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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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April, Easter in 2012 Board: The Housecat and the Resurrection

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My parent’s cat, 11-year-old Freddy Astaire went missing. He walked out onto the front porch and never returned.

Day by day, we lost hope. We offered a hundred dollar reward and scouted the neighborhood for him — or his body. Gradually it sank in that never again would we stroke his handsome coat or hear his ruffled baby meow, so sweet and endearing in such a dignified cat.

Two weeks after he disappeared we agreed he was dead.

Early the next morning my mother phoned, “Do you believe in miracles?” Freddy Astaire had slipped into the house through the cat door.

Phone in hand, I became dizzy. Freddy was dead! I had walked the neighborhood searching. I had felt the emptiness in my parents’ house. As I talked to my mother, a need rose within me to see the cat before the day was over, a need so shaking and primitive that it must have been pure instinct, a magic belief that to see him would gather him into the world and make his return secure. The joy came later when I saw him and held his thin and hungry body in my arms and smelled the woods deep in his fur.

And yes, a house cat’s return showed me something about the Resurrection.

For you see, a little later I thought that my sense of dislocation and shock at facts violated – my stunned reluctance to allow myself to grasp joy because the grief had been so severe – these might have been the feelings of people who heard that Jesus was risen. They, like me, may have thought it too great a piece of good news to accept. Perhaps they, too, were overwhelmed by what seemed impossible.

 For us Easter is pure joy because we know the story.

This year I will think of the feelings of those who lived it – how it must have been to experience it without a script. The breaking of expectation, of natural law, of all that had come before — to hear without preparation the great news – that Jesus was risen – alive and among his people — teaching the new truth.

http://pinterest.com/brendacious/april-easter-in-2012-showers-fools-day/

Delightful Stuff Board: “Pussyland”

“Our Pussies singing. Our Pussies Ringing. Our Pussies dancing. Our Sammy singing a Serious solo Song.”

“Pussyland” is one part of a series of children’s books sold in Australia as “Childland.” Published in 1906, there is a copy of “Pussyland” for sale online for about a hundred dollars. I am keeping the location secret in case I suddenly inherit a fortune from a distant relative.

People in 1906 liked to see cats looking like cats. Not for them the cute-tification of the small tiger, the backyard terror, the deadly pouncer upon mice and birds. The “Hello Kitty” line is among the most stylized and least catlike. We like ‘em cute and cartoony, but the Edwardians wanted their cats beasty and a little wild. The serious bell ringers, the maw-stretching singers, “Sammy” in his tux fur, and the little girl kittens spreading wide their skirts to trip the light fantastic claw have much more charm to my eye. Oh, I wish I could see the other 16 pages of this book with illustrations in both black and white and color. What are the other pussies doing? Driving cars? Cooking fish for dinner? I want to know!

How did “pussy” acquire its modern meaning, its link to something other than cats? My guess is that both have fur and people like to pet them — and that’s all I’m saying, folks!

Whence came “Pussyland?” Edward William Cole, who published and sold this little book at his “E. W. Book Arcade,” ran a business known as “the palace of the intellect.”

But it was much more fun than that.

Customers could ignore the books and choose to eat and drink, listen to bands playing, look at themselves in wall-to-wall mirrors and watch the antics of  live monkeys. There was a confectionary department where changing displays had oddities such as the toy hen that “laid” a tin of candy. Costumed jugglers entertained, exotic displays and installations pleased the eye – and this reputedly biggest bookstore on earth even had corners for readers to read books. It was the early Borders chain in hyper mode – the social center of Melbourne – and known far beyond Australia’s shores.

It was only a matter of time before Cole began to publish his own material, and “Pussyland” with its seriously purposeful cats and kittens is a most charming example. Sing, ring, dance, and solo on dear pussies – oh, please, won’t someone republish this little treasure?

http://pinterest.com/brendacious/delightful-stuff/

Interesting Reflections Board: Little Winter

Daffodils are blooming, the crocuses are delicate fading flags of purple and yellow, hyacinths and tulips are determinedly rising from the soil – spring is on its way.

 But I am here to remind you about Little Winter.

 Little Winter comes after you’ve relaxed and decided the cold weather is over. When woolens and flannels are packed into dresser drawers and piled on storage shelves for next autumn, Little Winter comes sneaking back. There you are with a choice of sleeveless tops, capri pants, and sandals to meet that three-inch field of frozen white flakes that surrounds your house and sends an icy breath through those newly placed window screens.

 But don’t curse Little Winter for it’s really a holiday time. The chance to wear that nice sweater you were keeping for a special occasion, to pull on your fabulous boots one last time. Don’t forget to cook some comforting shepherd’s pie and enjoy hot chocolate.

