The farther we get away from those formative years of Cinema, when the craft was evolving and the growing pains were plentiful, the less we remember those names which were such an inegral part of that early history – the crucial period when Film went from being an Arcade Novelty to the artform it evolved into. The changes in attitude – the advancement of lighting and technology and even the Cameras used to shoot these films – they were all part of a great movement that was growing up and becoming the new entertainment form, popular all over the world.
In this interview, conducted as part of the weekly series Bookbeat featuring Chicago Tribune/Washington Post, book reviewer Robert Cromie sits down with Lillian Gish and asks her about those early days, when D.W. Griffith was one of the most well-known Directors working in film at that time. Griffith was responsible for the Spectacle – the grand, sweeping film (Birth of A Nation) that became one of the biggest box office successes for many years. And how Lillian Gish, along with sister Dorothy, were groomed by Griffith to achieve the stardom that she eventually had gotten. Talking about the early days of Silent Film, when expression was everything because words were relegated to title cards accompanying those scenes – and an orchestra, or organ, provided the musical counterpoint to the action on that screen.
It was all a different world then – film spoke a different language; a universal language that many felt needed no sound in order to convey an intention. And as Norma Desmond once observed in the classic American film, Sunset Boulevard, “They had faces then”.
They certainly did. Here is that interview from Book Beat featuring Lillian Gish, interviewed by Robert Cromie from June 25, 1969.