Features and Columns · Movies

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 Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).