The Gish Sisters Blogathon: Orphans of the Storm, Dorothy and Lillian Together

Introduction

Firstly, my apologies for this post being late, and to subscribers who may have seen this post come up raw, unfinished and unedited. I’ll do my best to keep that kind of thing from happening again (it’s already happened far too often).

My goal in this post for this blogathon was to through viewing the works of Dorothy and Lillian working together not only come up with a unique angle on their collective filmography, but, also get to know them better. Yes, I know Lillian’s work on Night of the Hunter. Her quote about children is one of my favorite in the annals of film history. However, I can’t claim much knowledge about them. I knew more about them than I did about Louise Fazenda, but not too much. Therefore, a perfect opportunity to learn.

If looking at it like a science experiment I used many of the same methods to hunt down the Dorothy and Lillian titles that I did with Louise. Sadly, though The Internet Archive yielded me no results. Youtube did get me the chance to view nine films, however, few featured them very prominently. Those that did will be embedded.

However, even if this strikes me as somewhat disappointing, I have gained some knowledge and surely my goals are always lofty and not always likely to be reached. For I should recall that it was Lillian Gish herself who said:

I’ve lived long enough to know the whole truth is never found in history texts. Only the people who lived through an era and who are the participants in the drama, as it occurred, know the truth. The people of each generation are the accurate historians of their time.

So, no, in this approach only finding a few of the works they did together I can’t be all-encompassing but perhaps there’s something new that can be found.

Films Viewed

An Unseen Enemy (1912)

An Unseen Enemy (1912)
So Near, Yet So Far (1912)
The Burglar’s Dilemma (1912)
The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912)
The New York Hat (1912)
The Painted Lady (1912)
Judith of Bethulia (1914)
Home, Sweet Home (1914)
Orphans of the Storm (1921)

Observations

Gish Sisters

Firstly, almost by accident I watched these films in something resembling chronological order. I searched based on the IMDb list, which sorted them that way and then I created a YouTube play list in the order things were found. As per the official Lillian Gish site An Unseen Enemy marks her debut.

In my note-taking I was a bit more poetical about the ladies’ participation in this film referring to them as “mournful ingenues” rather than “damsels in distress.” However, that’s what it boils down to. There’s nothing atypical about this work from Griffith, not anything exceedingly spectacular save for the fact that it began their association with him and it would prove rather fruitful for both. It was an auspicious start to watching them both because they’re scarcely apart for even a second.

In terms of working in tandem The Musketeers Pig Alley is not a prime example as here Lillian plays a significant role and Dorothy plays a small part as “frizzy-haired woman in street,” as would end up being the case quite a bit; as it was Lillian who was regarded as one of the greatest actresses of the silent age, but I was keen to re-examine it after I saw it earlier this year and thought nothing too much of it. What created that turnabout was Scorsese’s mention of it in this brilliant article. The film didn’t appeal to me too much more but the shot he refers too, which was unusual for the time, did.

As little as that film has to offer for both of them, Lillian’s physicality does shine through in her contributions to the narrative.

Going in chronological order through much of the early small works the sisters both did for Griffith/Biograph did have me rather dejected regarding my hopes of finding something worthwhile.

A note to all those writing about film is that one must watch first and find the angle second. Reversing that equation can have very adverse effects on your viewing experience. Giving me little fodder to discuss, but a film I thought was very enjoyable, such that it buoyed me to continue was The New York Hat.

Closing out what represented the selections that marked the early part of their careers was an odd little film called Home, Sweet Home. Here these another good scene of the sisters together. As the protagonist (Payne played by Henry B. Walthall) flirts with his sweetheart (Lillian) her sister (Dorothy) get some great reactions while facing away from them. The story is an interesting pre-cursor to what Griffith would later do in Intolerance structurally, though I suspect this is far less successful. The sisters start the film but do go out for a while. If you can stick it out it’s worth taking in. I had difficulty doing so, I must admit.

Much as my playlist did for me, I save the best for last for you. This is one of three features that I took in and this one is a long one at over 140 minutes but truly the story is a fairly epic one, but also intimate. Fate, more specifically the events leading up to, during and immediately following the French Revolution; tear apart these two sisters many times over. Louise, played by Dorothy, is blind, and Henriette, played by Lillian, is even more protective of her because of it. You add into the equation things like: it’s another D.W. Griffith work; one of his sprawling, great melodramas and you can see how special this title is without, even factoring in other things like that it was the last time Lillian worked with Griffith and that she suggested the film, as it was based on a popular play.

