Film professor provides expert commentary in new box set of rare films

Shelley Stamp (below), chair of the Film & Digital Media Department, provides expert audio commentary in a new DVD Box set of rare films (above) just released by the National Film Preservation Foundation.
(Photo by Scott Rappaport)

A UC Santa Cruz professor has lent her voice to a 4-DVD box set of 48 rare films never before seen on video.

Shelley Stamp, chair of the UC Santa Cruz Film & Digital Media Department, provides the audio commentary for Where Are My Children? in Treasures III: Social Issues in American Film, 1900-1934 (Image Entertainment).

Where Are My Children? is a 1916 look at birth control and abortion that was one of the most controversial--and popular--films of that year.

The box set, a new release by the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF), showcases films from an era when no issue was deemed too controversial to bring to the silver screen. Prohibition, birth control, race relations, unions, tuberculosis, atheism, police corruption, immigration, homelessness, loan sharking, and the vote for women are just some of the many issues brought to life in the films. They range from Cecil B. De Mille's reformatory expose, The Godless Girl, to a patriotic "striptease" cartoon for war bonds, and the earliest surviving union film.

"In film's first decades, activists from every political stripe used movies to advance their agenda," noted Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese, who serves on the NFPF Board of Directors. "These films are an important and fascinating glimpse of history. They changed America and still inspire today."

Where Are My Children? was written and directed by Lois Weber, one of silent cinema's most respected filmmakers, and the first and only woman granted membership in the Motion Picture Directors' Association.

Four years ago, Stamp was named one of two 2003 Academy Film Scholars by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The youngest scholar and second woman ever given such an award, she was honored with a $25,000 grant to support research for an upcoming book that will be titled Lois Weber in Early Hollywood. Stamp noted that Weber's career spotlights the importance of activist filmmaking in the early years of the American film industry.

"Weber was a director/screenwriter who made films about social problems in the 1910s," said Stamp. "She took on all of the hot-button issues of the decade, including contraception, capital punishment, drug abuse, religious intolerance, and women's wage equity. Her career flourished during a period when the industry was open to a model of socially engaged cinema. By the '20s, that era was largely gone, as the industry shifted more towards glamour, entertainment, and escapism."

The NFPF is a nonprofit organization created by Congress to help save America's film heritage. The motion pictures in the new box set are all drawn from the preservation work of the country's early film archives: George Eastman House, the Library of Congress, the Museum of Modern Art, the National Archives and the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

"Thanks to the efforts of the film archives and the NFPF, Weber's film and all of the other titles in this DVD set can now be seen by a whole new generation of viewers," Stamp said. "Perhaps some will even be inspired to revive Hollywood's tradition of activist cinema."