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Lillian Gish: The Transparent Artist

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The Transparent Artist

In the photo, Lillian Gish stumbles through a real winter storm. She wears a simple dress, her hands hang limp, her eyes are rolled upward. She is not thinking of her beauty.

For the sake of artlessness, she and her sister and members of D. W. Griffith’s company studied the world. A walk, a gesture of despair, any movement that conveyed character would be noted for its power to bring an element of real life into “moving pictures.”

The realness of photography intensified with motion. The winter storm in Way Down East was real snow, real ice, real risk of death for the actors, and this is what gives the old melodrama its power through decades of changing fashion and burgeoning sophistication in audiences.

In its center is Lillian Gish, a transparent artist, with the brilliance to work at her roles until she could make every moment appear real and the performance spontaneous.

A transparent artist puts herself on the line, apparently hiding nothing, allowing us to see her unadorned and unprotected.

No wonder there are so few.

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