“It Is Too Bitter A Pill” Lois Weber

She was born on this day in 1879 and for a shining moment took her place along side of names like D. W. Griffith, Cecil B DeMille and other directorial legends of early cinema. Her name was Lois Weber.

An auteur before that word entered the cinematic lexicon, she wrote, directed and edited films and was admired for her sensitive work with actors, her on-set meticulousness and her stories about women. Her name was invoked alongside the likes of D. W. Griffith, yet, like most female directors of that era, she faded into obscurity.

Before that moment arrived Weber was a force to be reckoned with.

In 1916, she was the first and only woman elected to the Motion Picture Directors Association, a solitary honor she would retain for decades. While at Universal it is also likely that she helped to foster the careers of other actresses employed at the studio, many of whom she had directed, including Cleo Madison, Lule Warrenton, and Dorothy Davenport Reid, who would become directors or producers in their own right.

This is one of her early works. Directing and starring in. Nothing out of the ordinary.

By this time damsels in distress with the hero racing to the rescue had become a tried and true formula for cinema as it was for the theater. But Weber was moving in a different direction

At her own production company, Weber began to move away from what she called the “heavy dinners” she had produced at Universal, side-stepping the censorship troubles she had endured in favor of more intimate productions focused on marriage and domesticity, concentrating her creative energies more than ever on the lives and experiences of women in films such as What Do Men Want? (1921), Too Wise Wives (1921), and The Blot (1921).

Lois Weber’s movies (along with husband Phillip Smalley) while dated in many aspects still maintains it’s power do to the subject matter and Weber’s direction.

While women were still very prominent in early cinema for many including Weber time was running out. One reason is the emerging studio system began to crowd out independent filmmakers. The industry successfully escaped Thomas Edison’s monopoly only to establish their own version. Movies became their game with house rules.

But there were other factors at work. Prominent among them is Weber was not one of the boys.

“They said to me after seeing the picture,”—she always refers to it as “the” picture—“It shows that a woman made this.”

“I said to them: ‘Yes, it does show that a woman made it. And it also shows that men are afraid to see themselves as they really are.’ ”

The picture in question was What Do Men Want? Weber who never really got on the same page as the censors was met time and again by dumbfounded movie executives who were shocked (shocked I tell you!) at what this woman was showing on the screen.

Except they all seemed to lose their delicate sensibilities when male directors did the same thing or even went further.  Lois Weber knew the deal

“What men need,” said Lois Weber, “is to see themselves as they really are. What they need is to face the truth about themselves—but they won’t do it. It is too bitter a pill.”

Think about that as Wonder Woman crushes it at the box office. Directed by Patty Jenkins it has become the highest grossing US film ever directed by a woman.

Yet here we are in 2017 and Jenkins is still walking in Weber’s footsteps whether she wants to or not.

For more on Lois Weber go to

William Film Pioneers Project

Lois Weber, Eloquent Filmmaker of the Silent Screen

Why Doesn’t Hollywood Hire More Women? Let’s Ask the Most Famous Female Director of 1921!

 

 

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