Posts tagged ‘Lillian Gish’
The inspiration for MoMA’s upcoming Lillian Gish retrospective came about during the planning of the publication Modern Women: Women Artists at The Museum of Modern Art. When I was asked to write an essay on a film artist for the book, actress Lillian Gish quickly came to mind. Not only is she integral to the history of film, but also to the history of film collecting at MoMA. She was an early champion of the Department of Film’s preservation efforts, and she was instrumental in getting her frequent collaborator D. W. Griffith to give his films to the Museum. Read more
These notes accompany the screening of The Wind, May 26, 27, and 28 in Theater 3.
As we draw toward the end of the silent period, I recognize that Victor Sjöström (1879–1960)—”Victor Seastrom” during his MGM years—has been somewhat neglected in this series. We did show his early Ingeborg Holm (1913), and several clips appeared in the documentary Swedish Cinema Classics, but that is insufficient for a full appreciation of his importance. His work between 1917 and his departure for Hollywood in 1923 (including Terje Vigen, The Outlaw and His Wife, The Phantom Chariot, and his numerous adaptations of Selma Lagerlof novels) place him in the first rank of silent-film directors, and he pioneered the pitfalls of directing himself as an actor before Chaplin, Stroheim, or Keaton. Several of his nine Hollywood films no longer survive, although the two Lillian Gish vehicles, The Scarlet Letter and The Wind, still remain and appear to be the best of the lot. He returned to Europe in 1928, directing only two talkies but continuing to act in Swedish films until his bravura performance for Ingmar Bergman in Wild Strawberries (1957) at the age of seventy-eight. Read more
These notes accompany the program D. W. Griffith on a Smaller Canvas, which screens on January 6, 7, and 8 in Theater 3.
Although D. W. Griffith’s racism was unforgivable, nothing can ever take away the fact that he was the most gifted and creative director in the cinema’s first thirty years. In John McWhorter’s December 14, 2009 New Yorker review of Pops, Terry Teachout’s biography of Louis Armstrong, McWhorter says Armstrong’s early 78-rpm recordings “were as crucial in creating our modern musical sensibility as D. W. Griffith’s films were in creating the grammar of cinematic narrative.” McWhorter goes on to say of Armstrong that, “While performers around him assimilated his innovations, he never really grew.” One might also argue that this was true of Griffith, and not simply because he lost his independence for the final decade of his career due to his inept business sense and changing public tastes. However, his greatest gift never really failed him—his skill with actors. Read more
These notes accompany the D. W. Griffith Leaves Biograph program, which screens on November 4, 5, and 6 in Theater 3 as part of the two-year An Auteurist History of Film exhibition.
1915 marked the publication of poet Vachel Lindsay’s The Art of the Moving Picture, the first serious attempt in English to come to grips with the medium that had outgrown penny arcades and nickelodeons and was now threatening to appear in venues that would rival cathedrals. In the preceding year, as extraordinary European films like Benjamin Christensen’s The Mysterious X (released as Sealed Orders in the U.S.) and Giovanni Pastrone’s Cabiria were arriving on American shores, D. W. Griffith had been tearing at the seams of his constraining Biograph contract. As with so many early commentaries on the movies, Lindsay struggled to find the language that would do justice to his thoughts. (One thinks of a young Eugene O’Neill groping for words, or of Griffith himself, trying to articulate something previously undefined and unrecognized.) In fact, in his enthusiasm for film, indicative of the heady atmosphere of the times, Lindsay waxed positively Biblical, informing filmmakers:
“All of you who are taking the work as a sacred trust, I bid you God-speed…. You will be God’s thoroughbreds…. It has come then, this new weapon of men, and the face of the whole earth changes. In after centuries its beginning will be indeed remembered. It has come, this new weapon of men, and by faith and a study of the signs we proclaim that it will go on and on in immemorial wonder.” Read more