Charles Silver, a curator in MoMA’s Department of Film, presents a series of writings to supplement the film exhibition An Auteurist History of Film. The following post accompanies the "Lesser-Known Pioneers of Cinema" program, which screens on September 30 and October 1 in Theater 3 and October 2 in Theater 2.
A great number of films were made before D. W. Griffith came along in 1908, and a great number of these have been lost. So piecing together the puzzle of this early period is always going to be unsatisfactory. Still, enough survives to try to give some credit to at least a few of the worthy pioneers.
Ferdinand Zecca (1864–1947) would turn out to be a rival of Georges Méliès (whose work will be screened next week). Much of his work was “derivative” (stolen), and he finally found his true calling as head of Pathé, a career path that included a distribution stint in New Jersey. In a matter of months, Alice Guy (after 1907, Alice Guy-Blaché) (1873–1968) went from being a secretary at Gaumont to becoming the world’s first female director. At one point she was, in effect, the production head of that venerable studio—the only studio from the period that’s still in existence today. Coming to America, Alice and her husband Herbert Blaché established their own studio, Solax, in Flushing, Queens. She continued to make films for various studios after Solax (like Edison, Biograph, Thanhouser, and others before it) failed. Following her divorce in 1922 she returned to France where she had been all but forgotten. After failing to get work, she lived out her long life mostly unknown, although she did receive the Legion of Honor in 1953. She finally died in Mahwah, New Jersey, at age ninety-five. Frankly, little is known of her films (MoMA has hardly any in its collection), but this will soon be remedied by an exhibition of restored films to be exhibited at the Whitney Museum beginning on November 6.