11 Mar
Sat / 2017

Inside the MFAH
Lois Weber & Anna Pavlova, Pioneering Women of Film & Dance

Today’s audiences may be surprised to learn that more than a century ago, one of the most highly acclaimed powerhouses of the film industry—entrusted to head the largest production that Universal had ever attempted—was a woman filmmaker. Director Lois Weber was tapped to bring a well-known and loved opera to the big screen, which was as artistically ambitious as it was risky. In celebration of Women’s History Month, her 1916 film The Dumb Girl of Portici screens at the Museum on March 17 & 19.

Daniel Auber’s opera centers on Fenella, a young Italian woman living during the Spanish occupation of Naples in the mid-17th century. In her only onscreen performance, world-renowned Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova plays the leading role of Fenella.

Lois Weber and Anna Pavlova
Lois Weber (far left) talks with Anna Pavlova (center) on the set of The Dumb Girl of Portici.

It’s in large part because of Pavlova that dance is considered a serious artistic discipline worthy of pursuit in the United States: Her performances gathered large, captivated audiences, while her charismatic style was empowering to aspiring dancers everywhere. Thanks to the restoration and release of The Dumb Girl of Portici, today’s audiences can experience the rare treat of seeing Pavlova dance.

Anna Pavlova
Anna Pavlova poses for a publicity shot for the film.

Prior to The Dumb Girl of Portici, Weber directed shorter, more intimate, character-driven films, focusing on deconstructing the stereotypical female characters portrayed in cinema. She was determined to use the power of the moving image to elicit open conversation about the era’s most provocative issues. Instead of being cast as housewives or mistresses, Weber’s women had complex lead roles such as the birth-control activist, played by Weber herself, in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle—which boasted the provocative working title Is a Woman a Person?

Weber took her role in the industry seriously, so when the challenge of directing The Dumb Girl of Portici presented itself, she accepted it with the determination and passion for which she was known. The resulting film, with Pavlova as the star, brought together two women who remain hugely influential in their respective fields.

In March, the Museum celebrates Women’s History Month by highlighting women’s immense contributions to all fields of the arts—in this case, film and dance. Learn more about the Museum’s celebration of Women’s History Month, and see “The Dumb Girl of Portici” when it screens at the Museum on March 17 & 19.

Recent Posts

Post Archives

Tag Cloud

17th-century 18th-century 1970s 19th-century 20th-century 35mm 5womenartists abstract activity african-art a-history-of-photography akan america american american-art ancient and angelica-kauffmann animals animation anna-atkins antiquities architecture archive armchair-travel art art-books artist artists art-of-the-islamic-worlds arts-of-india azaleas bayou bayou-bend bayou-bend-christmas-village bend bestowing-beauty biblical biography black book british british-arrows british-art broadways-amazing-mastersons buffalo-bayou-park-cistern campus campus-redevelopment cannes carroll-sterling-masterson chair chef chinese-art christmas christmas-fun cinema cisternrain classic classic-films cocktail coffee collection color colors-of-the-oasis community concrete conservation contemporary-art contemporary-arts-museum-houston contemporary-film contesting-modernity countess cullen-sculpture-garden culture curator curators-picks dance decorative-arts degas degas-a-new-vision design digital documentary documents dont-blink-robert-frank drama drawings dutch-art electronic elizabeth-i england e-records europe exhibition exhibitions eye-on-houston family family-programs fashion fashion-fusion feast festival fiber-arts field film films flowers food francis-bacon free french french-art fun future futuremfah gainsborough gallery gallery-interpretation garden garden-paradise gardens george-iii glassell glassell-school-of-art google-art-project google-arts-and-culture habsburg-splendor-masterpieces-from-viennas-imperial-collections halloween happyhour happy-new-year harris-masterson-iii henry-viii hirsch-library history history-book-club holiday holiday-fun hollywood home homemfah homeso-different-so-appealing houston howe hurricane-harvey icaa ikat ima-hogg impressionism indian-art instagram interactive ipads islamic italian japanese-art john-biggers joshua-reynolds kenwood kids king kodak kusama latin latin-america latin-american latin-american-art latino-art latin-wave latinx laura-israel learning-and-interpretation love mail manet maria-fernanda-cardoso mastersons mayan-art media meditation mending-craft-and-community mexican-film mexican-modernism mexico mfa-cafe mfah mfah-book-club mfah-films mfah-in-the-community mfah-staff modern modernism movie movies movies-houstonians-love mueck mueckmfah museum museum-education music native-american-art new nhprc now-on-view now-playing organic oscar-de-la-renta oscars painting paintings paint-the-revolution paris paul-thomas-anderson peacock-in-the-desert-the-royal-arts-of-jodhpur-india peacockmfah persian persian-art photographs photography picasso portrait portraits pose prints prints-and-drawings programs queen-victoria radical rebel-jester-mystic-poet recipe rembrandt-van-rijn rienzi ron-mueck rothko sampler school sculpted-in-steel sculpture self-portrait shadow-monsters shepherds short-films slow-art-day snail snapshot spain spanish-art spring streaming style summer technology texas textiles thanksgiving the the-al-sabah-collection theater the-glamour-and-romance-of-oscar-de-la-renta trivia tudors-to-windsors valentines-day venezuelan-art video vincent-van-gogh vincent-van-gogh-his-life-in-art virtual wagner-garden-carpet watercolor winter women-filmmakers womens-history-month works-on-paper yoga zoom