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Location: Vero Beach, Florida, United States

My name is Pat and I live in Florida. My skin will never be smooth again and my hair will never see color. I enjoy collecting autographs and playing in Paint Shop Pro.,along with reading and writing. Sometimes, I enjoy myself by doing volunteer "work" helping celebrities at autograph shows. I love animals and at one time I did volunteer work for Tippi Hedren's Shambala Preserve.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

From Silents to Talkies

The Movies, Mr Griffith and Me by Lillian Gish


By today's standards, Lillian Gish's performances in silent film seem mannered--but during the 1910s and 1920s they were nothing short of revolutionary, for unlike most actors of the era Gish was determined to perform in as natural a manner as possible. In doing so, she literally pioneered screen acting technique as we now know it, and it would be extremely difficult to over-estimate her artistic impact.

Although Gish worked with numerous directors over the course of her extremely long career, she is most specifically remembered for her association with D.W. Griffith, whose pioneering silent films firmly established what Gish would describe as "the grammar" of modern cinema. As one might guess from its title, a good portion of THE MOVIES, MR. GRIFFITH, & ME is devoted to Griffith, and it offers a first-hand account of Griffith, the challenges he faced, and the evolution of film from extremely primitive one-reels into a sophisticated art form during the 1910s; those interested in film history will be particularly fascinated by Gish's accounts of the filming of two landmark silents, BIRTH OF A NATION and INTOLERANCE.

I bought this book for a number of reasons. The obvious being that I remember and like Lillian Gish movies...her last movie being right up there by the top, called The Whales of August.

The first two things I noticed about this book were both the "hand drawn cover" (by Jock von Bismark) and then the price! Back in 1969 when this second printing came out, this 385 page book was a trivial seven dollars and ninety-five cents! Now-a-day, that equals out to having to be a "Bargain Book"!

This book is aptly named, for although Lillian Gish worked for years with DW Griffith, the book is more about him and "their" movies than it is a biography of Ms. Gish. Still I found the book most enjoyable and interesting. At all times you had the feel of how things were back in the day, before talking movies.

Trivia from the book: It was Mary Pickford who introduced D W Griffith to Lillian Gish, Dorothy and their mother.

(a quote in the book. Ms Gish trying to describe DW Griffith) .....

I grope in the files of memory for my first impression of David Wark Griffith.

He looked so tall to my young eyes, yet he was two inches under six fee. He was imposing; he held himself like a king. Later I discovered that he could no more slouch than change the color of his blue eyes, which were hooded and deep-set. He was vigorous and masculine-looking. Under the wide-brimmed straw hat set on his head with a jaunty curve to the brim, his brown sideburns were rather long. His nose was prominent; his profile seemed to belong on a Roman coin, and he had the heavy loser lip and jaw of the Bourbons. It was an important face.

(DW Griffith)

(quote on making silent movies) We were encouraged to train our bodies for acrobatic pantomime, which was particularly useful when the camera was shooting from a distance. We were also called upon to perform the most dangerous stunts. None of us ever objected; it did not occur to us to object.

I do enjoy learning little things about a person or about the early days of movie making . In this book there were many little things that made the book enjoyable. For instance, at one point Ms. Gish mentions a man named Al Jennings, who taught her how to shoot a gun...

(quote) He taught me to draw and fire a gun, which he could do faster than the eye could follow. I am still a good shot; when later I played in The Unforgiven, John Huston, the director, was startled to find that I could fire faster than Burt Lancaster... thanks to my old friend Al Jennings.

(Orphan of the Storm 1922)

(Scarlet Letter)

(quote) I was upset at the changes that were taking place in our working world. Talking pictures had been born. When I returned to Hollywood, I saw that every studio was being transformed with soundproofing, which made it airtight. Under the hot lights, the poor actors had to wear rubber suits under their costumes to keep them looking dry during the filming.

(With Helen Hayes: Arsenic and Old Lace)

This was a very enjoyable book. Although it was more a dedication to Mr Griffith, Lillian Gish's career was closely entwined with Mr Griffith, and so it made perfect sense that this book would be written in such a way.

Since I am so firmly ensconced in the time when movies went from silent to talkies I have yet to finish reading books on many from that time period. I still have (and probably will for some time) a book on John Ford that is the biggest book I've ever owned..and small print! And I've sent from 2 more movie related books.... Pickford: The Woman Who Made Hollywood by Eileen Whitfield and The Star Machine by Jeanine Basinger, which I plan on reading in between my books for the RIP III Challenge!!


Blogger Carl V. said...

I read a lot about her back in college my first semester when I was contemplating a degree in the telecom industry. I've always found her to be quite beautiful.

Very cool that she did Arsenic and Old Lace. I love the Cary Grant version (which is not the same one) very much, it is a Halloween season tradition to watch that one.

2:50 PM  
Blogger DesLily said...

hi Carl: yes, I love the movie with Cary Grant! And I though Lillian quite beautiful too.. I just got a book on Mary Pickford.. I can't seem to get enough of these people who went from silent movies to talkies!

3:15 PM  
Blogger Cath said...

I love the book cover. And yes, she is beautiful but you wonder if she would get into the movies these days where there seems to be a set idea of what is beautiful. Many female actors look so similar that I have real trouble telling them apart.

4:12 AM  
Blogger DesLily said...

Cath: one thing that always gets me angered about American movies is that they put all the emphisis on beauty and how thin they want them... Early on heavier woman and older woman got in movies but not anymore!...England seemed to the emphisis on how good they could act! (duh! what superior idea! lol)

7:19 AM  
Blogger OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

I was lucky enough to meet both Dorothy and Lillian. Dorothy spoke at my Drama School Graduation and Lillian played in a play called "MISS MABEL" at the Sea Cliff Summer Theatre, when I was an apprenyie. She couldn't have been nicer! I worked on props backstage that week and so got to see her 'up close and persnal'. Of ALL the Stars that played that theatre---and I was there for three summers----She was the nicest and the most generous. She left $30 for the Apprenti to do with whatever we wanted. And we had a BIG Party with the THEN, huge amount of money....She was a "class act" in every way!

11:30 AM  
Blogger OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

APPRENTICE...! Sorry about that Pat. I was an apprewntice for two summers, getting my Equity card that first summer....and the third summer I worked in the Box Office, as well as acting in three of the ten plays!

11:32 AM  
Blogger DesLily said...

I think you mentioned that on one of your blog posts some time ago, and I forgot about it until now! Nice to know she was as nice as she seemed (many aren't).

11:34 AM  

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