BIRTH OF A BENEFIT: Lillian Gish, flanked by Bennet Kqrn and Joan Fontaine, sponsors of a benefit performance of “Lillian Gish and the Movies.” Program of rare film clips narrated by Miss Gish will have its New York premiere next Thursday at Columbia’s McMillin Theater to benefit the university’s D. W. Griffith Scholarship Fund. Tickets at $5 will include a champagne reception.
The New York premiere of a film program, “Lillian Gish and the Movies,” on Thursday will benefit Columbia University’s new D. W. Griffith Scholarship Fund, named for the director who gave Miss Gish her movie start in 1912 and who made her a star with his 1915 epic “Birth of a Nation. Among lhe 23 silent clips narrated by Miss Gish during the 90-minute program at Columbia’s McMillin Theater will be a rare shot of Griffithbehind the cameras and scenes from several of his movies. Other segments will show early efforts by Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin and experimental films made before movies became commercial.
The scholarship fund is being established to help promising student directors in the film division of Columbia’s School of the Arts. A champagne reception honoring Miss Gish, whose autobiography “The Movies, Mr. Griffith and Me” will be published by Prentice-Hall on April 21, will follow the 8:30 P.M. program. Tickets at $5, may be ordered from Dr. Arthur S. Barron, chairman of the film division.
Foreword to the First Edition (1965) by Alfred Hitchcock
Thirty or forty years ago, when the idea of the cinema as an art form was new, people started to write highbrow treatises about it. Unfortunately, few of the books seemed to have much connection with what one saw at the local picture house. Even earlier began the still-continuing deluge of fan magazines and annuals, full of exotic photographs but short on solid information. We film-makers had our own reference books, but these were often incomprehensible to the layman and gave him more undigested facts than he needed. Nobody wrote for the sensible middlebrow picturegoer who was keenly interested in the craft of the cinema without wanting to make a religion of it. The volume you hold in your hand aims to be the first comprehensive reference book in English for that numerous but neglected audience. I feel sure it will be welcome, for audiences are taking an increasingly serious interest in their films these days – even in the flippant ones. A concise guide to film matters past and present is obviously a good thing to have on a handy shelf, especially when the best of the old films are constantly cropping up on TV. I hope it will prove possible to bring out revised and corrected editions on a regular basis. Not that many glaring errors will be discovered: the author has done his homework rather better than the villains in my films, who always seem to get found out sooner or later. Speaking personally, I don’t know whether it is more flattering or disturbing to find oneself pinned down like a butterfly in a book which recounts all the macabre details of one’s career. But being a stickler for detail myself. I must, and do. submit; and I wish the enterprise well.
Broken Blossoms – Lillian Gish
Lillian Gish and Donald Crisp in Broken Blossoms
Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess – Broken Blossoms
Lillian Gish – Broken Blossoms
Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess in “Broken Blossoms” (Lucy Burrows and Cheng Huan “Chinky”)
It suited D. W. Griffith’s rather Victorian outlook to film Thomas Burke’s The Chink and the Child, a sentimental tale of a gentle Chinaman and an innocent waif in a highly imaginary Limehouse, and his 1919 version, being played for every last tear by Richard Barthelmess and Lillian Gish, was a great success. In 1936 Griffith was assigned to do a British remake with Emlyn Williams and Dolly Haas, but he resigned during preparation and Hans (John) Brahm took over. By now the tale was too outmoded for popular success, but it was interestingly done in the arty manner.
Griffith, D. W. (David Wark) (1874-1948).
American film pioneer, the industry’s first major producer-director; he improved the cinema’s prestige, developed many aspects of technique, created a score of stars, and was only flawed by his sentimental Victorian outlook, which in the materialistic twenties put him prematurely out of vogue and in the thirties out of business. Best book about him: The Movies, Mr Griffith, and Me, by Lillian Gish.
‘It is time D. W. Griffith was rescued from the pedestal of an outmoded pioneer. The cinema of Griffith, after all, is no more outmoded than the drama of Aeschylus.’ — Andrew Sarris, 1968
For enduring the fate of most monuments, and for deserving the tribute in the first place, despite being a personality with clearly unlikeable aspects.
He was the first to photograph thought, said Cecil B. De Mille. It was quite a compliment. But Griffith was full of contradictions. His brain was progressive, his emotions Victorian. For a few years the two aspects were able to join in public favour, but he could not adapt himself to the brisker pace of the twenties, when he made many such blinkered and stubborn pronouncements as: We do not want now and we never shall want the human voice with our films. When the inevitable happened in 1928 he declared: We have taken beauty and exchanged it for stilted voices.
He could be tactless too, as when in 1918 he commented: Viewed as drama, the war is somewhat disappointing.
Yet this was the man of whom Gene Fowler could say: He articulated the mechanics of cinema and bent them to his flair.
Lillian Gish, a great admirer of Griffith, said: He inspired in us his belief that we were working in a medium that was powerful enough to influence the whole world.
To Mack Sennett:
He was my day school, my adult education program, my university . . . (but) he was an extremely difficult man to know.