However, the film is not just excellent, but both Lillian and Dorothy are exceptional in it. Playing blind in the silent era is not something I think I’ve been privy to yet so it’s not quite as big as I expected it to be and that’s a credit to Dorothy. The fact that one sister is a caretaker for another is augmented by the genuine sisterly affection that shines through their performances.

Here is where you see a citation, much as I alluded to earlier, being personified. Lillian was one of the finest actresses around, but the already more naturalistic style that came in as cameras moved closer to actors was something that she was already more than capable of previously. The litany of scenes and different emotions conveyed by the two in this film is would be quite long if I enumerated them all.

However, key in this film is that they each have significant screen time in the film, but much of it is spent separated and in search of one another. Thus, each sister gets her chance to shine. This makes it perhaps a more powerful and impactive film as Lillian’s career continued strongly for years and Dorothy didn’t transition to sound nearly as successfully.

The Syndrome of Siblings in entertainment, particularly film, can be a vicious one because whether or not a rivalry does exist; the public, both at large and within an industry, has a tendency to compare. And comparisons can adversely effect the sibling who is generally perceived to be the lesser of the two making an isolated and impartial evaluation hard or impossible to come by.

One example of how they both shine is in a fleeting reunion, which can be referred to as this film’s “balcony scene.” For a scene such as that to work both of the actors have to pull it off, especially in a wide angle (which at least a portion of the scene is) and they do, emoting as befits their character.

Conclusion

Gish Sisters

Regardless of how history may recall the Gish sisters individually “the whole truth cannot be found in history texts.” What can still be found are some of their works. I did, through my limited exposure in the past, come to post with a hierarchy in mind, but as I saw the first short with faces so similar and performances virtually on par it made me wonder about that – even identifying them become difficult in these version. Perhaps what it illustrates is that both were better together, and Lillian was more capable when they were not paired.

Yet, I can’t help but think bigger than that. For film is collaborative art: without Lillian Griffith doesn’t have Orphans of the Storm to his credit; without Dorothy Lillian may not even think to suggest it; without each other they can’t deliver the performances they do. And then, what of us, filmmakers and lovers both, where are we without both of them, without our ability to enjoy and learn from them? It may be impossible to quantify, but thankfully one needn’t answer that question but can merely enjoy what they have contributed.

Considerations for the 2013 Ingmar Bergman Lifetime Achievement Award

Originally I didn’t want to list considerations for either Entertainer of the Year Award or Neutron Star Award and the same goes for the Lifetime Achievement Award. The reasoning behind this was that these awards being for a body of work should’ve had their winners be rather apparent. However, owing to previous memory lapses, I reconsidered this philosophy.

Therefore, any and all eligible, worthy candidates for either award will be kept on this list. It will be one of the running lists that I update on a biweekly basis.

In essence, this will give those who stand out in these categories their due. For example, last year I felt remiss in not mentioning Matthew McConaughey in my explication for the Entertainer of the Year Award for 2013. In my reasoning behind Samuel L. Jackson’s win I had to talk about his year and how great it was and why Jackson’s superseded it. With this list, at year’s end I will be able to discuss each of the prospective candidates works.

Please note that unlike the Entertainer of the Year Award there are few if any set-in-stone pre-requisites. Having said that notable filmmakers or actors with works due out this year that I have not yet seen are eligible here.

Without further ado, the candidates…

Candidates

Michael Apted (Need to see the latest installment of the Up series.)
Alain Resnais (His latest is a must-see that should be added to My Radar.)
Max Von Sydow
Martin Scorsese*
Francis Ford Coppola*
Bernardo Bertolucci*
John Carpenter
Roger Corman
Terence Malick*
Oliver Stone*
Ken Burns
Woody Allen
Ridley Scott

*Would need retrospectives

BAM Award Winners: Best Director

So both here and in Best Cast there was some revisionism over the years, however, rather than try and readjust things I’ll just let things stand where they are at current.

The Best Director category is an interesting one because it is usually, in the mind of many, inextricably tied to the Best Picture winner. There is a certain logic to that, however, they are two rather different awards when you boil it down. In Best Picture you pick the story and the production. In Best Director you are picking a visionary and the architect of a production. There are times when the direction of a film will outshine its narrative or overall impact or a story that is wonderful but handled with a rather invisible hand that allows splits to occur.

I have three such splits in 1997, 1998, 2005 and 2012 none of which I was hesitant at all about.

