Lillian Gish stands alone. She has many imitators – but no one of them has succeeded in giving the least suggestion of her art that is hers. The reason is this: They have not mastered the technique of screen acting, as Miss Gish has. They have not her keen intelligence; her understanding of human nature; her unsurpassed patience; her consuming desire to learn, learn, learn
By Harry Carr – Motion Picture Magazine (MP Publishing Co., December – 1924)
The reason Lillian Gish is a very great actress is that she is not a genius. In other words, she has an art which is finely tuned, delicately tempered weapon. She can make it do what she wishes it to do.
I have known … a girl whose heart could have been torn by a passionate sympathy – by a flood of artistic emotion so overwhelming that she couldn’t get it over to the public.
However, it doesn’t do for an orator to feel his subject too strongly. All he does is to blubber and rave and howl.
The convincing orator is the one who feels a cool and abiding conviction in the strength and truth of his position.
Just so Lillian Gish.
She feels her emotions strongly; but not too strongly. Never so strongly but what they remain always hers. She is never theirs.
In other words, Lillian is always shooting at an artistic mark.
Once when she had to die of heart trouble in a picture, she haunted the hospitals, studying “heart patients” in the wards.
When she died of a brutal beating in “Broken Blossoms,” she insisted upon having a police surgeon, who had treated many such victims, standing constantly by her camera.
When she played the part of the forsaken mother in “Way Down East,” she contrived to meet such a girl. Then for weeks she practically retired from the world and thought that girl’s thoughts in her seclusion.
In other words, Lillian Gish is the supreme technician of the screen.
There are two theories of acting. One theory is:
It doesn’t matter just what you do or how you do it. If you can fling yourself in a supreme emotion, that thrill will somehow transmit itself to the public.
The other theory is:
An emotion is always visibly exhibited by certain specific physical reactions.
Joy is exhibited by a contortion of the lips called a smile.
Anger is exhibited by a tense contraction of the brows called a frown.
If you can make these motions with sufficient skill, the effect of the emotion will be reborn in the mind of the spectator.
The art of Lillian Gish lies somewhere midway between these two. Or shall I say, instead, that it includes the two?