"...the most startlingly satisfying and vividly wonderful creation of the screen age..." New York Evening Journal January 1915
Ah Lois Weber, this time you’ve really upped the ante: this is a film ostensibly about Christianity but which boils down to the simple battle to live true to yourself as well as your beliefs. Let he who is without sin and a sense of perspective… cast the first stone.
|Naked Truth examines political honesty...|
The film opened on 20th January 1915 at the Longacre Theatre in New York with an actor dressed as a monk providing a live prologue... this was serious and very popular, stuff. The New York Times called it "daring and artistic" whilst the Evening Telegram went so far as to say it was "...the most remarkable film ever seen". Margaret Edwards even appeared at the Los Angeles opening, dancing between the screenings - it was an event.
In spite of scrupulous efforts to ensure that religious and secular authority were won over by the moral message Ohio banned the film and the Mayor of Boston reputedly asked for Truth to be painted over so that the whole truth was less revealed. Never the less, Hypocrites made Lois Weber's name and Mr de Mille was no doubt taking notes...
|Courtenay Foote as the priest and the monk|
These are people caught up in everyday concerns who are just going through the motions, attending church as a social obligation whilst they think of better things to do. Yet there are some who try – a woman in black who looks mournful and another in the choir who gazes with zealous love at the priest, his every word caressing her belief.
|And some fell on stoney ground...|
Exhausted the priest falls asleep and starts to dream of his struggle, finding himself attempting to lead his parishioners up a steep hillside. Few follow, the woman from the choir and the woman in black but the family fail as the father cannot carry their sick child and the banker is weighed down by his money. As the few climb higher and higher the difficulty increase until only the singer remains – near the hill top she reaches out for the priests help but she needs to find her own way to the truth.
|Myrtle Stedman asks for help on the path to truth...|
He sculpts a statue of truth which nearly blinds even his fellow monks once it is revealed to the public there is mayhem. The scene involving the unveiling is a great set piece from Weber, her camera panning round a circle of assorted rich and poor,the royal family, soldiers, drunkards, working girls and the innocent. They are made up of the same faces from the church all deaf to the truth with the exception of a young girl, a woman who has fallen too far and a nun who loves Gabriel the man not the monk...
|The outlook turns black as the people reject Gabriel...|
In one remarkable sequence, The Mote in the Eye, the camera focuses on the eye of Myrtle Stedman to show Gabriel's face: she wants to do the right thing but her feelings for him overwhelm her moral decision. It's a great bit of composition and if you look hard enough you can see the cameraman's hand whirring the camera's handle around.
|The mote in the eye of Myrtle Stedman|
There are good, if mannered, performances particularly from Courtenay Foote without which the whole enterprise would fall apart. Myrtle Stedman is also convincing as the woman with the Ascetic in her eyes whilst Adele Farrington covers her range of roles with assurance and Dixie Carr makes for a mournful Magdelan. Of course, Miss Edwards deserves a special mention for sheer commitment...
|Margaret Edwards, Courtenay Foote and Adele Farrington|
"Everyone told me that ...plays, aiming at anything like a moral,would never pay... Hypocrites was my first chance to prove that I was right." Lois Weber from a Moving Picture Weekly interview in July 1915.
I would heartily recommend Anthony Slide's excellent biography Lois Weber - The Director Who Lost Her Way in History which is also available from Amazon as an e-book. Thanks to him, she's finding her way back...
|Spot the cameraman!|