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Archive for the ‘Lillian Gish’ Category

Intolerance

05 Oct

Intolerance – directed by D. W. Griffith. Epic. Four stories in four historic eras interleave one another. 3 hours 10 minutes with intermission. Color-tinted Black and White. 1916.

★★★★★

Once we get over that, except for the historical figures, none of the main characters have a name, but are called The Belovèd Princess, The Boy, The Dear One, The Musketeer, The Mountain Girl, we are willing to go along for the ride. The ride is given a perpetual flat tire by the gestural style of the performances. “Performance” rather than “acting” is what is on view, and hardly anyone spares us the hysterical gesture of the arms thrown up in the air, at all dances, Bacchanals, battles, and anything involving multitudes.

It is strange that this director, for all he brings to us, and it is plenty, was not able to devise a rubric of acting suitable to filmed melodrama. Mary Pickford and Gloria Swanson and Valentino certainly discovered the rubric of film acting for us soon enough, and Lillian Gish may have done so even before that. She is present here, but simply as a woman endlessly rocking a cradle. She never gets out of her chair. Also characteristic of the style is the habit of responding to everything four times when one will do. That is to supply the deficiency of sound. I don’t mean the deficiency of words, for I have never read so many placards in a silent picture. However, both Mae Marsh and Constance Talmadge in close-up are quite good. Griffiths evidently allowed his actresses to do as they pleased, and both of them hop around as though they had St. Vitus Dance. But presently our hearts go out to them.

The four stories also all go off the rails in the theme of Intolerance. We are involved instead in three last minute rescues, two of which fail, I won’t tell you which one doesn’t. We are really involved with 1,2,3 Melodrama, or I should say, 1-10 melodrama since each one is long. The Epic style refers to its length and to the interleaving of the periods. And this eventually has its impact, for Griffiths ends it with the chaos of War – and one was raging (one is always raging) in Europe at the time it was made. The Persian (aka the Iranians) invade Babylon, and one sits there in one’s own time and sees the same.

The version (and there are many) I am speaking of is the new Coen/Thames version, with the new score by Carl Davis. There are a number of reasons to see it but one of them is the siege of Babylon. It’s one of the greatest passages ever filmed. It goes on for a good while. It takes place in sets the size of which has perhaps never been matched, with forces that have never been so numerous again. The sets have not dated in their impressiveness. The costumes are so detailed one cannot quite see them, and there are thousands and they are sensational. The expense of the wigs for the men would pay for a modern epic.

But the real reasons to see it are to witness Griffith’s sense of spectacle, which is infallible. And his placement of camera, which is beautiful and gripping – Billy Bitzer filmed it.  And finally to be present at the display of the imagination of Griffith, which seems ceaseless, overwhelming, superabundant. One goes to such films as one goes to visit a pharaoh’s tomb, for its historic curiosity and impressiveness, not for its modern application or vivacity. In this case, however, the last two pertain. I saw it in a picture palace, and that is the place to see it, so catch or schedule it as soon as you can. The picture palace at my matinée was well attended. Join them.

 

 

Duel In The Sun

17 Sep

Duel In The Sun. Directed by King Vidor and William Dieterle. A half-breed girl is taken into a King Ranch type family in Texas and drives the boys wild. 2 hours 28 minutes Color 1946.

