From "Four Times Truer Than Life," the Siren's post about the very great Lillian Gish, at Fandor. The piece can be read in its entirety at Fandor's Keyframe blog. Please do comment at Fandor, too.
3. “Richard Schickel…thought The Wind verged ‘on the ludicrous’ and continued by saying that Gish failed the ‘basic obligation of stardom, which is to be sexy.’ Whereupon, Louise Brooks rolled over in her gin-soaked grave.” –Dan Callahan, “Blossom in the Dust,” Bright Lights Film Journal
I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that Gish isn’t sexy, considering that she spent her entire silent career playing women (and, in Broken Blossoms, a child) who are desired by men, and often wind up seduced and abandoned. It’s no harder to get past Gish’s thin lips and flowing hair to her beauty, than it is to overlook Garbo’s eyebrows or Clara Bow’s oddly drawn mouth. Do those who find Gish a “silly, sexless antique” (Louise Brooks’ sarcastic phrasing of such criticisms) wonder what the male characters are after? Nowadays, are innocence and purity so despised, or so transient, that no trace of their appeal remains? Surely not. Perhaps in our day, those qualities are so firmly relegated to childhood that modern audiences aren’t comfortable with an erotic attraction to innocence–or, in The Wind, with how a young virgin’s terror of sex can coexist with an equally primal yearning for it.
At this point it really may seem as though I am picking on Mr. Schickel, but hey, Dan started it this time. Do read Dan's entire piece on Gish; it is beautifully written and argued, as always, even though I don't agree with him at all on Griffith.
Also, here is a lovely post by Robert Avrech, about Gish's meticulous preparation for her roles. The silent cinema has no more appreciative, sharp-eyed and passionate advocate on the Web than Robert.
Adding: Sheila O'Malley takes on The Birth of a Nation without fear or favor.