August Highlights on TCM
LILLIAN GISH (August 15)-- The further away in time we move from silent cinema and the less familiar younger generations are with the faces of its actors and the texture and vocabulary of its images, the more precious it seems. At this point, no matter how well you know the work, watching or re-watching a silent film might give you the feeling that you've found your way back to a glorious, vanished civilization. If there is one actor who embodies the beauty and artistry of silent cinema at its peak, it's Lillian Gish. Her exquisite face and delicate physique seem to have materialized from a late 19th century painting, but she also had an extremely refined understanding of her effect onscreen, her movements, the way her presence registered at varying distances from the camera--in other words, cinema. Gish began her career on the stage. She and her sister Dorothy didn't study acting--it was their job, their living, and they learned their craft as they went along. They were introduced to D.W. Griffith by Mary Pickford and in 1912 Gish appeared in An Unseen Enemy, the first of scores of films she made with Griffith up through the French revolutionary epic Orphans of the Storm in 1921. TCM is showing Orphans and the remarkable Broken Blossoms, as well as King Vidor's adaptation of La Bohème and Pickford's two pictures with the great Swedish director Victor Sjöström, The Scarlet Letter and The Wind--one of the last and greatest films of the silent era. They'll also be showing two of her very best sound films, Portrait of Jennie and The Night of the Hunter. Gish made her last picture, The Whales of August, in 1987 at the age of 94, and she is just as beautiful and energetic there as she was in those early Griffith shorts. She was one of the cinema's greatest artists.
JAMES MASON (August 11)--Whenever James Mason enters a picture, things change--a new force of magnetic energy is injected into the action, affecting everything and everyone around it. He was a world unto himself and it doesn't surprise me that he didn't begin with the intention of becoming an actor. He trained in architecture, and started acting for fun before joining the Old Vic and the Gate Theatre. I don't mean to imply that he lacked craftsmanship--his acting is never less than impeccable--but the deeper excitement of his performances is in the particular humanity he transmitted: dark, melancholy, fatalistic, but alive to the world around him, with an artist's intelligence. You feel it in his eyes, his rhythm, and his unforgettable voice: if Mason had made a 24-hour movie of himself reading the Manhattan phone book, I would have happily watched and listened. TCM is showing 10 pictures from his 50- year career, including the darkly romantic Seventh Veil, Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Lolita, and George Cukor's remake of A Star Is Born--three magnificent performances. TCM is not showing Heaven Can Wait, Warren Beatty's remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan, but when Mason was preparing for the picture he refused to see the original: "They told me my part was played by Claude Rains," he said, "for whom I have an infinite admiration, and I knew I would never be as good as him." They're both great, but this is a reminder that TCM is also paying tribute to the wonderful Mr. Rains in August.
by Martin Scorsese