As everybody knows, March is Women’s History Month and with Best Director nominees Chloe Zhao and Emerald Fennell making history yesterday at the announcement of Oscar nominations – this is the first time two women are nominated in the category in the same year -, I thought it would be fitting to talk about America’s first female director and the 1913 thriller that in 2020 was added to the National Film Registry as ‘culturally, historically or aesthetically significant’, the 10-minute short Suspense.
Picture it: a young mother (played by Lois Weber herself) and her child are left alone in an isolated house, when a wandering tramp decides to break in… Boom. That’s all you need. A premise that’s been used time and again, Lois Weber knows just what to do with it. Generally regarded as the first film to use the split screen technique, it also deserves credit for employing interesting close-ups, and POV shots that no doubt influenced Sir Alfred Hitchcock himself – the shot of the tramp walking up the stairs is particularly reminiscent of Psycho (1960). Suspense is thrilling, intriguing and effective until the very end, with all the elements in the right place. Lois Weber’s career is mind-blowing and way too extensive to go into here (seriously, look her up), but one look at this film and we immediately understand why she was so well-regarded by audiences as well as her peers, both for her body of work and the creativity of her output. Quite simply, Lois Weber was a badass.