Among the talents first introduced into the studios by Griffith were Pickford, the Gish sisters, Bessie Love, Blanche Sweet, Richard Barthelmess, Robert Harron, Mae Marsh. Griffith not only enlarged the cinema’s language but also its range of subjects. The Song of the Shirt and A Corner in Wheat attempted social questions, even if at a simple level. He embarked on his first historico-philosophical spectacles, such as Judith of Bethulia. To suit more sophisticated subjects he made films in greater length than had hitherto been customary. At four reels, Judith of Bethulia was the longest film made until that time.
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.
Lillian Gish is the supreme artiste of the screen. “She has, a very rare gift. She has intelligence, but she doesn’t have to use it when she is acting. That sounds strange to you. But Miss Gish acts by instinct. She is always right. The finest acting one has ever seen is Lillian Gish’s in the closet scene in ‘Broken Blossoms’.”
To us all lilies symbolize purity, and while their white fragility is reminiscent of Lillian Gish, their true-in-heart meaning is even more so. For quaint Miss Gish has come to stand for everything that is sincere, true and faithful in girlhood and womanhood. Her portrayals are all ultra – feminine and the rare fragrance of viewing once more the clinging-vine girl – type is as enjoyable as memories of our first day-dreams. Miss Gish’s creation of the girl in “Broken Blossoms” is one of the achievements of the cinema year.
What one can see at the movies is astonishing. The earth splits, mountains fall, oceans rise up, entire cities disappear. But sometimes the most astonishing sight of all is an actor’s face. That was especially true when films were silent. Sure, there were subtitles but it was the face — the curve of a lip or the lift of an eyebrow or the suggestion of a frown — that really delivered the text.
If the face belonged to a Charlie Chaplin or a Lillian Gish, the audience would remember its message forever.
Lillian Gish was born in 1893, a few years after Thomas Alva Edison contrived “moving pictures.” Fifteen years later she was working in D. W. Griffith’s one-reelers: a young woman with thick, flyaway hair, big eyes and a small, pursed mouth. She was pretty and pleasant to look upon, but prettiness can’t hold the eye for very long. Rather, it was what was going on behind the facade that fascinated. Watching Lillian Gish was like reading a book.
- NATIONAL FILM THEATRE
- FIFTY FAMOUS FILMS
- BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE
- NATIONAL FILM ARCHIVE
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- London and Southampton
The publication in a single booklet of the Programme Notes covering fifty major films in the history of the Cinema drawn from our own National Film Archive and the Film Archives of other countries is one of several innovations. We believe our members will find it more convenient to have the Notes in this form. Apart from being less expensive for those who come regularly to the theatre, it is hoped that the booklet will have some value as a permanent reference work. James Quinn – DIRECTOR
This booklet is the work of many people who have been associated with the National Film Theatre during the past eight years. Apart from the contributions which are credited in the text, there are critical assessments by Lotte Eisner (Cinematheque Francaise), Penelope Houston (editor of “Sight and Sound”), Gavin Lambert (lately editor of “Sight and Sound”), Ernest Lindgren (Curator of the National Film Archive), Rachael Low (film historian and author), Liam O’Laoghaire (Film Acquisitions Officer of the National Film Archive), and Karel Reisz (film director). We take this opportunity of thanking them for their work which has helped so much to bring this present series of National Film Archive programmes into existence.
Stuart Kaminsky has written the first book on Huston to deal with his entire opus and the first to relate Huston’s life to his work. Huston is portrayed as a fascinating combination of fraud, genius, and tail-story teller. Kaminsky has relied upon interviews with many people who have worked with him, including Don Siegel, William Wyler, Eli Wallach, and many writers and pro- ducers in the film industry. The result is a portrait of an authentic American genius of film.
The best Griffiths of 1912-13 are not merely milestones of technique on the way to a final development but outstanding little films that need no apology for age. The Musketeers of Pig Alley ( 1912 ) has compositions that Eisenstein and Tisse could have been proud of a decade later. The remarkable An Unseen Enemy, also made in 1912 and used to introduce Lillian and Dorothy Gish, has a surreal, nightmare quahty to its melodrama that almost certainly influenced the images in the French serials of Feuillade. And best of all, the mature, often almost Freudian The Mothering Heart ( 1913), with a superb performance by Lillian Gish as a mature wife and mother, is a totally modern and valid film today, with erotic symbolism in its last scene so advanced for its day that one would almost think it accidental, if not for the lingering close-up that Griffith utilizes to underline the point and assure us otherwise.