Lois Weber in Early Hollywood/germaine Dulac: A Cinema of Sensations

By Horak, Laura | Canadian Journal of Film Studies, Fall 2015 | Go to article overview

Lois Weber in Early Hollywood/germaine Dulac: A Cinema of Sensations


Horak, Laura, Canadian Journal of Film Studies


LOIS WEBER IN EARLY HOLLYWOOD By Shelley Stamp Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015,384 pp.

GERMAINE DULAC: A CINEMA OF SENSATIONS By Tami Williams Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield: University of Illinois, 2014,336 pp.

REVIEWED BY LAURA HORAK

At a moment when we still ask why so few women can find work as film directors, these books offer a welcome reminder that women were foundational to the establishment of cinema. Many women worked on films during the silent era, in all kinds of jobs, all over the world, as the Women Film Pioneers Project has persuasively shown.1 It is high time that two luminaries of this group-Lois Weber and Germaine Dulac-received their own book-length studies. Feminist film historians Shelley Stamp and Tami Williams have delivered on this promise.

Weber and Dulac were ambitious on behalf of cinema-as an art form, an industry, and a vehicle for social change. They were also ambitious for their own careers, writing and directing more than seventy feature films between them and hundreds of shorts, founding their own production companies, and speaking and writing about what film could be and do. They also helped create the institutions that sustained the industry: in Weber s case, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Motion Picture Directors Association, and the Photoplay Author s League; in Dulac s, the Cinémathèque française, the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF), the French Federation of CineClubs, and the Society of Film Authors. Weber and Dulac were also both written out of standard film histories even before their careers had ended. In these two books, the achievements of these two ambitious, artistic women open up into trenchant histories of independent production in early Hollywood and of artistic and political movements in France from the Belle Epoque to the Second World War.

Lois Weber in Early Hollywood masterfully weaves together Webers biography, her shifting public persona, close readings of key films, and the changing organization of the American film industry. The book is organized around four periods in Weber s career: 1 ) her early work at Rex, where she made hundreds of shorts, many about unconventional women and the circula- tion of womens images; 2 ) her years of most acclaim at Universal, with Progressive social issue films like Shoes (1916) and Where Are My Children ? ( 1916); 3) her time as an independent producer, making films that critiqued male-female relations under capitalism; and 4) her work in the 1920s, when she resisted the industry's efforts to limit women's expression behind and in front of the camera. The book persuasively refutes the narrative of personal and professional decline that others have applied to Weber in the 1920s.

The concepts of film authorship and female film authorship continue to be contested in film studies.2 Stamp's book offers a productive way of approaching female film authorship, answering the call of scholars like Annette Kuhn, Lauren Rabinovitz and Paul Sellors.3 While the book helpfully identifies themes that stretch across Weber's work and connects some of them with her personal experiences, it also attends to the specific producers, cinematographers, screenwriters, and actors with whom Weber worked and what they brought to the table. Perhaps most interestingly, the book closely analyzes the dynamics of Weber's collaborations with her husband, Phillips Smalley, and how this changed over the years. This approach not only addresses a great conundrum about the nature of Weber's authorship but provides a model for investigating the husband-andwife teams through which many women accessed film production in the silent era. Stamp also investigates the changing ways that Weber understood herself as an author in her published writings and how Weber inscribed herself in her later works-via on-screen credits, her signature, images of herself, and her narrative voice in intertitles. …

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