He said himself:
The task I’m trying to achieve above all is to make you see . . .
He knew his own value, as many an actor found when asking for a rise: It’s worth a lot more than money to be working for me!
This was true enough up to the time of The Birth of a Nation, which President Wilson described as: Like writing history with lightning. But it became less so after the box-office flop of Intolerance, which Gene Fowler called: The greatest commercial anticlimax in film history. He became an embarrassment to Hollywood because his ideas seemed outmoded; in the thirties he scarcely worked at all. When he died in 1948 Hedda Hopper, recalling the marks made by stars in the wet cement at Hollywood’s Chinese Theatre, said: Griffith’s footprints were never asked for, yet no one has ever filled his shoes . . .
And James Agee added:
There is not a man working in movies, nor a man who cares for them, who does not owe Griffith more than he owes anyone else.
Ezra Goodman commented:
At Griffith’s funeral, the sacred cows of Hollywood gathered to pay him homage. A week before, he probably could not have gotten any of them on the telephone.
It is sad indeed that death had to come before such tributes as Frank Capra’s: Since Griffith there has been no major improvement in the art of film direction.
And Carmel Myers’: He was the umbrella that shaded us all.
And John Simon’s: Griffith did for film what Sackville and Norton, the authors of Goborduc, did for drama. He did what he did genuinely, and straight from the heart. His best films are passionate and tender, terrifying and pregnant, works of art certainly, and products too of an imagination far ahead of its time.
Paul O’Dell – It’s about time that DWG was rescued from the pedestal of an outmoded pioneer.
The cinema of Griffith is no more outmoded, after all, than the drama of Aeschylus. – Andrew Sarris
D.W.G.: Remember how small the world was before I came along. I brought it all to life: I moved the whole world onto a 20-foot screen.
Carol Dempster in ‘Dream Street’ (D.W. Griffith, 1921)
The Struggle – DW Griffith
The Struggle – D.W. Griffith
Billy Bitzer Josephine Crowell and DW Griffith
Richard Barthelmess, Mary Pickford, Evelyn Baldwin Griffith and Lillian Gish at Griffith’s Memorial Lagrange Kentucky May 14, 1950
Richard Barthelmess, Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish at Griffith’s Memorial Lagrange Kentucky May 14, 1950
DW Griffith, Billy Bitzer and Dorothy Gish (background left)
Pulitzer Prize Play (1961). Best Play, New York Drama Critics Circle Award (1961).
A play in three acts by Tad Mosel, based on James Agee’s Pulitzer Prize novel, A Death in the Family (1960)
Religious, conventional, urban-born, prim Mary Lynch has married exuberant, earthy, rural-bred Jay Follet. Despite tensions created by their disparate temperaments and backgrounds, they have established a deeply happy marriage, reflected in the mutual love of their large families, each other, and their small son, Rufus. Irritated by Mary’s pristine reluctance to tell Rufus about her present pregnancy, Jay leaves to visit his dying father. On the way back to his Knoxville, Tennessee home, Jay is killed when his car crashes. Mary, to whom “God has always come easily, ” finds no comfort in her Catholicism and withdraws into her sorrow. Soon the awareness and understanding of Jay’s zest of living and the stirring of the child within her give her courage to face the future and she tells Rufus about the expected baby.
Comment and Critique
James Agee’s elegiac and touching novel A Death in the Fam¬ ily was published posthumously by McDowell, Obolensky two years after his death from a heart attack in New York City on May 16, 1955, at the age of forty-five. The novel, awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1958, was adapted as a play in 1960 by Tad Mosel (George Ault Mosel, Jr.). Mosel won the Pulitzer Prize for his play in 1961, marking the first time in the forty-five-year-old history of the awards that a play adapted from a Pulitzer Prize novel was also the recipient of the award. The play opened to general critical acclaim but was ignored by the public. Three days after the opening, the closing notice went up. The author, producers, director and other personnel waived their royalties and salaries; the Shuberts reduced the theatre rental and the published announcement of the play’s closing added public support. Again the closing notice went up for Saturday April 22, 1961, but on Tuesday, April 18 the play was given the New York Drama Critics Circle Award as the Best Play of the Year and, again, survived. The flux of audience absenteeism and hopeful honorariums won the beleaguered play the synonym of “The Miracle on 44th Street.” In the superlative cast assembled for the play, Colleen Dewhurst (who won the “Tony” Award as Best Supporting Actress in a Drama), Arthur Hill, Lillian Gish, Aline MacMahon, Art Smith and others, was an 81-year-old woman who played the role of Great-Great-Granmaw, Lylah Tiffany, who for eleven years supported herself by playing the accordion on the sidewalk outside of Carnegie Hall. Miss Tiffany repeated her role of the 102- year-old Great-Great-Granmaw in the film version of the play.
The 1963 screen version of the Agee-Mosel play lost much of its magic despite excellent performances from Robert Preston and Jean Simmons as the Follets.
