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The Great (and Silent) History of Hollywood’s First Female Director

Lois Weber was one of the most powerful filmmakers in Silent-era Hollywood and we should talk about it more.
Suspense Lois Weber
Universal Film Manufacturing Company
By  · Published on November 18th, 2020

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video about the under-discussed impact of actress, director, producer, and screenwriter Lois Weber.

I once heard someone say that if you watched films from before the 1960s, you weren’t just a film fan, you were a historian. The sentiment behind the statement is appealing enough. And it is a good reminder that this pastime, while often passive, isn’t frivolous.

And yet I do find that there is a drop-off point. I’d say most folks are familiar with films from the studio system onwards. But when it comes to pre-code fare, it starts to get a bit more obscure. This is, I suspect, in part because so much of early cinema is quite literally missing, lost, or irrevocably damaged. If people who watch films before the 1960s are historians, people who watch early 20th-century cinema are basically archeologists. And there are decidedly fewer of them.

I myself am not especially knowledgeable about this era and am always grateful to find resources that try to bring me up to speed. Like today’s video essay, which profiles, succinctly, one of the most remarkable and unsung women filmmakers in early Hollywood history: Lois Weber.

Weber was the first woman to direct her own feature film and to own her own studio. She made over one hundred and thirty-five films, many of which were ahead of their time both in their innovative formal construction and their moral nuance, the latter of which courted considerable controversy.

Her name ought to be uttered in the same breath as D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille. So, why did we largely forget about one of the great pioneering voices in early filmmaking? What did “the cinema of Lois Weber” look like?

Watch “A History of Silence: The Cinema of Lois Weber”:

Who made this?

This video essay is by Lux, a series that explores film form, history, and culture. Texas-based Travis Lee Ratcliff runs the channel and is a working editor and filmmaker. You can subscribe to Lux on YouTube here. And you can follow them on Twitter here. They are also on Vimeo!

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Meg has been writing professionally about all things film-related since 2016. She is a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects as well as a Curator for One Perfect Shot. She has attended international film festivals such as TIFF, Hot Docs, and the Nitrate Picture Show as a member of the press. In her day job as an archivist and records manager, she regularly works with physical media and is committed to ensuring ongoing physical media accessibility in the digital age. You can find more of Meg's work at Cinema Scope, Dead Central, and Nonfics. She has also appeared on a number of film-related podcasts, including All the President's Minutes, Zodiac: Chronicle, Cannes I Kick It?, and Junk Filter. Her work has been shared on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, Business Insider, and CherryPicks. Meg has a B.A. from the University of King's College and a Master of Information degree from the University of Toronto.