NEW YORK — Lillian Gish proved once again to be a symbol of the long-gone silent film era as she appeared Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall to launch a four-day festival of four recently restored silents.
Gish, wearing a flowing lavender-hued floor-length dress and wrapped in a billowing stole, was given a tumultuous, standing ovation by an audience that nearly filled the 6,000-seat Music Hall as she walked on stage to introduce "The Wind." The 1928 Victor Seastrom film was the actress' last silent and one of the last of the silent era.
Preceding the actress' appearance was a 12-minute 1912 melodrama, "An Unseen Enemy," the first of several D. W. Griffith silents in which Lillian Gish and her late sister, Dorothy Gish, appeared together.
"For me and my sister Dorothy, I say thank you," said Gish, a frail yet flamboyant figure on the great Music Hall stage. (Her age has been variously reported between 86 and 93.) "I didn't see the film, I don't know what it was, but I hope you enjoyed it . . . and now you are going to see 'The Wind,' which I think is good, and I hope you enjoy that too."
The other films scheduled at the Music Hall through Sunday are: "The Thief of Bagdad" (1924), starring Douglas Fairbanks, to be introduced by Douglas Fairbanks Jr.; and "Flesh and the Devil" (1927) and "The Big Parade" (1925), both starring John Gilbert, to be introduced by Gilbert's daughter, Leatrice Gilbert Fountain.
Like the triumphant 1981 presentation here of Abel Gance's silent classic, "Napoleon," the newly restored films are being accompanied by a new musical score (composed by Carl Davis) and performed live by the American Symphony Orchestra.
"The combination of a big screen and a live orchestra that is provided by these kinds of events brings back to audiences the kind of theatrical magic that has disappeared from the cinema," producer David Gill told the audience of film buffs. Gill and film historian Kevin Brownlow restored the Gance classic and have been working in England the last several years to restore a series of silents to be shown on British television and at events such as this weekend's Radio City festival. The festival was produced by Radio City Music Hall Productions and Thames Television.