Film professor to share research on Hollywood director at LA Times Festival of Books

New book by Shelley Stamp details extraordinary role that women played in shaping American movie culture.

Shelley Stamp

UC Santa Cruz film and digital media professor Shelley Stamp will be featured on a panel about arts biography this weekend at the 20th annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books--the largest public literary festival in the country.

Stamp will be there to discuss her new book, Lois Weber in Early Hollywood, just published last week by the University of California Press.

Stamp noted that Weber was one of the top filmmakers in early Hollywood, considered one of its "three great minds" alongside D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille. But while they have long enjoyed recognition as the "fathers" of American cinema, Weber has been mostly neglected by film historians.

“Her work is incredibly interesting because she wrote and directed popular narratives in the 1910s that took on controversial subjects of the day--poverty, addiction, capital punishment, and the fight to legalize birth control,” said Stamp.  

“She believed cinema was a ‘voiceless language’ capable of presenting these issues for a mass audience, a new medium on par with a newspaper's editorial page,” Stamp added. “In the 1920s, she continued to make films that tackled topical issues like consumer culture and new sexual mores from an increasingly feminist perspective.”

“And in the late 1920s, towards the end of her career, she made a trio of films critical of Hollywood's star-driven glamour industry.”

Stamp said she was looking forward to the panel at the LA Times Festival of Books to share her book about Weber and add to the historical record.

“The festival will be an amazing opportunity to spread the word about a filmmaker who should be much better known,” said Stamp. “I have always hoped that my research would promote a better understanding about her legacy--not just among film historians, but anybody interested in Hollywood history or women's filmmaking.”

“The idea that women have only recently begun making popular, profitable, and interesting films is a terrible fiction that holds back younger generations of filmmakers,” Stamp added. “So in addition to writing the book, I've also been involved in efforts to restore and preserve Weber's surviving films, to release them on DVD, and to screen them at film festivals.”

At the Los Angeles festival, Stamp will be participating in a panel on "Artistic Influencers" with fellow authors Mark Harris and Robert M. Dowling. Harris will be discussing his latest book Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War, about the wartime propaganda work of filmmakers John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens. And Dowling will be discussing his recent book on playwright Eugene O'Neill.

“Weber, who has often been sidelined in histories of Hollywood, deserves recognition among this esteemed group of "influencers," Stamp noted.