Lois Weber, Hollywood's Forgotten Early Pioneer, Has 2 Films RestoredHistorians in the News
tags: Hollywood, restoration, PRESERVATION
As Hollywood continues to struggle with the underrepresentation of women behind the camera, most people have forgotten that 100 years ago, one woman ruled.
Her name was Lois Weber. Counting shorts and feature-length movies, she directed at least 138 films — all before 1940. She became the first American woman to direct a feature-length dramatic film with The Merchant of Venice in 1914.
"In her day, she was considered one of the three great minds of the early film industry, alongside D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille," says Shelley Stamp, a film historian at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Today, most of her works are virtually impossible to see. But two of her most important films have now been restored and released to theaters and on disc.
Shelley Stamp wrote a book about Weber and the notes for the new DVDs. She says the filmmaker often took a different tack from her contemporaries.
"She was a very vocal advocate for cinema's ability to portray complex social issues in a popular narrative form," Stamp says. "She considered cinema what she called 'a voiceless language.' And by that I think she meant cinema had an ability to convey ideas to anybody, regardless of their educational level, regardless of their command of English, right, at a period when there were many immigrants to the U.S. who did not speak English as a first language."
Weber was born in 1879 outside Pittsburgh to a religious middle-class family. She was a child prodigy pianist who spent two years playing organ and evangelizing around the city.
"She started preaching on shop corners, and when she went to New York, she started working at these Salvation Army-type places to help people," Dennis Doros says. With his wife Amy Heller, Doros co-founded and runs Milestone Films, which is releasing the restored version of Weber's movies. "She was never really a preacher, but she was always an activist for the poor."
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