A history of silence: The cinema of Lois Weber

“There are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new.”¬† Wise words from the fictional food critic Anton Ego in Ratatouille. “The new needs friends,” he also states, and that burden of advocating for novelties¬†is on the shoulders of the critic. The same goes for audiovisual critics and video essay makers: they too have an obligation to defend and propagate the new. And in some cases that new… is very old.

 

Lois Weber was a formidable force in early film but she has largely been forgotten by all but film historians. Her contributions to the early development of the seventh art are brought back into the spotlight in this video essay by Travis Lee Ratcliff. This sleekly produced video is essentially a mini-documentary that gives a concise overview of Weber’s career, with Ratcliff”s hypernarration trying to fit in as much information as possible. (That is a staple of the style of many video essay makers, who sometimes seem inspired by the rapid fire argumentations of debating championships).

 

But there’s more here than a rattling off of historical facts. Ratcliff places Weber’s accomplishments and her eventual disappearance firmly within the larger history of Hollywood, and how its economic choices shut the door on the careers of many female filmmakers. In doing so, he not only helps rehabilitate Weber but also defends the old: a time at the very start of film history when women made larger contributions than they were allowed to make in more “modern” times…