May 29, 2018  (Web Review)

Shoes

Milestone, 52 min., not rated, DVD: $29.95, Blu-ray: $34.95

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

Lois Weber holds an important place in film history as the first major woman film director in Hollywood. What’s often forgotten is the talent behind her successful 25-year career. She engaged serious social issues through her dramas and brought nuance and complexity to stories of struggle and hardship in modern American life in the 1910s. The 1916 feature Shoes is one of her best, a social drama that humanizes the plight of poverty through the story of an underpaid shopgirl named Eva (Mary MacLaren) who is supporting her entire family on her wages and is too poor to replace the ratty shoes that are literally falling apart on her feet. The plot is simple when reduced to its essentials—Eva gives into the advances of a cad in exchange for a new pair of shoes—but the meticulous presentation of her life and the nuanced performance of MacLaren give the film tremendous power, and Weber makes the shoes a potent metaphor for the poverty of working-class women. It’s a sophisticated work of early feature filmmaking and an important film from the silent era. Weber has been overlooked in film histories in part because so many of her films have been lost and her surviving work has not been widely available. The Milestone Films release of the restoration of Shoes (along with Weber’s big-budget melodrama The Dumb Girl of Portici, VL-5/18) should help restore her place as one of the most important and influential filmmakers—male or female—of her day. Bowing on Blu-ray and DVD, extras include audio commentary by film historian Shelley Stamp, a restoration featurette, an archival audio interview with MacLaren, the 1932 spoof “Unshod Maiden,” and Weber’s 1911 short film “The Price” (the latter available for free at https://vimeo.com/253327843). Recommended. (S. Axmaker)