The Blot (1921)


  • directed by Lois Weber
  • starring Claire Windsor, Margaret McWade, Phillip Hubbard, Louis Calhern
  • When wealthy son Phil West falls for Amelia Griggs, daughter of his extremely underpaid Professor, he at last sees the differences in class and tries to make lasting changes.

Lois Weber, an undersung hero of the silent film era, blazed many trails throughout her career and it wasn’t just because she was the largest female presence within such a male-dominated industry. Just as importantly as gender, Weber understood even as cinema was still in its infancy that films not only had the potential to dazzle, but that they could inform and influence as well. She was not just a director, instead she held the rare titles—matched in stature and prolificacy only by D.W. Griffith at the time—of producer, actress, writer, director…someone in charge of all aspects of their output. As if the extent of her work weren’t enough, the boldness with which she tackled her subjects, from abortion and gender equality to religion and censorship, never wavered throughout her 20+-year career. The Blot, a film that arrived toward the tail-end of her filmography was yet another one that had much to say, this time about the very wide gap between poverty and privilege.

The patriarch of the Griggs family is a morally rich professor much more interested in the many beauties of teaching and learning than he is with the particulars of the unlivable wage he earns. Following in her father’s footsteps is Amelia, who seems to value an honest day’s work at the library above all else. It’s Mrs. Griggs, the one in the trenches every day trying to figure out how to feed her family on such meager funds, who is driven mad by current conditions. Making matters worse is the fact that through her window she could peer in on the very comfortable, happy, and well-off Olsens next door. Mr. Olsen is a high-end shoe salesman earning much much more than the guy, Mr. Griggs, in charge of their son’s academic future, as well as that of all the young men of the community. It doesn’t seem fair and the characters’ individual stands on the issue land all across the spectrum; some sympathize and attempt to improve the Griggs’ circumstances; some, including those directly affected, who don’t concern themselves with issues perceived to be large enough to be out of reach; and those, like Mrs. Olsen, who until the end seem to almost revel in such disparities. Matters get complicated and opinions are further ingrained in the characters when everyone learns that Amelia has drawn the affection of the son of a wealthy school trustee.

For all of the discussions about Weber’s strengths in activism, she had a hell of a lot of moviemaking talent to go with it. She shot Claire Windsor in such gorgeous, warm close-ups that it was easy to see why Amelia would have three men clamoring for her. What also impressed me about The Blot was that its message was delivered so strongly but not at the expense of thorough character development, story, or visuals. Weber certainly wasn’t shy about piling on the melodrama and direct illustrations of her central point, but overall it was a very small universe that she focused on with practically no major occurrences. In other words, the story basically was as quiet as its message was loud. With characters just being for the majority of the film, every small decision they made rang loudly.


About classixquest
all the things I should have seen

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