Sunday, August 18, 2019

DVD/VOD debut for Pamela B. Green's BE NATURAL: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché

Among the best documentaries of the current year, and certainly among the best ever about the art and history of cinema, BE NATURAL: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché grabs you by the mind and heart from its first few frames and simply never lets you go for its following 103 minutes.

The obvious source of this huge pull would be the documentary's subject, cinema's early French woman writer/director/ producer/manager/and-much-else-too, Alice Guy-Blaché. Yet equal (or very near) credit must also go to the filmmaker of this doc, director, co-writer (with Joan Simon) and editor of the movie, Pamela B. Green, shown at right. And as fine as Ms Green proves as writer and director, it is as editor that she shines brightest. I don't know that I have ever seen a documentary packed with this much information -- visual and verbal -- that consistently moves like a house afire, during which you can't look away or take an extra-lengthy breath for fear of missing something wonderful.

From this film's first moments, as we see and hear the near-90-year-old Ms Guy-Blaché (that's Alice, shown at left, earlier in her career) speaking so beautifully and looking so alert and lovely -- and then suddenly we cut to a gorgeously animated version of the Hollywood sign and the storied city itself, along with the many movie studios, hit films and memorable characters given us down the decades -- this is rapturous, amazing filmmaking. And damned if it doesn't continue, pretty much intact and just as compelling and fascinating, for the remainder of this doc's duration.

Sure, there are a few repetitive moments and toward the end a little too much hagiographic obeisance. But by then, so enamored are you likely to be of both Alice and her oeuvre (scenes from which are shown above and below), you won't give a good god-damn.

Along the way we meet more filmmakers and industry greats -- from Gillian Armstrong and Julie Taymor to Oscar-winning film editor Walter Murch and historian/documentarian/filmmaker Kevin Brownlow -- than you can shake a stick at (I counted 84 but could be off a bit), yet all this goes by in such a flash, with just enough time alloted to each that we take in what has been said and move quickly on the next moment. This is brilliant editing, and TrustMovies should think that documentary filmmakers may take a lesson from Ms Green and maybe speed things up from now on.
Audiences and critics clearly can handle this zesty, speedboat style, so why not? (On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a critical rating of 95 per cent -- and an audience score of 98!)

Interspersed with all these talking heads are snippets of the many (more than 1,000!) films directed by Guy-Blaché, and they look quite worth seeking out and viewing. This woman's story -- of youth, early career, family, and filmmaking-against-the-odds -- is a fascinating one, and though it is staunchly feminist, the filmmaker does not beat this idea into the ground.

The feminism is there, all right (the doc is narrated by Jodie Foster), and Guy-Blaché's gender certainly accounts for why, until fairly recently, she was not nearly as well-known as she ought to have been.

Yet filmmaker Green puts the woman and her work first, above everything else, and the result is a major and marvelous documentary that should stick with you for years to come -- and perhaps send you in search of that work itself.

The movie, by necessity, is also something of a detective story via the manner in which Green must find, investigate, then put together the various puzzle pieces she needs in order to assemble the Guy-Blaché saga. This, too, she makes fast, frisky, fascinating -- and eminently followable.

From Kino-Lorber and released theatrically by Zeitgeist Films,
BE NATURAL: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché, is available now on VOD and will hit the street this coming Tuesday, August 20 on DVD -- for purchase and/or rental. One way or another, do view it!

"Be Natural," by the way, was Guy-Blaché's directive to her actors -- and was posted on a huge sign that hung atop the movie studio, Solax, that she started in Fort Lee, New Jersey, and which became the largest pre-Hollywood studio in the entire USA.

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