Celluloid Gardens in the Time of Consumption
This article critically focuses on two out of the approximately one thousand films directed by Alice Guy-Blaché (July 1, 1873 - March 24, 1968), commonly hailed as the first narrative filmmaker and female director. In La Fée aux Choux (The Cabbage Fairy, 1896) and Falling Leaves (1912), Guy-Blaché introduced two gardens as crucial characters within the narrative, depicting them as living breathing entities in the time of consumption or tuberculosis. Tuberculosis was the leading cause of death in Europe from the 18th to the 20th century, impacting on the way art was made. The first narrative films by Guy-Blaché reflected this continuation and exploration of the interrelationship between the arts and the disease. Accordingly, the present paper investigates a set of relevant metaphors unfolding through poetry, painting, opera and, specifically, the two films mentioned above, in an overlapping of scientific, artistic, and cultural discourses. My analysis concludes with an optimistic view linked to a scientific breakthrough that explores the world of bacteria as the starting point for a cure for TB, and possibly other diseases. It also refers to the magic of places like gardens, as emblematically suggested by the opening lines of “Fairy Song”, a poem by John Keats, who died of tuberculosis in 1821: “Shed no tear – O, shed no tear! / The flower will bloom another year. / Weep no more – O, weep no more! / Young Buds sleep in the root’s white core”.
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