Hallmark Hall of Fame’s December 1, 1971, telecast of All The Way Home, featuring Joanne Woodward and Richard Kiley as Mary and Jay Follet in a well-mounted, beautifully-acted production, captured much of Agee’s feeling and mood and memory of his own childhood in Knoxville of 1915.
Belasco Theatre, New York, opened November 30, 1960. 334 performances. Produced by Fred Coe (in association with Arthur Cantor); Director, Arthur Penn; Settings and lighting, David Hays; Costumes, Raymond Sovey; Assistant director, Gene Lasko Arthur Hill (Jay Follet); Colleen Dewhurst (Mary Follet); Lillian Gish (Catherine Lynch); Aline MacMahon (Aunt Hannah Lynch); Art Smith (Father Jackson); Lenka Peterson (Sally Follet); Clifton James (Ralph Follet); Edwin Wolfe (John Henry Follet); Thomas Chalmers (Joel Lynch); Tom Wheatley (Andrew Lynch); Georgia Simmons (Jessie Follet); Dorrit Kelton (Aunt Sadie Follet); Lylah Tiffany (Great-Great-Granmaw); John Megna (Rufus); Christopher Month (Jim-Wilson); Larry Provost, Jeff Conaway, Gary Morgan, Robert Ader (Boys)
Paramount Pictures, released October, 1963. Produced by David Susskind; Associate producer, Jack Grossberg; Director, Alex Segal; Assistant directors, Larry Sturhahn, Michael Hertzberg; Screenplay, Phillip Reisman, Jr.; Camera, Boris Kaufman; Music, Bernard Green; Art director, Richard Sylbert; Editor, Carl Lerner Robert Preston (Jay Follet); Jean Simmons (Mary Follet); Aline MacMahon (Aunt Hannah Lynch); Pat Hingle (Ralph Follet); Thomas Chalmers (Joel Lynch); John Cullum (Andrew Lynch); Ronnie Claire Edwards (Sally Follet) Michael Kearney (Rufus); John Henry Faulk (Walter Starr); Lylah Tiffany (Great-Great-Granmaw); Mary Perry (Grand-Aunt Sadie Follet); Georgia Simmons (Jessie Follet); Edwin Wolfe (John Henry Follet); Ferdie Hoffman (Father Jackson)
Hallmark Hall of Fame, televised December 1, 1971. NBC. 90 minutes. Produced by David Susskind; Director, Fred Coe; Television adaptation, Tad Mosel Joanne Woodward (Mary); Richard Kiley (Jay); Eileen Heckart (Aunt Hannah); Pat Hingle (Ralph); Barnard Hughes (Joel); James Woods (Andrew); Shane Nickerson (Rufus); Jane Mallett (Catherine); Betty Garde (Aunt Sadie); Kay Hawtrey (Sally); James O’Neill (John Henry); Nan Stewart (Jessie); Allen Clowes (Father Jackson)
During the summer of 1961, Marsha Hunt, Frank Overton, Anne Revere, Eugenia Rawls, William Hansen, Gene Wilder and others made a brief tour in the play.
Lillian Gish in Philip Barry’s ‘The Joyous Season’ — Opening of ‘Hotel Alimony.’
By Brooks Atkinson.
THE „JOYOUS SEASON” a play in three acts. by Philip Barry. Settings by Robert Edmond Jones: staged and produced by Arthur Hopkins. At the Belasco Theatre.
Francis Battle ………………… Eric Dressler
Theresa Farley Battle ……….. Jane Wyatt
Martin Farley ……………… Jerome Lawler
Patrick ……………………… Barry Macollum
Hugh Farley ……………….. Alan Campbell
Ross Farley …………………… John Eldredge
Monica Farley ……….. Florence Williams
John Farley ………………… Moffat Johnston
Edith Choate Farley ………Mary Kennedy
Christina Farley ……………….. Lillian Gish
Nora ………………………………. Kate Mayhew
Sister Aloysius …………………… Mary Hone
Since Mr. O’Neill has described „Days Without End” as a modern miracle play, Philip Barry is entitled to give “The Joyous Season” the same distinction. He does not. In the program at the Belasco, where it was acted !ast evening, he describes it simply as „a new play.” But it presents Lillian Gish in the part of a reverent sister of the Catholic faith. In three acts it shows how the radiance of the sister’s spirit redeems her family from worldly melancholy on Christmas Day. It is a play that lies close to the heart of things and speaks honestly about tremulous matters that are seldom mentioned in the theatre. Some of it is deeply moving; all of it discloses a decency and fineness of feeling. Mr. Barry is not the man to theatricalize a Iesson in faith. But still, in this reviewer’s opinion, a religious topic seems to place an impediment in the freedom of Mr. Barry’s imagination. Inasmuch as “The Joyous Season” is a testament to the joy of faith, why should it lack the tumultuous emotion of ”The Animal Kingdom”, or „Tomorrow and Tomorrow”? Mr. Barry has written with more exultation upon less earnest occasions.
The plot is simplet as becomes the theme. After having been apart from her family for many years in the service of the church Sister Christina is briefly united with them at the Christmas season. Her mother has left Christina in her will the choice of two properties.