 For Little Winter only lasts about three days and then the world spins onward  into the hot weather.

 And when after several months of fun in the sun, long days, flowers and lightning bugs, when  the cold returns and you’re putting away your summer clothes, leave out a few of the best because – there’s always Little Summer.

http://pinterest.com/brendacious/interesting-reflections/

Christmas and December Board: Mistletoe Hairpin

A hairpin, a few pearls, and a gathered knot of green felt – what can they tell us about Christmas? A woman gets dressed and in her hair she perches this tiny ornament, guaranteeing an evening of appreciative laughter and maybe kisses!

Christmas is a holiday in which we become absorbed. All through December it works magic in every corner of life. There develops a perfect need for greenery on fireplace mantels and at the base of candlesticks and the smell of pine trees indoors is what we want. Bells jingle on doorknobs; gleams of gold and silver brighten everything, everywhere. Santa’s jolly face adorns our clothing, our gift bags, our houses, and more.

We change how we say hello and good-bye, for “Merry Christmas” means, “I am thinking of your Christmas Day and hoping your home will be a bower of good feeling and warmth.” We change what we eat in honor of Christmas. Family receipts come out to lengthen tradition with one more celebration. Cookie sheets are slid from lower cupboards so that reindeer, gingerbread men, stars, wreaths, bells, and symbols of Christmas will be sprinkled with red and green sugar and eaten with more pleasure than mere “ordinary time” cookies.

And, of course, there appears — small or large, highly colored or marble white, outdoors on the lawn or inside in a place of honor — the reason for the season, a scene of a woman and man rejoicing over a modest event, the birth of yet another baby, but this child surrounded by signs of the miraculous.

Its encompassing, energetic joy may be why Christmas is so resented. We become immersed in Christmas. It is a large holiday and properly celebrated it is everywhere. From store windows and spreads in national magazines to lawn crèches, neighborly charity, and hometown parades, Christmas creates a kindness and joy, a sharing that opens hearts and binds close those who love it.

What a powerful holiday it must when even lowly hairpins take on Christmas garb.

http://pinterest.com/brendacious/christmas-and-december/

Interesting Reflections Board: Billowing Lavender

This looks like Lavender itself billowing across water — sunset clouds spilled from the heavenly realm onto land and lake and leaving behind an icy sky bereft of color.

In Beverly Hills, near that winding way of tall palms whose image seems required in every L.A. movie, there is a set of parallel streets, each entirely planted with one species of trees. My first spring in Los Angeles, I stumbled upon the street of blooming Jacarandas. Standing edge to edge, they were as solidly lavender as this photo, ragged lavender spheres above a flawless lavender carpet of fallen petals. I got out of the car and stared, knowing that never again would I stand in such a landscape. The air was lavender, the reflections on my car, the glint on my glasses, even my thoughts shimmered with the vibrant presence of these Jacaranda blossoms.

It reminded me of that classic old cartoon where a tree stands in green and brown and suddenly the eraser end of an unseen artist’s pencil sweeps in and rubs away the green. A paintbrush applies – lavender – what more cartoon-like color is there? What color so seldom found in quantities in nature and certainly not on a tree?

Yet there I was in the midst of this natural miracle. And in this photograph I see that moment, something too beautiful to be examined.

http://pinterest.com/brendacious/interesting-reflections/

1870s Board: Those Cherry Stockings!

These stockings startled me.

With 1870s photos it is easy to emphasize “Victorian” decorum and forget color. All those ladies with heads held stiffly in vises to ensure a clear photograph were not wearing charcoal-grey gowns. And — apparently — they might not have been wearing modest black stockings on their “limbs.”

Imagine the flash of color when a woman lifted her heavy, restraining skirts to climb into a carriage. A pair of these flirty French stockings must have ruined – or confirmed – the reputation of many a “lady.”

My western novel is set in 1877 California, and when I revise it, I will give Faye Shelburne, my wealthy young widow, a pair of these wonderful stockings. She and her husband spent a few years in Europe. Of course she would have bought these in France. Fancying herself a rebel, Faye would risk them being seen.

This particular pair of “cherry-brights” is still tagged, which indicates to me that they were never sold, but put away as something too special to discard when their era of fashion was over. If they had been worn and still looked this good, I would guess a careful maid slipped a wooden “shaper” into them when they were wet so they would shrink to the right size.

The amount of work that clothes once required is unimaginable nowadays. I used to iron my blouses – no more! But if I had a chance to wear beautiful stockings such as these I might start hunting antique stores for some stocking shapers ….

http://pinterest.com/brendacious/1870s/