2019 Jordan Peele Us

2018 Bo Burnham Eighth Grade

2017 Andy Muschietti It 

2016 Gareth Edwards Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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2015 George Miller Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad-Max-Fury-Road-Tom-Hardy-George-Miller

2014 Daniel Ribeiro The Way He Looks

The Way He Looks (2014, Strand Releasing)

2013 Gavin Hood Ender’s Game

Ender's Game (2013, Summit)

2012 Bela Tarr The Turin Horse

Bela Tarr

2011 Martin Scorsese Hugo

2010 Christopher Nolan Inception

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2009 Spike Jonze Where the Wild Things Are

Where the Wild Things Are (2009, Warner Bros.)

2008 Tomas Alfredson Let the Right One In

Thomas Alfredson

2007 Timur Bekmambetov Day Watch (Dnevoy bazar)

Timur Bekmambetov

2006 Richard E. Grant Wah-Wah

2005 Ingmar Bergman Saraband

Ingmar Bergman on the set of Saraband (Sony Pictures Classics)

2004 Jacob Aaron Estes Mean Creek

Jacob Aaron Estes

2003 PJ Hogan Peter Pan

Peter Pan (2003, Universal)

2002 George Lucas Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones

George Lucas (2002, Lucasfilm)

2001 Steven Spielberg Artificial Intelligence: A.I.

Steven Spielberg (DreamWorks)

2000 Julie Taymor Titus

JULIE TAYMOR PRESENTS BOOK OF HER FILM 'TITUS'

1999 M. Night Shyamalan The Sixth Sense

M. Night Shyamalan on the set of The Sixth Sense (Hollywood Pictures)

1998 Steven Spielberg Saving Private Ryan

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1997 Neil Mandt Hijacking Hollywood

1996 Lee Tamahori Mulholland Falls

My Year in Film: 1987

So here’s another retroactive list from me. I think it’s safer to assume that this one is more tinged with nostalgia than the 1994 one. In this case, I believe a majority of the films included are ones I saw during or shortly after the year for the most part. Well, in terms of the American releases. Now, in 1987 I was five and six years old, meaning I was just starting my schooling.

I believe most of the films I saw were video or HBO selections. I specified American films above because there are some great foreign titles, that need no disclaimer, which I discovered later on that were released in this year. As for the disclaimer: you see what my relative age was when the films came out or when I got to see them, therefore that is your grain of salt. Again, as I did before, I will stress that the way I assemble this list is usually based on its noteworthiness in my estimation and not necessarily its impeachable quality. However, I will discuss that a bit with each film that’s included.

One thing that’s interesting to note is that this post serves a function as a replacement (and possible prelude) to a series I wanted to do this year. If you take 25 years of age as the youngest a film can be to be considered a classic then the film class of 1987 would be eligible this year. It’s interesting to examine what holds up and what doesn’t after all that time.

Some personal entertainment-related milestones for the year include: my favorite thing in the world was ALF (such that I had a lunch box and much more) and if memory serves I was a year away from my first theater-going experience. For I seem to recall that being Bambi and per the IMDb the only re-release I would have memory of occurred in 1988. Also, I don’t think I watched the Super Bowl for another few years but I knew that the Giants had won.

Without further ado, the list, which is in no particular order:

1. Blind Date

Blind Date (TriStar Films)

Of the 80s movies that made Kim Basinger a star, and for a time one of my favorite actresses, I’m not sure I like this more than something like My Stepmother is an Alien, however, both that and this are so hazy in my memory I can’t honestly tell how they hold up, but I remember adoring them at the time and it’s definitely a marker for the year.

2. Amazing Grace and Chuck

Amazing Grace and Chuck (TriStar Pictures)

In a paper I wrote about the 1980s I discussed this film at great length. It was a truncated repost on this site that I’ll start over, however, suffice it to say I think there are few films that are as resoundingly a product of their times than this is. I discovered it much later and love it.

3. Innerspace

Innerspace (Warner Bros.)

I’m not sure it’s possible to chronicle a year in 1980s without including a Joe Dante film. As is the case with a lot of films on this list I haven’t seen them in a while but I think this film, for quite some time, has been overlooked and dismissed unjustly.

4. Roxanne

Roxanne (Columbia Pictures)

This is one of Steve Martin’s best balancing acts between his comedic and dramatic talents. His put-down monologue is fantastic and I still quote: “It must be great to wake up in the morning and smell the coffee…in Brazil” often.

5. The Lost Boys

The Lost Boys (Warner Bros.)

