Alice Guy Films a Phonoscène (1905)

by popegrutch

Alternate Titles: Alice Guy films a “Phonoscène” in the Studio at Buttes-Chaumont, Paris; Alice Guy tourne une phonoscène sur le théâtre de pose des Buttes-Chaumont

This is an early behind-the-scenes film documentary, showing audiences how movies are made. It demonstrates to some degree the more elaborate equipment needed for sound versus silent film.

Alice Guy Films a PhonsceneWe see a film studio from a camera that is set behind the camera which is used to film the actors. The set is brightly lit and includes a variety of actors, apparently preparing to give a large-scale song and dance performance. The crew is visible, but they are mostly silhouettes against the brightly-lit stage. Alice Guy is in the center of the screen, to begin with, but she too is just a silhouette. The camera pans to show all of the equipment. To the left is the movie camera, and on its right is a smaller camera, probably a still camera, the next object is a large table with old-fashioned trumpets (as from a gramophone machine) poking out at the top – presumably this is the sound-recording device. The camera pans past it to show a large reflector, which is at least partly responsible for bouncing all that light onto the performers. It pans back left, but not quite far enough to see the movie camera. The action begins onstage, and during the performance, Guy turns and adjusts some settings on the sound-recorder. At one point, the still photographer picks up his tripod and moves the camera, no doubt making a good deal of noise as he sets it down. Evidently they hadn’t yet invented “quiet on the set!”

It’s always interesting for a film buff to see how films are made, and even more so for a film historian to see the differences in how they were made in an earlier period to how they would be made later. The sound-recorder seems to have no microphone other than those trumpets, which are a good distance from the performers in this case, so you can see how hard it would be to get good sound, especially in a noisy location. Alice Guy was apparently an advocate of sound film from a very early date, and tried several different technologies to get it to work. What we see here is an example of the production of a sound-disc film, such as the “Trained Rooster” we saw earlier in the week. Ironically, the documentary of the filming has no sound, of course, so what we see is a silent depiction of the shooting of a sound film. Alison McMahan, in her book Alice Guy-Blaché: Lost Visionary of the Cinema uses this clip to argue that Guy was more decidedly a “director” as we understand it today than others of that time, although to me it looks like she is more interested in the sound than in managing the performance. In any event, the division of labor is clear at this stage, and perhaps especially so on a sound film.

Director: Alice Guy

Camera: Unknown (possibly Anatole Thiberville)

Cast: Alice Guy, unknown

Run Time: 1 Min, 40 secs

You can watch it for free: here (no sound on original).