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The Professor dispenses the wisdom of the ages and does not make a living wage. The sons of the rich and powerful are students lacking any motivation. The next door neighbor of the Professor, businessman Olsen, has money and lots of food, while the Griggs have hardly any. Both Peter Olsen and Reverend Gates are taken by the beauty of young Amelia Griggs. When rich son Phil West falls for Amelia Griggs and befriends the poor Reverend Gates, he finally sees the difference in his life and theirs and tries to do something to change that.Written by
Tony Fontana <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Domestic interactions, women as real women--a fast early drama
The Blot (1921)
Domestic interactions, women as real women
The first thing about of every writer's mouth about any Lois Weber film is that it is directed by a woman. A silent film. 1921. And it's true.
But taken straight, The Blot, is a sweet, well constructed domestic drama with surprisingly good acting and a faster pace of editing than even some classics from roughly the same time such as Griffith's Broken Blossoms (1919). The general plot is curious, clever, and complicated enough I got a little lost for awhile. And the middle of the film, once the situation is "set up" for us, develops slowly, even as it cuts between scenes rapidly. The final resolution is not quite clear until it happens, and the final shot is abrupt and poignant to the point of being brilliant and inspired.
There are countless (literally) silent movies of this general type from this period--that is, all kinds of stories that the hungry movie audience of the 1920s at up. And this one is not exceptional from a formal point of view (for example, it has no moving camera, depending on fast cutting and snappy acting for its pace). What makes it interesting (regardless of Weber's gender for now) is the realism of many of the small scenes--the joking at the beginning, the professor's daughter's ease with the camera. There are silent film stiffnesses (for lack of a better word), like the professor in front of the class (no wonder the students are bored) and the professor's wife, who unfortunately has a large role in her unconvincing sorrows. But there are shining moments, including the lead student, who I thought was rather brilliant and only later learned was one of my favorite less known silent actors, Louis Calhern. He makes it worth it alone.
We should ask, is there a woman's touch here? Does Weber give us a view of her female characters that is any different (or better) than what other (male) directors give us? Maybe yes! I'm no scholar for this period at all, and someone would have to dig up not only von Stroheim and other famous directors, but all the routine filmmakers that form the backdrop for the audience of the time (an audience rapt by spectacles, crime flicks, period pieces, comedies and stars themselves, no matter what the genre, like Rudolph Valentino). What strikes me here is the purely normal, domestic basis of most of the scenes--even a cat and its kittens form a second family as a lovable metaphor
The secondary and more interesting conflict is between two middle class families (one clearly with more money than the other), and the women that are in charge of the day to day life of those families. It makes homemaking (cooking, mostly) important. Women are shown to be smart, complicated (within the limits of the plot), and non-objectified. This last is probably where many feminist critics would begin, and it's worth stressing. Even if the heroine in a Griffith film, or a von Sternberg for that matter (they are hardly comparable in the same sentence) is believable and admirable, it is often from a male point of view. They are interesting as the objective (and object) for some man. This is even true for Chaplin, who treats his women with a whole different kind of reverence. But Weber is just a hair different, or at least we can think about it this way. If the professor's daughter is the young "heroine" or female lead, she is no siren, and she does not just conform to some model of mystery, coy sweetness, or plain old beauty. Not completely.
I think I stretch a point--but it's worth looking at. Beyond that, the main conflict, if you can call it that, the one that leads to the romance, is the reason for the title. The "blot" is the shame on a society that doesn't pay its professors (and pastors) the money they deserve. An odd theme (but a good one from my point of view--guess what I do for a living), and one that really just serves as an excuse for the rest of the entertainment. But it has social significance of its own, especially at the beginning of a greedy and capitalist "roaring" decade that The Blot helps kick off.
Check it out. You might be surprised. It's no Sunrise or Greed for sure, but it has its own inner fire.
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