I was a late-comer to the horror genre so I didn’t discover this film until later on. And as if to underline my point, few and far between are those who dislike this film, therefore when I can defend Joel Schumacher I do. You can knock some of his films but not all, not even close.

6. The Monster Squad

The Monster Squad (TriStar Pictures)

The rise to cult status of The Monster Squad is truly amazing and practically unprecedented and I’m a small part of the years later surge in its popularity. I saw it many years after its release on VHS and loved it. I now have it on DVD and I get why it’s adored and also why it flew under the radar in its initial release.

7. The Curse

The Curse (Trans World Entertainment)

As I’ve mentioned previously, few films exemplify the alchemy of horror better than this film. It’s got a lot going against it but it still works very, very well.

8. Hellraiser

Hellraiser (New World Pictures)

I was first introduced to this film in a horror class I took in college. It just keeps getting better with age like a fine wine. It also stands as one of two films that have gotten me literarily smitten with its writer, in this case Clive Barker. I immediately started chasing down his books after seeing this and Candyman in the class.

9. Baby Boom

Baby Boom (United Artists)

Here’s another I’ll admit is cloudy but I do remember watching it quite a bit on HBO back in the day, and I believe that many of the Diane Keaton films I saw were partially a result of this film. Not to mention that as silly as it may be it is also a sign of the times. Women still had some strides that needed making in terms of equality, and this was one of the films and/or shows that was broaching that subject. Perhaps, not the best or most serious but noteworthy nonetheless.

10. Hope and Glory

Hope and Glory (Columbia Pictures)

This is another film I discovered later on and it is also a film that is exponentially better on the big screen. I discovered it on video. I was fortunate enough to see it introduced by John Boorman at BAM Rose Cinemas in Brooklyn. The viewing was very memorable but I’ll be eternally thankful for the response he gave my question about casting a young lead. It helped me a great deal in preparing for an upcoming production.

11. Planes, Trains & Automobiles

Planes, Trains & Automobiles (Paramount)

This one is a favorite for so many. As I often say John Hughes created innumerable new templates for story that were used in film and television alike. This one is no exception, while many avoid the twist in the tale the framework has been re-used several times as has The Breakfast Club, Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles and so on.

12. Au Revoir Les Enfants

Au revoir les enfants (Orion Classics)

I can’t say I’m a completist with his work but I love Louis Malle. In this film he tells a very personal story and you can feel that throughout the film it’s really its most remarkable quality.

13. Empire of the Sun

Empire of the Sun (Warner Bros.)

I saw this film many years after its release. I saw it sometime in the summer of 2001. I remember the date specifically because after multiple viewings my opinion of Artificial Intelligence: A. I. had solidified and having had a Spielberg class and hearing things like “this is his most European film” but not being able to see it I was very anxious. Being properly prepared for it in all regards it blew me away. I love it.

14. Wall Street

Wall Street (20th Century Fox)

This film I remember viewing in a high school economics class the first time around. Now there was a slightly more cynical, realistic approach that the teacher employed when discussing it, and he had his motives for showing it but not only was it a victory for me against an attempt pedagogical indoctrination, but I still really enjoyed the film a great deal. That is not surprising as it was during Oliver Stone’s heyday.

15. Throw Momma from the Train

Throw Momma From the Train (Orion)

This is another one I’m far removed from seeing but the premise is outlandish and it’s made to work thanks to the casting of Momma, but then you also have Billy Crystal and Danny Devito working together, so my childish sense of humor (which for the most part remains in tact) adores it.

16. Overboard

Overboard (MGM/UA)

Amnesia it seems was big in the 80s, at least I think it was I can’t remember (I’m so sorry). It was an oft-used theme then it seems but this was the best take. There aren’t many great tandems anymore but this one was a match made in cinematic heaven regardless of material and cheesy posters.

17. The Grand Highway

The Grand Highway (Miramax)

This is a film I discovered quite some time later. I think it’s likely the most overlooked of them all. This film did get a US remake, which I discuss here. I think this is a really great film that more people should see. I wrote about the remake of this film and will re-post that series here.

18. Um Trem Para As Estrelas

Um Trem Para As Estrelas (FilmDallas Pictures)

Another staple on these lists, when I can find one, will be a Brazilian film. This was a pivotal time in Brazil politically as the country was making the always difficult transition from a dictatorial government to a democracy. That serves as the backdrop for this coming of age tale. The film also portraits Brazil’s vibrant pop music scene of the era with many performances by popular artists included. I remember I rented this from Movies Unlimited back when they had a physical location, and while deliberate in pacing I enjoyed it a great deal.