During her visit she has to decide which to accept. Put that is only the framework of the play. The real problem is the spiritual apathy of her brothers and sisters. Once they used to be a gay family of Irish parents in the neighborhood of Boston. But now that they have become a family of distinction there and are all living together on Beacon Street, Christina finds them gloomy, ingrown, moribund and pettish toward each other. Their apathy is almost maglignance. It is separating husbands and wives and poisoning the single idealist with despair. ”The Joyous Season” is the narrative of how Christina’s faith and spirit infiltrate their lives and bring most of them back to a state of awareness and fulfillment.
By setting his play in Boston Mr. Barry bas localized it a good deal. Perhaps it requires a Bostonian to savor completely the moribund family life of the Farley clan-their formal respectability and their interior distaste for each other. “Being a Bostonian is a full-time job at half pay,”says the banker of the family, who is really a custodian of vaults. There is a devious satire in Mr. Barry’s portrait of his family that Bostonians will relish most keenly.
But that is only a trifling matter. What limits the scope of “The Joyous Season” more rigidly is the unevenness of the characterization. Francis and Terry Battle he has described completely. Her stubbornness and callousness of mind, his reticent idealism, the jangled mixture of their lives reveal these young people; and we know enough about them to respond to their problems. Mr. Barry has also written the part of Christina in such generous terms that we can understand her too, and feel the glow of her being. But the others are either generalized types or phantoms in a play. By leaving them in that murky penumbra Mr. Barry has lost a good deal of the lustre of his theme.
The acting reflects some of the same confusion. As Christina, Miss Gish is superb. Apart from the aura of’ her presence, which illuminates the sort of part she is playing, she has created a character with the imagery of her gestures and the inflections of her passionless voice. Jane Wyatt gives a splendid performance as the turbulent Terry whose moods are blazing and various. Eric Dressler invigorates the part of Terry’s husband with a note of candor and sincerity.
As the eldest brother Moffat Johnston is concrete and discerning. John Eldredge bas a buoyancy of playing that clarifies a good deal the inconclusive part of the brother radical. Kate Mayhew brings a jaunty sentiment to the part of an old family retaineress.
In his design of a dull living-room, Robert Edmond Jones has captured one aspect of the play, but this is not one of his n1ost illuminating settings. It shares Mr. Barry’s hesitation. Much of “The Joyous Season” is stirring and exalting. But in this reviewer’s opinion. it is not the great religious play Mr. Barry can write. It is not flooded with fervent emotion.
LILLIAN GISH was on stage again. The First Lady of the Cinema held court in Town Hall on Tuesday night. Seated across from Francis Robinson of the Metropolitan Opera. she had a brief informal discussion with him about her silent film version of “La Boheme.” Then the large audience settled back to watch Miss Gish, John Gilbert and some other luminaries in the 1926 film, which was directed by King Vidor.
By the time Mimi’s death scene was halfway through, women all over the house were sobbing and strong men whimpering. “La Boheme ” was never like this in the opera house.
In her folksy reminiscences before the showing, Miss Gish marveled that the film had been made at all. In those days, she said, producers had “a prejudice” about films with unhappy endings. Such films were considered box-office death, and also death on careers.
Miss Gish, beautiful as ever in looks and bearing, had ‘a special interest in this particular showing. When first presented, the film had original. background music by David Mendoza and others. That was because the publishing firm of Ricordi held the copyright to Puccini’s music and would not release it. But last Tuesday night M-G-M’s “La Boheme” for the very first time had Puccini’s music, which is now in the public domain, and also excerpts from Leoncavallo’s “La Boheme,” an opera . that Puccini’s infinitely more successful version wiped from the boards.
Richard Woitach, one of the conductors at the Metropolitan Opera, prepared the music, and also played it, silent‐film manner, the piano—all hour-and74-half of it. With one eye on the screen and the other on his manuscript; Mr. Woitach nobly swept through the music, making most silent film, pianists sound like the amateurs they are.
Puccini’s opera uses four scenes from Henri Murger’s “Scenes de la Vie de Boheme.” But there is more to Murger’s novel than that, and the film picks up other elements, also adding a few things dreamed up by the 1926 scriptwriters.
It comes off surprisingly well–King Vidor was, after all, one of the finest directors the screen has known. It also presents the difference between a wonderful period actor and a great artist. John Gilbert, improbably handsome, makes no secret about his emotions, and gives a new meaning to bulging eyeballs. But Miss Gish, With that aura of femininity, that lightness which allows her to walk ,,without apparently touching the ground,” that incredible beauty—Miss Gish was able to rise far above period and give us a touching portrait of the little French, seamstress.
John Gilbert and Lillian Gish (Rodolphe and Mimi) The last scene of La Boheme
The death scene is a tearjerker, of course. But Miss Gish had a big advantage over the famous sopranos of the century who have sung Mimi. She was young enough to look and live the part. Her acting, part instinct, part thorough professionalism, with a few adorable tricks of expression and gesture, makes poor, operatic sopranos, no matter how gifted vocally, look thick. Miss Gish was-is-a great artist.
