Daily Projections, 12-19-2018: The Dumb Girl of Portici

Title: The Dumb Girl of Portici
Director: Lois Weber
Country of Origin: USA
Year: 1916
Screening format: Blu-ray
Setting: Home
First viewing? Yes

Lois Weber was a force in her time, cranking out landmark films at quite a clip for several years, though her fame has, unfortunately, waned over time. Anna Pavlova was a legend in her own time and remains one today. Lois Weber’s The Dumb Girl of Portici was her one and only screen performance. The film, a sweeping operatic epic (literally, it was based on an opera), is a significant departure from the smaller, socially conscious dramas that made Lois Weber’s legacy. It’s full of all the operatic clichés one would expect. But the joy of The Dumb Girl of Portici does not come from the overly melodramatic plot or from the acting itself which looks dated, even for 1916. It’s Pavlova’s presence alone, watching her move and be moved, which makes The Dumb Girl of Portici worth every minute. Pavlova is not a natural actress by any means, she can’t match contemporaries like Gish or Pickford or Florence La Badie. Her movements are meant for the concert hall, large enough to be seen from the back of the hall yet balletic and graceful. It’s a joy just to watch her move. The only real disappointment is that, in a movie with several dance scenes, hardly any of them involve the greatest dancer the world has ever seen.

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