best film:  Intolerance is a giant masterpiece that has influenced everyone from Erich von Stroheim to David Lean to Christopher Nolan. Gish does not have a big role in Intolerance.  She plays the handle that rocks the cradle so to speak—a symbolic role- eternal mother or grandmother. As much as it as it is derided for the outrageously wrong and racist content—The Birth of a Nation is still a masterpiece so that is a candidate here though Intolerance is the stronger of the two films.


Lillian Gish in Intolerance- one of her five archiveable collaborations with D.W. Griffith


best performance:   The Wind is the answer. The Wind is a brilliant Western melodrama- via Sweden. Lillian Gish plays Letty- the protagonist. Gish also used her considerable clout getting the production made and picked Swedish auteur Victor Sjöström as director. The film also stars Swedish actor Lars Hanson as Lige. The Birth of a Nation is still more of an ensemble but in The Wind, Gish dominates the running time of the entire film. Gish is a veteran by the time The Wind comes around at the tail-end of the sound era and she is in complete control of her powers—this is a tour de force. It also adds to her resume to have her best work be with someone else besides Griffith.


stylistic innovations/traits:  Griffith made the closeup an art form his canvas of choice was the face of Lillian Gish. She is sublime in their efforts together garnering instant sympathy from the audience -often playing the victim (even at an older age she had that unmissable youthful face). She was the first great screen actor and was dominant figure for the ten to fifteen year stretch from 1915 (The Birth of a Nation) to 1928 (The Wind). She did not survive the change to the sound era (few did) though she has a few credits and archiveable films even after The Wind.


directors worked with:  D.W. Griffith (5) and these are his seminal films and roles—extremely important in the history of film. King Vidor (2) and one very important film with Victor Sjöström.


top ten Performances:

  1. The Wind
  2. The Birth of a Nation
  3. Broken Blossoms
  4. Way Down East
  5. Orphans of the Storm
  6. La Boheme
  7. Duel in the Sun
  8. Night of the Hunter
  9. Intolerance
  10. Portrait of Jennie




archiveable films

1915- The Birth of a Nation
1916- Intolerance
1919- Broken Blossoms
1920- Way Down East
1921- Orphans of the Storm
1926- La Boheme
1928- The Wind
1946- Duel in the Sun
1948- Portrait of Jennie
1955- Night of the Hunter