Film buffs went wild during the presentation. In addition to Miss Gish and Mr. Gilbert, there were Renee Adoree’s Musette; Roy D’Arcy (who, could give even John Gilbert eyeball lessons), Edward Everett Horton (yes, he was young once, too) and that fine comic, George Hassell. The audience, incidentally, came largely from the Metropolitan Opera Guild, which sponsored the event, and M-G-M’s “La Boheme” has never played to a more knowledgeable group.
After it was over, Miss Gish greeted admirers backstage. She locked radiant.
“My dream has come to life.” she said, and everybody applauded.
“Where was the film made?” somebody asked her. Some of the footage looked as though it had been filmed in Paris.
“In California, dear,” Miss Gish answered. “All of it in Hollywood.”
“Where were the costumes ‘made?” a lady wanted to know.
“Well,” said Miss Gish, “I made mine.”
Lillian Gish and John Gilbert in “La Boheme,” 1926 Women were sobbing, strong men whimpering
`John Gilbert—improbably handsome‐makes no secret about his emotions’
ENTERTAINMENT is the moving picture’s primary purpose—its importance in that regard being measured only by the imperative necessity of entertainment of the people. Make no mistake about the importance of entertainment. Life and relaxation from life are the real essentials to human happiness. But the motion picture does not stop there. For two other great things are possible to the moving picture—It can and will instruct—a truly noble function. It brings the people of the earth to know each other—to understand; and when men understand they do not hate, and when they do not hate they do not make war.
Because of these diverse possibilities the moving picture business is a unique business, utterly different from any other business in the world. The making and displaying of motion pictures is, of course, a commercial enterprise. It must be, as every other business must be, in order to progress and endure. But the ware in which we deal is not a dead and inanimate thing, like a pair of shoes or a hat. Nor is it a few thousand feet of celluloid ribbon on which, with whatever skill we possess, we register a series of photographs. It is almost a living, breathing thing, with immeasurable influence upon the ideas and ideals, the customs and costumes, the hopes and the ambitions of countless millions of people. (No more potent factor extant wields quite the influence of the screen, excepting only the home and the church.) No story ever written for the screen is more dramatic than the story of the screen. Ever since the first moving picture was shown there has been a steady improvement in quality of production.
Just thirty years ago on Broadway at Thirty-fourth Street in New York, in Koster and Bial’s Music Hall, the first moving picture was shown publicly. It was a shuddering image of a serpentine dancer who waved yards of silk and it lasted a few seconds. Ten years ago the moving picture was still crude, with the nickelodeon built in the old store buildings, still predominating as the scene for its showing. To-day in this country alone 20,233 moving picture theaters provide amusement for 90,000,000 men, women and children each week. Approximately 235,000 persons are permanently employed and $125,000,000 was spent in 1925 in the production of 823 feature pictures and 20,150 short subjects, exclusive of the news reels. American pictures were shown in 70 countries and captions were translated into thirty-seven different languages. Some idea of the magnitude of the business is gained when I tell you that approximately 25,000 miles of motion picture film are handled, examined and stored, and shipped every day by the employees of exchanges of members of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, Inc. Ownership of the industry rests in the hands of 59,157 different persons who own the 11,331,394 shares of stock listed on the New York Stock Exchange. In the early days, the industry was, to a degree at least, chaotic, even as the first photoplays were faulty in the light of present-day achievements. This is no longer true.
Indeed the progress of the moving picture as an art or as an industry is without analogy in either field. When dramatic art was a thousand years old its players were bedded in barns and spoke their lines in stable yards. Twelve years ago producers were startling the public by giving them their first views of stories that were more than two reels long. The quickest development has been in those phases more easily adaptable to the motion picture— photography, costuming, staging, lighting, construction of scenery, and acting. Nearly any unprejudiced student will say that the best acting in the theater to-day is found in motion pictures. The camera is pitiless. The actor cannot imitate— he must BE. The greatest actors are appearing in motion pictures. Not only the stars, but the player who has the smallest bit—are actors in the fullest sense of the word. They cast their spell by action—not by words or by a beautiful voice.
Motion picture producers are taking experienced writers into the studios and teaching them the technique of motion picture composition. Many of them have prospered. Actors, newspaper men, dramatists, stage directors, artists, photographers, men whose training would best make them adaptable for motion picture directing are being given every opportunity to learn this new art. Within the industry itself order has succeeded chaos and the industry is operating along the sound, common-sense lines which govern other great industries. In 1922 the men who make and distribute motion pictures associated themselves together to do jointly those things in which they are mutually interested, having as the chief purposes of such organization two great objectives—I quote verbatim from the articles of association filed at Albany, New York:
“To establish and maintain the highest possible moral and artistic standards of motion picture production, and develop the educational as well as the entertainment value and the general usefulness of the motion picture.”
