The particular genius of Lillian Gish lies in making the definite charmingly indefinite. Her technique consists in thinking out a characterization directly and concretely and then executing it in terms of semi-vague suggestion. The acting of every other woman in the moving pictures is a thing of hard, set lines; the acting of Lillian Gish is a thing of a hundred shadings, hints and implications. The so-called wistful smile of the usual movie actress is a mere matter of drawing the lips coyly back from the gums; her tears are a mere matter of inhaling five times rapidly through the nose, blinking the eyes and letting a few drops of glycerine trickle down the left cheek.
The smile of the Gish girl is a bit of happiness trembling on a bed of death; the tears of the Gish girl, in so far as they arc tears at all, are the tears that old Johann Strauss wrote into the rosemary of his waltzes. The whole secret of the young woman’s remarkably effective acting rests, as I have observed, in her carefully devised and skilfully negotiated technique of playing always, as it were, behind a veil of silver chiffon. She attacks a role, not head-on and with full infantry, cavalry, artillery, bass drums and Y. M. C. A. milk chocolate, as do her sister actresses, but from ambush. She is always present, she always dominates the scene, yet one feels somehow that she is ever just out of sight around the corner. One never feels that one is seeing her entirely. There is ever something pleasantly, alluringly missing, as there is always in the case of women who are truly “acting artists.”