Dipartimento di Musica e Spettacolo - CONFERENZE, Women and the Silent Screen Conference

Font Size: 
Alice Guy and the Transition from Kine-Attractography to Institutional Cinema: The Example of "The Birth, the Life and the Death of Christ".
Philippe Gauthier, André Gaudreault

Last modified: 2010-09-22


Alice Guy entered the film business in 1896 as a secretary to Léon Gaumont. She left ten years later to begin a family with the man she was about to marry. She returned to the film world in 1910 in the United States as AliceGuy-Blaché. A worthy representative of kine-attractography (c.1895-1910), this French kinematographer was about to become an American filmmaker and producer and meld with the new paradigm that was then taking shape, that of institutional cinema (which took shape after 1910 approximately).


Alice Guy is a unique case: very few major figures from the kine-attractography era were able to make the transition to institutional cinema and move effortlessly from one paradigm to the next. One major example of one who did not succeed was Georges Méliès, whose final films (such as The Conquest of the Pole, made the same year – 1911 – as Griffith’s highly narrative The Lonedale Operator) remain completely tied to kine-attractography. For Méliès was, above all, a magician, a conjureran inventor of magic sketches and someone who staged fairytale plays. Méliès’ use of the kinematograph was an extension of his already well-established practice. What Méliès did, in the end, was use a new device, the kinematograph, in an already-existing “cultural series,” the stage show. As one of the two authors of this proposal has recently argued,* the extent to which kinematographers were attached to their original cultural series often affected their passage from kine-attractography to institutional cinema. According to this hypothesis, which we would like to explore here, Alice Guy’s relative detachment from any pre-existing cultural series would explain, at least in part, the sporadic appearance in her work of what we might call “aesthetic proposals” of a new kind.


Using a case study, that of the film The Birth, the Life and the Death of Christ (1906), we will examine these new “aesthetic proposals” for a “film genre”, the Passion Play, whose heyday was during the period of kine-attractography. Aesthetic proposals such as these helped usher in a new order or, at the very least, laid the groundwork for its development. This new order, of course, was not institutional cinema yet – it was still too soon – but its presence is indicative of the transition process between these two paradigms, kine-attractography and institutional cinema.


* André Gaudreault, Cinéma et attraction. Pour une nouvelle histoire du cinématographe (Paris: CNRS, 2008). English translation forthcoming from the University of Illinois Press (2009). 


Conference registration is required in order to view papers.