With these purposes in mind, the industry has eliminated extravagance and mismanagement and become a substantial business enterprise, favored by bankers, praised by astute economists. Supplementing our own efforts to perfect the industrial conditions at the studios, we asked the Russell Sage Foundation to make a survey. This resulted in a recommendation for a free agency for the employment of the extras to supplement the agencies to which these extras were paying thousands of dollars every month. This was done. We inaugurated such a free employment agency this year, and during the first six months it provided positions for an average of 632 persons every day without any cost to them. Schools for child actors have been opened on the studio lots. Advertising and publicity are conducted on a plane in keeping with the high purposes of the industry to serve the public wisely and well. The producers have made possible the careful selection of submitted story-material and have been able to bring to the screen those themes it considers most fitting for picturization.
Teaching films, which some day will occupy every classroom, are well on the way, as are pictures for the churches. The screen, moreover, has become the mirror of history and as if by thaumaturgical power has been able to breathe life into the past. In settling its trade disputes by arbitration, the industry, although one of the youngest in the world, has become preeminently the outstanding example of the use of arbitration in the business world. Last year 11,192 cases were arbitrated with seventeen only requiring the seventh arbitrator.
Everywhere moving pictures are bettering living conditions. Especially is this true of the small towns. No longer is the boy from the small town the butt of jokes because of his clothes. He knows how to dress and how to act in the company of any one. No longer does the girl wonder what the styles are going to be in the coming months, for she has seen on the screen styles direct from the fashion centers and she knows what to expect. Above this, is the realization that the imaginative powers of the world are being roused by the screen and that in many in whom such power has been dormant, imagination has been fed and stimulated for the first time. With increasing public appreciation, with added technical knowledge, and with continued striving after the best in art, the moving picture’s future becomes as far-flung as all the to-morrows. The motion picture to-day challenges the best in science and art, in literature and business, in religion and the humanities. It is drawing from every corner of the world the greatest artists and artisans to aid in its service to the world. Hollywood may be physically situated in this country, but it is an international enterprise. American films may predominate in every country of the world, but every country is contributing to them. Great numbers of those in the key creative positions are direct from supreme accomplishment in other countries. The artists who heretofore have been able to reach thousands can now with this new medium reach millions. This extension of possible service commands them. In another few years Hollywood may very well be the art center of the world. As the picture is the universal language, so will it be written for the universe. This opportunity measures our responsibility. The progress in motion pictures has been like an Arabian Nights story—yet tremendous new developments are now imminent. And its really great advancement is not in its commercial growth nor in its artistic progress, but in its movement as a mighty force in the lives of the people of the world—for their amusement, their instruction, their inspiration, and their understanding.
A comprehensive survey of the Motion Pictures, from the early development to the present. The dramatic, artistic and educational phases; the outstanding successes and leading personalities. Being presented for the most part pictorially. A striking panorama of this dominant influence in modern life.
This unusual actress was developed by Griffith and had the part of Elsie Stoneman in “The Birth of a Nation” and the feminine lead in “Broken Blossoms.” She has since been starred and now appears in such productions as “La BohSme” and “The Scarlet Letter.” Born in Springfield, Ohio, in 1896. Five feet four inches tall. Blonde hair and blue eyes.
The Murderer Realizes His Position – “Broken Blossoms”
This amazingly beautiful picture was suggested by a story of the Limehouse District in London, by Thomas Burke. Mr. Griffith’s direction and the acting of Lillian Gish as the pitiful young girl, with that of Richard Barthelmess as the Chinaman, and of Donald Crisp as the villain, make the picture far more important than the original story, as sometimes happens with true picture stuff.
The Chief Mourner – “Broken Blossoms”
It is the Chinaman who has befriended her that avenges the dead child and takes her body to beautiful surroundings before he follows her in death. “Broken Blossoms” is one of the pictures little affected by age.
In The Stocks For Punishment-“The Scarlet Letter”
A scene from a new film version of Hawthorne’s classic, with Lillian Gish as Hester Prynne, Lars Hanson as the Reverend Dimmesdale, and Henry B. Walthall as the wronged and vindictive husband, Roger Prynne. The childhood scene here is a part of effectively produced atmosphere.
Lillian Gish, who was featured in many D. W. Griffith films, yesterday unveiled an enlarged reproduction of a commemorative stamp honoring the director in a brief ceremony that drew a number of film figures to the Museum of Modern Art.
The 10‐cent stamp showing the craggy ‐ faced director, who died in 1948 at the age of 73, and a hand‐cranked camera used in filming his silent movies, will be available to the public later this year.
Trim and attractive in a salmon‐colored suede coat and matching hat, Miss Gish, a stir of the 1915 classic “The Birth of a Nation,” said “I’m grateful to the people, who, for years, have enjoyed the art of the film, and to our Government for making it possible to honor the man who made it all possible, the father of the movies.”
After the unveiling, Miss Gish explained that she had been “working on this for some five years while I was lecturing around the country. I always asked audiences if they appreciated Mr. Griffith’s contributions to the movies and also asked them to write to Washington about it. Well, thousands did and, finally, with help of Mary Margaret Jameson, an adviser to the Postal Service, it happened. I couldn’t be happier.”
