#15) Matrimony’s Speed Limit (1913)
OR “Alice in Movieland”
Directed (and possibly Written) by Alice Guy-Blaché
Class of 2003
This is a revised and expanded version of my original post on “Matrimony’s Speed Limit”, which you can read here.
The Plot: Fraunie (Fraunie Fraunholz) refuses to accept money from his girlfriend Marian (Marian Swayne), even after his fortune takes a dive in the stock market. Tired of waiting for his proposal, Marian sends Fraunie a fake telegram stating he will inherit his late aunt’s fortune if he marries by noon that day. It’s a mad comic dash as Fraunie proposes to every woman he runs into, and Marian grabs a Justice of the Peace (Actor Unknown) to perform an impromptu wedding.
Why It Matters: The NFR praises both the “deft, ironic” film as well as “[p]ioneering woman filmmaker” Guy- Blaché. There’s also an essay by film professor Margaret Hennefeld, whose “research focuses on issues of comedy, gender, [and] silent film history”, making “Matrimony’s Speed Limit” a direct bull’s-eye in her niche Venn diagram.
But Does It Really?: This film is definitely on here for what it represents rather than what it is. “Matrimony’s Speed Limit” is a dated piece of light comedy that, while not very entertaining today, is one of a handful of surviving films from Alice Guy-Blaché, who is among the first (if not the first) female directors in film history. Honestly, researching Alice Guy and her amazing film career was more interesting than rewatching this movie. A slight pass for “Matrimony’s Speed Limit”, but a definite yes to Alice Guy-Blaché.
Everybody Gets One: In 1894, 21-year-old Alice Guy was hired at L. Gaumont et Cie (later the Gaumont Film Company) as a secretary. Guy was in attendance at the Lumière Brothers first demonstration of film (1895’s “Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory”), and recognized that film could be used as a creative storytelling medium, rather than just reportage of daily life. Within a year, Guy directed her first short film (See “Further Viewing”). In 1907, Guy and her newlywed husband Herbert Blaché moved to the U.S. and founded Solax Studios in Flushing, New York, with Herbert as production manager and Alice the creative director. Over the next decade Alice directed hundreds of film, all the while experimenting with such then-revolutionary techniques as synchronized sound and interracial casting.
Wow, That’s Dated: Well for starters, the societal norms of the day surrounding gender roles and marriage (A woman who takes the initiative in her relationships!? Scandalous!) You also get standard ‘20s fare like telegrams and ticker tape, plus “hilarious” jokes about miscegenation and suicide.
- “Matrimony’s Speed Limit” was filmed in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Fort Lee became the new home of Solax Studios when their operation became too big for their New York offices. Sadly, a fire in 1919 destroyed the Solax film laboratory and with it, a majority of its library.
- I am well aware that my modern lens prohibits me from viewing this film as originally intended, but I got a lot of problems with “Matrimony’s Speed Limit”. For starters, at no point does Marian’s telegram give the name of Fraunie’s aunt, the dollar amount of the fortune, where or when he can receive it, or how exactly it can be determined that Fraunie did indeed get married before noon.
- And while we’re at it, why only give Fraunie 15 minutes to run and find a bride? Why not give him an extra hour or, hell, an extra day? Maybe that extra time would help him come to his senses and propose to his long-suffering girlfriend. Why must you rush things for comic effect, Marian?
- Okay, one more nitpick: How close/far away is the distance between Marian’s house and Fraunie’s office? It takes Fraunie five seconds to run over to her place, but it takes Marian the whole movie to drive to him. Was Fort Lee designed by M.C. Escher? But then again, I’m poking holes in a 106-year-old film whose sole purpose was to entertain. Kicks just keep getting harder to find.
- And now we get to the “Wow” in “Wow, That’s Dated”. Fraunie proposes to a woman wearing a veil and gloves. She is receptive, and lifts her veil to reveal that she’s black. Sure, miscegenation was still quite taboo in 1913, but that joke does not age well at all. And this comes after Alice helmed the first movie with an African-American cast: 1912’s “A Fool and His Money” (great title, by the way). Surely she would have known better.
- I feel like finding someone who would immediately marry a stranger is far easier nowadays, what with the dating apps and all. In fact, is there an app for that? If not, I call dibs on the copyright!
- By the end of the 1910s, moviemaking had started migrating to Hollywood, and Alice Guy-Blaché found her film career (and her marriage) at an end. Alice sold the remains of Solax Studios to stave off bankruptcy, and never made another movie. Her sole return to public life came with the publishing of her memoirs in the late 1940s, to ensure that her place in film history would be well documented.
- With the exception of a few lifetime achievement honors in her native France, Alice Guy-Blaché did not receive any recognition of her film work during her lifetime. This changed in the 2000s, when her work was resurrected and reappraised thanks to extensive film preservation efforts. Alice was posthumously inducted into the Directors Guild of America in 2011, and is the subject of the 2015 biography & 2018 documentary “Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché”
Further Viewing: While Alice Guy-Blaché’s original 1896 version of “La Fée aux Choux” has disappeared, her remake from 1900 survives, and is considered the earliest known film directed by a woman. Literally translated to “The Cabbage Fairy”, the short is based on the European fantasy that children are born in cabbage patches. And now you know where the concept behind Cabbage Patch Kids comes from. You’re welcome.