* * * *

It isn’t beautiful but it is gorgeous. Never have you seen Technicolor used so lavishly, or actors throw themselves, not exactly into their roles but all around their roles. You would think Gregory Peck would be miscast as a sexy male, and he is, but he’s surprisingly good as a prick. And Pearl Chavez, played by producer David O. Selznick’s wife, Jennifer Jones, you would think would be written shrewder, but she’s not, she’s just dopey. She throws herself around like a bag of onions and never really proves to the watching world why she was so sexy that Selznick ran off with her into the chaparral. So we take the lickerousness for granted, although she does convincingly writhe on the floor in an agony of sexual conflict. Lionel Barrymore consumes scenery by the platter, and he’s really wonderful as the grandee rancher because the character is so rude, but Lillian Gish as his wife is unable to overcome the character’s failure to get Pearl out of those slouching blouses and into a proper dress, which would have ended the picture right there. I saw it when it came out. I thought it was going to be a dirty movie, but it was just silly. Of course it’s greatly silly. And not sexy, because Lewt is mean, which Peck does well, and Pearl is stupid, which Jones probably was. The film is supposed to vindicate the itch between them, and so achieve a Phaedra-like stature, but its lust falls in the dust flat. Joseph Cotton’s easy-come-easy-go style as the good brother provides no sexual competition for Peck’s bad brother. Charles Bickford is touching as one of Pearl’s swains. Walter Huston makes hay of the fire and brimstone preacher (Huston is sexy, though old, because sexuality seethes through him; Peck isn’t because it doesn’t.). And Herbert Marshall is lovely as Pearl’s doomed father. The film is written like a Perils Of Pauline serial, in chapters and chunks, none which liaison into each other. It proceeds with a very badly written scene of misidentification, which is beautifully directed and shot, and so it goes, with one badly written scene after another beautifully presented. Selznick was so intrusive, reshooting everything, such that the film cost a lot more than his Gone With The Wind (Butterfly McQueen has a much larger part here); Selznick even has his name as the sole screen credit. So King Vidor quit when it was three quarters done, and the film was finished by commonplace director William Dieterle. But never have you seen such sunsets, as though the sun were having the duel with itself. King Vidor’s strong sense of things puts it on all four burners and a pot bellied stove besides. Why are you holding back? You must see it. It is the greatest bad movie ever made.

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Portrait Of Jennie

16 Sep

Portrait Of Jennie – Directed by William Dieterle. Ghost Story. A bum artist becomes a genius through visitations from a long-dead girl. 86 minutes Black and White 1948.

* * *

An actress of minute talent, Jennifer Jones loomed large in the films of the 40s, and my tendency is to dismiss her, as it is to dismiss Gene Tierney, as an actress without content, and it’s not fair to what talent they do possess. I always felt Jones was rather dopey, and yet she’s pretty good here and perfectly cast for two reasons, because the girl, after all, is a ghost and has no content, and because the picture was produced by Jones’ husband David O. Selznick. Selznick was a producer, but he was actually an auteur. He was a man of robust energy, great charm, appeal, generosity, honesty, experience, fun, and skill, but once a picture was in train he became a horror of intrusiveness.  Interfering, writing, rewriting, reshooting, redirecting, memoing up the wazoo, riding his people like a slave driver, with no consideration for anyone – what was he up to? In every case what he was up to, without knowing it, was making the picture about himself. He did not want to make a picture, he wanted to be the picture. His most famous example of this is Gone With The Wind: Scarlet O’Hara is exactly like Selznick himself – charming, ruthless, sexually without morals, ambitious, overwhelming, fun, attractive, in love with the wrong person, and so deserving you can deny nothing to him. Scarlett’s story is Selznick. Each of his films was like this, and Portrait Of Jennie is another one still, although by the time it is made Selznick had come to the frayed end of his stories. Each human being has more than one story in him, and this one is the story of a man who creates an ideal girl and how she in turn makes him creative. This is what he had done in his actual life. Moreover, Selznick casts as the girl the woman he had stolen from her husband and made his magical mistress and muse and movie star, Jennifer Jones. Here he even sets her up with a story with her very own name, Jennie. Jones has to travel in a year from age 12 to age 25, and she does it well right up to the clumsy finale. She uses the trick of keeping her mouth open to suggest ingénue appeal, but she does it good. A supporting cast of astounding strength is asked to atlas-up this edifice of a feather: Ethel Barrymore with her voice of pained patience, huge eyes, and old amusement, the greatly lively Cecil Kellaway as the art dealer, David Wayne as a bright mick, Lillian Gish as a nun, Florence Bates as a heartless landlady, Henry Hull and Felix Bressart. They’re all just fine. Selznick often used Joseph Cotton in his films, an actor of deeply suburban genius and no rival sex appeal whatever. He is most carefully miscast as the artist.

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