Lois Weber was an amazing woman. She started
out as an actress in Hollywood, but went on to become a director, writing
many of her movies herself. That happens every so often nowadays
but she directed her first film in 1913, years before she even had the
right to vote. In 1914 she became the first woman to direct a feature
production. Weber rose up to become one of the most respected directors
in Hollywood, and the highest paid at one point too. Her movies often
focused on social themes, and were almost always dramas. But as styles
changed in the 1920's, Weber fell out of fashion, and by the late twenties,
her career was all but over.
Weber's films have not been show much since they
were originally released, and it is rare to get to screen one. Many
have been lost, of course, and those that still exist are often passed
over for restoration in favor of other films with more prominent directors
or starts. Now Milestone Films, in association with Image, have released
a restored version of one of Weber's best films, The Blot.
Like most of her films, this one is a drama with
a lot of social commentary. Professor Griggs is an intellectual man
who teaches the children of the privileged at the local college.
He works hard and is very educated, but he is not paid very well.
He and his family are poor, with tattered clothes and little to eat.
Next door to the Griggs live the "foreign born"
Olsens. Mr. Olsen owns a business making shoes, and has done
very well for himself. But the Olsens are crass and loud, uneducated
and uncouth. They don't seem to appreciate all that they have, buying
things only for the sake of showing off.
The Griggs' daughter, Amelia, is a very attractive
young lady who works long hours in the library to help the family with
the expenses. She has two suitors, the scholarly but poor Reverend
Gates, and the rich but idle Phil West, son of a trustee of the college.
Amelia's mother, who married a wise man and was sentenced to a life of
poverty, wants her to choose the rich boy, and her father feels that the
reverend is the wisest choice. But the stress of having to choose
between suitors and overwork causes poor Amelia to fall ill.
This film didn't age very well. While the
direction is fine, with the shots having very good composition, the plot
is too melodramatic for my tastes. I also thought that the social
commentary was very dated, and I didn't agree with it. Weber implies
strongly that the hard working immigrants don't deserve the fruits of their
labor because they are not educated. She is attacking the consumer-based
economy that started up in America in the early 20th century, and finds
it unfair. Ironically, the lazy, rich suitor has class, and
is therefore entitled to his money. It is never implied that he is
unworthy of his car and fancy clothes, but the immigrants are constantly
taken to task for having more than they deserve. Even their youngest
child's favorite toy (a pair of adult shoes he likes to wear) is too expensive
and extravagant. While criticism of immigrants was not unusual in
the 1920's, I was surprised that their flaw was that they were successful
and hard working. These are traits that are looked on with admiration
The two channel audio track is not dynamic, but it is clean and clear.
Jim Parker composed a good score for this film, and the chamber group that
performs it does a good job. The tone of the music matches
the mood on screen very well, it enhances the movie without overpowering
The audio for the commentary was a little lower in quality than the
musical track. Dr. Stamp's voice was pleasing enough, but the levels
were set incorrectly. Words that started or ended with the letter
's' were slightly slurred, and the 'b' and 'd' sounds in words come out
booming. It was still easy to understand the commentary, but these
audio defects did get a little irritating after a while.
One other odd defect in the commentary is that there are a couple of
dropouts. In the middle of a sentence, the audio just cuts out. There
are a couple of seconds of silence, and then the audio pops back on.
I can only assume that these defects were present on the master tape and
couldn't be helped.
The full frame video was prepared from a print restored by Photoplay
Productions, one of the leading conservators of silent films. The
image quality is good overall, especially when the age of the film is taken
into account. There were at least two prints used for the master.
Neither of them have a great deal of contrast, but the main print used
was clean, with few specks of dirt or other physical print damage.
The second print, used only in a couple of scenes, has a good amount of
scratching and dirt. The picture in both prints is soft, and there
is some details missing. Highlights are sometimes lost and the range
of gray tones isn't as wide as I'd like. Even with all that, this
is still a very watchable film that looks much better than this description
makes it sound.
There is an audio commentary by Shelly Stamp, an associate professor
of film at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her comments
are a little basic for my tastes. She spends a lot of time interpreting
the looks on people's faces for the audience, and explains what is happening
in scenes, something that the viewer really doesn't need. When she
isn't stating the obvious, the commentary is very interesting. She
gives a good history of director Lois Weber, talks about the stars Claire
Windsor and Louis Calhern, and relates what it was like to make movies
in the early 1920's. (Including Weber's desire to film entire films
in sequence.) If she commented on the film a little more and described
it a little less, this would have been an excellent track.
This movie is very interesting from a historical standpoint, but as
entertainment is falls short. The pace of the story is very slow,
and many modern viewers will find that it drags. The social message
is very dated, and the plot is too melodramatic. As a die-hard silent
movie fan, I was glad I saw it. It gives us a glimpse of what life
was like 80 years ago. Anyone interested in early cinema, and the
role that females played in the development of film should be sure to check
this DVD out. But casual fans would be better off Renting It.