking the editorial polish this massive undertaking required. Honestly, if the movie was a half an hour longer, with the opening acts given more time to breathe and ruminate, it would have had far stronger ground in which to fully explore all of the facets currently jam-packed into montages and lackadaisical soapboxing.

Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché is another step towards correctly affirming Guy-Blaché in the pantheon of the world’s greatest directors, but it is a far throw from what the titular story actually deserves.


Author rating: 4.5/10

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Planilla CNT
April 29th 2019

5.9 My Review

CSUF Guide
May 21st 2019

Keep sharing good knowledge with us. Thanks
Very interesting and informative post, special thanks for the links,
I hope that your article will be helpful.