Another of those at the ceremony was Anita Loos, who as a teen‐ager suggested the story for the 1912 Griffith film “The New ‘York Hat” featuring an equally young Mary Pickford. “I really have nothing but love and adoration for him,” she said. “He started all of us.”
Blanche Sweet, who predated Miss Loos in the Griffith company that worked at the Biograph Studio on East 14th Street, noted that she was “12 years old in 1909 when he made ‘A Corner in Wheat’ and,” she said, laughing, “nobody noticed me. But Mr. Griffith did. He was wonderful then and continued to be just great for all of us.”
Harold J. Nigro, who represented the Postal Service, said that the Griffith stamp was one of three in an “American Arts set” to be issued this year. The others will honor Benjamin West, the painter of the Revolutionary period, and Paul Laurence Dunbar, the black poet.
Billy Bitzer and DW Griffith analyzing film – editing
Billy Bitzer Josephine Crowell and DW Griffith
D.W. Griffith on set
DW Griffith filming team – Mamaroneck NY – Way Down East
DW Griffith and Lillian Gish
D.W. Griffith Honored By Issue of 10c Stamp
The New York Times – May 29, 1975
LOS ANGELES, May 28—The United States Postal Service yesterday dedicated the commemorative 10‐cent D. W. Griffith stamp in memory of the Hollywood film maker who was born 100 years ago. The ceremonies were held at the American Film Institute in Beverly Hills, in keeping with a Postal Service tradition of holding such events at the subject’s birthplace or a locale he made famous.
Gregory Peck and Charlton Heston were among those on hand to honor the creator of “Birth of a Nation,” who died in relative obscurity in 1948. Also present was Lillian Gish, a Griffith star who had strongly lobbied for the stamp. A Postal Service spokesman said that during the next two years about 140 million Griffith stamps would he issued.
A modern woman, filled with the modern spirit. . . . she is no virgin, silly and ignorant of her destiny; she is an experienced but pure woman, in rapid movement like the spirit of the age, with fluttering garments and streaming hair, striding forward. . . . That is our new divine image : the Modern . (Modernism – Malcolm Bradbury /James McFarlane)
THE IMPACT OF MODERN DANCE IN THE WIND
The emotional projection of the dancer is an extremely delicate matter, since the acting element of the dance art is not its dominant feature. It cannot be simply an abbreviated realism or it falls [short] of being either dancing or acting; nor can it be a wholly stylized concept without becoming lifeless and cold. It must be complete, compressed, refined, eloquent, but unobtrusive. In the nineteenth century actors were taught balance and movement by dancing masters, so that a good deal of silent film behavior–with its air of grace and refinement, its flexibility and sentimental lyricism—seems vaguely related to classical ballet; thus Gish has an erect posture and a quality of delicacy mixed with strength that might have been learned in a dancing class. . . . Lillian Gish said once that she thought Dorothy Scarborough’s novel would make a perfect movie because “It was pure motion. “Victor Seastrom’s The Wind (1928) is also a perfect movie with which to develop a theory for reading gestural style in silent film because of the lack of much symbolic direction (there are very few intertitles) and the specific nature of Gish’s own performance style. The film opens with Lillian Gish’s character, Letty Mason, travelling on a train through a deserted Western landscape. Shots of Letty on the train are intercut with shots of the train in motion through the landscape. These shots of the landscape soon include indexical proof of the wind that whips up the desert sand, and deposits it in Letty’ s lap through the train window. Other shots within the interior of the train include glance/glance reverses between Letty and the male antagonist, Wirt Roddy. In a rather short period of time, Gish manages to portray a range of emotions that include nervousness, f lirtatiousness, and fear with only slight adjustments of her face and body.
The Wind’s opening scene provides a metaphor that connects technology (the train and the camera) , the Western frontier (the desert and the wind), and the woman’s body (that attempts to negotiate these uncomfortable crossings) This important opening sequence establishes a relationship between Letty and the types of movement that act on her—the train that carries her, the wind that covers her, and the man who tries to seduce her. Wirt Roddy, who later rapes Letty and is then killed by her, says about the wind in this opening scene: “Day in, day out–whistlin’ and howlin’ — makes folks go crazy–especially women!” In this scene, one of the few where Gish reacts directly to language, Letty responds to Roddy ‘ s comments by making her eyes grow large and glazed, her lips part slightly in a typically melodramatic stare, shot in close-up. This look of fear appears on her face frequently throughout the film as she reacts to the forces that move her. Equally as expressive as her face, however, is Gish’s bodily movement, which responds to the force of the wind with a frenetic dance-like quality that sweeps Letty across the frame and back. Significantly, the quality of Gish’s movements begins to change as Letty takes a more active role in her environment.
Because generalizing about film acting is such a slippery task, I wish to remain as textually and historically specific as possible. In other words, I am not assuming that the gestural style which I identify in The Wind appears in other Gish performances. However, it is my hope that other critics will corroborate the existence of the specific gestural phenomena that I find in The Wind in other texts of the period.
