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More From America's First Female Filmmaker.
on February 27, 2008
It has been eight years since this significant work from Lois Weber (1879-1939) first appeared on VHS as part of Kino's FIRST LADIES: EARLY WOMEN FILMMAKERS series along with THE RED KIMONA from Mrs Wallace Reid (Dorothy Davenport) and Alice Guy-Blache's THE OCEAN WAIF. That series is finally making it to DVD and it's about time.
HYPOCRITES dates from 1915 and tackles not only moral hypocrisy but religious materialism as well. The film is allegorical in nature as it contrasts the story of a present day (1915) minister and his wealthy congregation with a medieval monk who causes a furor when he creates a statue of Truth depicted as a naked woman. Parts in both stories are played by the same actors. The monk is killed by an outraged mob while the minister expires after his sermon on hypocrisy. In between are a series of vignettes showing the hypocrisy of the congregation when confronted with the "naked truth". Not exactly conventional filmmaking nor particularly subtle by today's standards but HYPOCRITES remains a remarkable effort not only for when it was made but for how it was made. Weber's use of multiple exposures and sophisticated editing helped to make her one of the major figures of the silent era. Within a year she would be the highest paid director in the world pulling down $5000 a week. Within 10 years she would be all but forgotten and most of her films would disappear forever.
Although these DVDs won't be released until April it appears that are they exactly the same as the VHS versions which means that these films will not have undergone any significant restoration. HYPOCRITES suffers from some serious nitrate decomposition in places but is more than watchable as long as you are aware of that fact. This print was preserved in the Library Of Congress and for the time being it's all we have. Rounding out this release is Cleo Madison's 1916 short film ELEANOR'S CATCH. The FIRST LADIES series is historically important and deserves to be on DVD. Silent film aficionados will find much to admire here and should have all 3 titles in their collections but these films are not for the public at large unless you're interested in the careers of early women filmmakers.
P.S. - The DVDs have just been released (4/22) and the good news is that while restorations were not done on these films (it's doubtful that much could be done), the images are much sharper and detailed than on the old VHS tapes. Thank you Kino.