You will see that this little clicking contraption with the revolving handle will make a revolution in our life – in the life of writers… (But) the films! They are wonderful! Drr! and a scene is ready! Drr! and we have another! We have the sea, the coast, the city, the palace… (Leo Tolstoy, interviewed in 1908)
By close-ups of the things around us, by focusing on the hidden details of familiar objects, by exploring commonplace milieus under the ingenious guidance of the camera, the film, on the one hand, extends our comprehension of the necessities that rule our lives; on the other hand, it manages to assure us of an immense and unexpected field of action. Our taverns and metropolitan streets, our offices and furnished rooms, our railroad stations and our factories appeared to have us locked up hopelessly. Then came the film and burst this prison-world asunder by the dynamite of the tenth of a second, so that now, in the midst of its far-flung ruins and debris, we calmly and adventurously go traveling. (Walter Benjamin The Work ofArt in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction – 1936)
David Wark – D.W. Griffith
Biograph, however, was transformed by the arrival of D. W. Griffith. He began as an actor, then became a writer and director and soon took over responsibility for virtually the entire output of the studio during the years 1908—1913. The most prolific and influential of all the American film-makers at this time, he turned out over 450 short films (mainly one-reelers) of remarkable quality and diversity. They ranged from comedies and Westerns to chase and action movies and suspense thrillers, along with many dramas characterized by their moral elements and narrative clarity. Such films as “A Drunkard’s Reformation” and a version of Robert Browning’s “Pippa Passes,” both filmed in 1909, reflected the cinema’s current aspirations towards a new respectability. At the same time he assembled his own stock company of favourite actors and especially actresses, most of whom were quite young and just starting in films, and who would mature and develop under his guidance. Best known of this group were Dorothy and Lillian Gish, Mary Pickford, Mae Marsh, Blanche Sweet, Henry Walthall and Robert Harron.
But most important of all was his creative role in extending and developing the expressive qualities of the cinema, demonstrating a remarkable mastery of narrative technique. He made special use of intercutting, parallel action and a mobile camera, also sophisticated lighting techniques devised by his favourite cameraman, Billy Bitzer, and an imaginative use of locations, while encouraging his actors to develop a new, distinctively cinematic style of acting. Among the features Griffith made for Artcraft were “Hearts of the World”, his World War I anti-war picture completed late in 1917, “A Romance of Happy Valley,” filmed in 1918, followed by “Broken Blossoms” and “True Heart Susie” in 1919. All starred his favourite and most talented actress discovery, Lillian Gish, and proved that the director was still capable of turning out original and entertaining works filmed with relatively modest budgets.
Victor Sjostrom (Seastrom)
Victor Sjostrom, however, was one of the few foreign directors who managed to cope with the studio pressures for a ante. Having signed with the Goldwyn Company, he found himself at MGM-in 1924, where he provided the new studio with one of its first successful star vehicles, “He Who Gets Slapped” a circus drama from the play by the Russian playwright Leonid Andreyev, with Lon Chaney, John Gilbert and Norma Shearer. But his most memorable pictures date from near the end of his stay at the studio, including a Garbo vehicle, The Divine Woman (1927), The Scarlet Letter (1927), adapted from the Hawthorne novel, and a harrowing Western drama, The Wind (1928), which is regarded as his one American masterpiece. These two latter were given a special lift by the performances of Lillian Gish, towards the end of her career as a silent film star, while the Swedish actor Lars Hanson co-starred.
In her autobiography Lillian Gish recalls that the original, novel, The Wind, ‘excited my imagination. Its main character is a wind which constantly blows sand, indoors and out, and finally drives the heroine to madness.’ However, working on the film turned out to be ‘one of my worst experiences in film-making. Sand was blown at me by eight airplane propellers… I was burned and in danger of having my eyes put out…’ She is seen here with co-star Lars Hansan, in their primitive cabin home, on their unhappy wedding eve.
D. W. Griffith and Lillian Gish
The impressive sets in Intolerance (1916) were conceived and designed by the talented Walter L. Hall. As recalled by Karl Brown, ‘Some of his pencil sketches of Babylon at the moment of its greatest glory were breathtaking… studies for a tremendous panorama.’