How does bodily gesture signify in film? Trying to theorize how gesture communicates meaning has long been a difficult contradiction for philosophers and semioticians Since the early days of film, but especially by the 1920s, directors, actors, and physical culturalists published books on acting for the cinema. Recently, film theory has begun to acknowledge the impact of these early writings and manuals on changes in gestural styles in the cinema. However, most theories of gesture and acting have tended to view film acting in a rather linear fashion, projecting a fairly straight development from nineteenth century theatrical melodrama towards the more subtle or “realist” approach that cinematic framing seems to demand. Naremore continues to argue throughout his book, using Lillian Gish’s performance style as an example, that what at first glance may seem to conform to a “realist” aesthetic may, on closer inspection, turn out to be the result of a highly constructed and heavily symbolic performance.
The theories of Soviet filmmakers, such as Lev Kuleshov and Stanislavsky, are helpful for understanding comparatively the complications of a gestural style which may purport to be one thing on paper and then look to be another thing entirely on film. Positions of these theorists help to elucidate the debate which developed in the 1920s throughout Europe and America and for the next several decades about the relative merits of a German expressionist style as opposed to the “nonacting” of certain American, Italian, and French films. Delsarte’s methodology was consistently associated with a more constructed, emotionally expressive acting style. Konstantin Stanislavsky is most known for developing “method” acting, a style which teaches actors to search their interior experience in order to become the character. The Method is supposed to be more realistic than earlier melodramatic methods because the actor is not trying to express an emotion, but is experiencing the emotion while portraying it, resulting in a transparent and less heavily coded style. Kuleshov disagreed with Stanislavsky’s approach, however, arguing that “one must construct the work of film actors so that it comprises the sum of organized movement, with ‘reliving’ held to a minimum.” Kuleshov, reflecting the Futurist influence which sees the body as a kind of machine, approaches the film set as a three dimensional grid. He theorizes an imaginary “metrical spatial web” within which the actor determines the direction and timing of their body. Kuleshov ‘s visualization of a symmetrically fragmented body was directly influenced by Delsarte’s work. In an echo of Delsarte’s ideas, Kuleshov says that a gestural “task should be broken down into a series of elementary, smaller tasks. ” But he warns that while Delsarte’s techniques are useful “as an inventory of the possible changes in the human mechanism, ” they are not finally useful as a method for acting. Even though Kuleshov rejected Stanislavsky’s approach to bodily performance, he still valued a “natural” or “realistic” acting style. In fact, he chides the Stanislavsky system for producing a large scale, melodramatic gestural style. The irony here is that the “method” claiming to be the most realistic turns out to look equally melodramatic on film. What develops out of these two dramatically different theories and training methods may result in performances which look remarkably the same.
Another important development drawing upon Delsarte, which affects silent film performance style and Lillian Gish’s in particular, is the development of modern dance.
Isadora Duncan was the first to use Delsarte to make a transition from the salon to major performance halls. She, along with the choreographers Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, added drama to ordinary movements and took what is now known as modern dance out of the salon and vaudeville acts and into the category of “high art.” These choreographers believed that “In everyday life as well as in the danced representation of life, interior feelings guided the movements of the body into forms that could be identified by the serious student of human movement.” Modern dancers in the United States concentrated on movement as a form of self expression and took their inspiration from “ordinary” movements, ethnic and native dance traditions, and theater.
Dancers such as St. Denis and Shawn firmly believed that the body has a language of its own, one that is more closely associated with music than with language, but one that nevertheless could express desire, regret, mourning, ecstasy, without the context of a narrative frame. A transformation of Delsarte was already apparent in the training that Ted Shawn, one of Gish’s teachers, developed out of Delsarte between 1905-1910. Shawn’s Delsarte training is not as formulaic as the histrionic style that Pearson identifies in 1908 in Biograph films. Shawn, in a 1910 book on Delsarte, contrasts his own interpretation of Delsarte influenced dance and gesture with other interpretations: One of the vital and important differences lies in the recognition of the torso as the source and main instrument of true emotional expression—and equally important, the use of successions, beginning in the torso and spreading outwards and downwards throughout the entire body.
Shawn describes a more fluid style of movement than Steele MacKaye’s or Genevieve Stebbins’s interpretation of Delsartean attitudes. MacKaye and Stebbins emphasized poses, rather than movement in time. The Delsarte influenced acting style that Pearson identifies as histrionic comes from an interpretation of Delsarte that emphasizes tableau and movements that lead from still pose to still pose. Ted Shawn is using Delsarte in a very different way; the torso generates movement that progresses through “the use of successions” that spread “throughout the entire body.” The torso is the seat of emotional expression and one key to a more fluid gestural style that remains expressive without looking “histrionic.” In the upcoming analysis of Lillian Gish’s movements, the fluid use of the torso will be an important distinguishing marker of a gestural style that reflects its exposure to modern dance.
Lars Hanson (Lige Hightower) and Lillian Gish (Letty Mason) – The Wind