R: Lois Weber. K: George William Hill, Dal Clawson. D: Courtenay Foote, Myrtle Stedman, Herbert Standing, Adele Farrington, Nigel de Brulier, Margaret Edwards. P: Hobart Bosworth Company. USA 1914/15
Print: The American Film Institute Collection / Library of Congress
“The film follows the parallel stories of an early Christian ascetic and a modern minister, with most actors in dual roles. Gabriel (Courteney Foote) is a medieval monk who devotes himself to completing a statue of ‘Truth’, only to be murdered by a mob when his work turns out to be an image of a naked woman. The contemporary Gabriel is the pastor of a large wealthy urban congregation for whom religion is a matter of appearances, not beliefs. The hypocrisy of the congregation is exposed by a series of vignettes in which the Naked Truth, literally portrayed by a nude Margaret Edwards, reveals their appetites for money, sex and power. (…)
Hypocrites was a shocking and controversial film whose release was held up for many months by the difficulty of distributing a film with full nudity. Weber’s sincerity and reputation allowed her to use something that in the hands of a male director would have been considered scandalous and immoral. The film was passed by the British Board of Film Censors. However, because of the full and recurring nudity through the film, it caused riots in New York, was banned in Ohio, and was subject to censorship in Boston when the mayor demanded that the film negatives be painted over to clothe the woman.
Hypocrites and the technique was widely admired at the time for its extraordinary use of multiple exposures and intricate editing, and propelled Weber to the front ranks of silent directors. The use in the film of traveling double exposure sequences of the woman is considered impressive for 1915.”
“However shocked audiences are today or then by Weber’s gender, they were even more shocked by this movie’s content, which includes full-frontal female nudity, possibly the first time that occurred in a non-pornographic context in American film. Its inclusion emphasizes the fact that Weber clearly considered the cinema to be an art form (contrary to those who insist that no one but D.W. Griffith saw this at the time), and its use is deliberate to jolt a complacent audience into awareness of the movie’s message. This film is in that sense simultaneously subversive and also supportive of morality as it was understood by elite classes at the time. The fact that its ‘shocking’ content was used to support a Christian message is precisely why it was able to succeed where a more explicit challenge to social order would have been completely suppressed.”
Century Film Project
“So bizarr das Gleiten von einem Bild- und Zeitraum zum nächsten auch sein mag (und es liegt gar nicht so fern, bei all dem an Maya Deren zu denken), auf jeden einzelnen dieser Bild- und Zeiträume lässt sich Lois Weber mit staunenswerter Lust am Detail und an der realistischen Fülle der Inszenierung dann ein. Die Nacktheit und Dürre der Allegorie erfährt sehr postwendend stets Konterkarierung in mal historien-, mal gesellschaftsfilmwürdig ausgemalten Szenarien. Und in jedem dieser miteinander nur durchs allegorische Membrangleiten verträglichen Räume erweist sich Weber, die selbst als Predigerin begann und im Laufe der zehner Jahre zum echten und hoch bezahlten Regiesuperstar mit eigener Produktionsfirma wurde, als wirkliche Könnerin. (Sie stürzte, Griffith durchaus vergleichbar, in den Zwanzigern ab, drehte noch einen einzigen Tonfilm und das war’s dann.)”