Although Lillian Gish only had smallish roles in The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance, during the following years she emerged as Griffith’s leading star. Under his guidance, as Ephraim Katz has noted, ‘she developed into the most capable actress of the silent screen, an extraordinary creative and dedicated performer whose work could uplift the most commonplace vehicle.’ Miss Gish’s autobiography titled “The Movies, Mr Griffith & Me,” first published in 1970***, paid a belated tribute to her famous mentor and was peppered with such remarks as, ‘Mr Griffith always emphasized that the way to tell a story was with one’s body and facial expressions’ and ‘I learned from him to use my body and face quite impersonally to create effects, much as a painter uses paint on canvas.’
Here she is seen in three of her most celebrated roles, as the young Lucy, terrorized by her brutal father (Donald Crisp) in Broken Blossoms, filmed in 1918 and followed immediately by a contrasting, lighter weight performance as True Heart Susie (1919) with Robert Hqrron. Finally, the celebrated blizzard climax of Way Down East (1920) in which she played another long-suffering heroine.
*** Admin note – Actually, Lillian Gish’s autobiography title is “The Movies, Mr. Griffith and Me” By Lillian Gish & Ann Pinchot (Englewood Cliffs, NJ Prentice-Hall, 1969) then was the first print, NOT in 1970. Also in 1969, an event took place – Live on Stage LILLIAN GISH AND THE MOVIES – Rare Early Films. In October 17, 1971, Nathan Kroll produced and presented another “Lillian Gish and The Movies” event, that took place in New York, Washington and San Francisco, (The Walnut Street Theatre).
When Mamaroneck Upstaged Hollywood – By Bruce Berman (The New York Times – June 19, 1977) When Mamaroneck Upstaged Hollywood By Bruce Berman The New York Times – June 19, 1977 BACK in the early 1920’s when Mamaroneck was a center of movie‐making, Joseph Rigano was an employee of D.W. Grif fith’s studio at Orienta. “I was atone mason and mechanic,” the energetic 80year‐old said as we toured on foot Edgewater Point, at the top of the Orienta Peninsula. Griffith Studios, Orienta Point, Mamaroneck NY 1921 “After the studio was finally built, Mr. Griffith asked me to stay on as a set builder. Stone fireplaces were my specialty, but I worked on everything from Gothic walls to painted desert backdrops. The actors were almost always friendly, and I was getting $55 a week and drove a $1,200 Buick. What more could a young man desire?” DW Griffith filming team – Mamaroneck NY – Way Down East In those days the area was less the “East Coast Hollywood” than Hollywood was “the West Co
The Movie Magazines and Lillian Gish … The moving Picture World 1914 detail The moving Picture World 1914 The moving Picture World 1914 detail Moving Picture World, November 21, 1914 Her Awakening – Lillian Gish The Angel of Contention Poster The moving Picture World – Mutual Program – A Question of Courage names wrong Lillian Gish And Dorothy The moving Picture World – Mutual Program – The Sisters The Birth of a Nation (David W. Griffith Corp., 1915). Herald2 Sold for Marriage Triangle Plays Program 1916 lillian_gish_photoplay_1917 08 ID Photo Back to Lillian Gish Home page Photoplay, August, 1918 – Dorothy and Lillian Gish in their dressing room Lillian Gish Photoplay August 1918 Lillian Gish Photoplay February 1919 Lillian Gish Photoplay, July, 1919 Back to Lillian Gish Home page Lillian Gish Photoplay October 1920 Orphans of The Storm Prog Herald 1921 Lillian Gish 1921 – The Girl Back Home Motion Picture Classic Magazine (Brewster, 1921) The Lily Maid from Ohio Ph
Lillian Gish Still Favors Long Tresses – By Antoinette Donnelly (Chicago Tribune – 1938) Chicago Tribune – Saturday, April 9, 1938 Page 9 Lillian Gish Still Favors Long Tresses By Antoinette Donnelly We talked backstage recently with Lillian Gish, player of the leading role in one of Broadway’s hits of the season, “Star Wagon”. We found her with her waist-length hair hanging, a sight that gladdens the eye unaccustomed to hair rarely even more than shoulder length. Miss Gish’s hair is a beautiful color, too. A silvery ash blonde that she claims has darkened as this type of hair usually does, but it still is, to us, a beautiful silvery ash tone. We asked Miss Gish how she managed to survive the temptation to cut the long locks, after she admitted never having succumbed once to the urge for short hair. She explained that her hair had been earning her living for her since she was a youngster and that now she has a superstition about cutting it. Incidentally, we had been at a smart hair sho