19. Mio in the Land of Faraway

Mio in the Land of Faraway (Miramax)

A lot of funny things and parallels come to mind when there’s mention of this film. First, this seems to be my obligatory Christopher Lee title. Second, here’s Christian Bale’s second appearance on this list, in his neophyte, pre-bad press phase. It’s also strange in that it’s an all English-speaking cast enacting a foreign fairytale, similar to the The Neverending Story with much less press in the US. This one also only was released in the US in 1988. I really do like this film for the narrative, the lead performances, and because it’s good cheese. I can’t argue there’s none here.

20. Pelle the Conqueror

Pelle the Conqueror (Miramax)

In my retroactive BAM days I placed this film as an ’87 release even though it made its splash globally the following year, seeing as how this list is in retrospect I’ll place it here. Not only is this a great film wherein Bille August burst on to the scene but it’s yet another great performance in the career of Max von Sydow. It’s also an incredibly moving film.

21. In a Glass Cage

In a Glass Cage (Cinevista)

If there was ever a director to which the term no-holds-barred applied without question it’s Augusti Villaronga. There are likely synopses that give away only what is necessary to discuss the film, I’d rather spoil nothing about this film except to say this film is not for the faint of heart or the queasy. Even if you’ve seen many films, few are this dark and disturbing. It relishes in making you uncomfortable. It’s likely not a film you’d want to see more than once but perhaps what’s most effective is that it pushes your buttons regardless of what’s happening.

22. Bad

Bad (Epic Records)

Two things straight off the bat: If I could’ve included Madonna I would have but “Open Your Heart” as a video came out in December 1986. As for what a music video is doing on this list, I had a short film in my 94 list and I did write (not yet reposted here) after Jackson’s passing about how his videos were more cinematic than most and in the 80s they were more story-based in general. It may not be quite the production that Thriller is but there’s no bothersome disclaimer at the front and this one was directed by Martin Scorsese so it has more than enough merit to it.

23. La Bamba

La Bamba (Columbia Pictures)

I was, as were many of my classmates, quite literally obsessed with this movie and Richie Valens for quite a long time after it came out.

24. Ernest Goes to Camp

Ernest Goes to Camp (Buena Vista Pictures)

Writing a blurb for a Ernest movie is simple: either you like this character of the late Jim Varney or you don’t. I always liked him even though I saw this film later on.

25. The Garbage Pail Kids Movie

The Garbage Pail Kids Movie (Atlantic Releasing Corporation)

Here’s a film that will fall under the memorable category. I fall neither in the cult following of this movie nor the rabid hatred thereof, but I have seen it twice and do recall it was the quest of a friend of mine’s in junior high to obtain this film. It may well have been the seed for my loathing of the concept of something being out of print.

26. Masters of the Universe

Masters of the Universe (The Cannon Group)

Another big deal for me when I was young was He-Man. More so the animated series than this film. Now, I loved it at the time but I have since revisited most, if not all of the series, and the fish out of water approach to the movie while amusing is certainly not why we kids adored the show. It was Eternia and the characters and landscape there. It certainly wasn’t as the quote at the bottom of this poster states the Star Wars of the 80s, I think that was still Star Wars.

27. Dennis the Menace Dinosaur Hunter

Dennis the Menace Dinosaur Hunter (LBS Communications)

There are some things I really loved as a kid that I would come very close to forgetting and then through some nearly miraculous happenstance be reminded of in a very powerful way and my affection would be rekindled. The more notable cases are musical but this film fits that bill. It was a TV project that I know I’ve seen many times but each after nearly having forgotten it existed. I liked, and still do like, Dennis the Menace as a character and I was obsessed with dinosaurs so this film is one I’d naturally gravitate to.

28. Flowers in the Attic

Flowers in the Attic (New World Pictures)

Here’s one that I nearly forgot about as I used the IMDb to jog my memory and somehow I hadn’t voted on this one though I viewed it when I was a rather anal-retentive voter. I saw this film later on and it’s definitely a cult favorite. You either love it or loathe it but perhaps what’s most notable for me is that after having seen it I considered reading V.C. Andrews but when I discovered the author’s name had become and overly-exploited brand name posthumously, I shied away. Perhaps, with an even better interwebs than ever before, I’ll look into her again and see what she actually wrote and what is just attributed to the name.

Thus concludes my journey through 1987 what year I’ll revisit next I know not but may it be as memorable as the first two.