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The Botox Method
March 12, 2010 6:54 AM   Subscribe

If you can’t move your face, can you still act with it? How plastic surgery and Botox is leading to change in acting style.
posted by fearfulsymmetry (72 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
perfect excuse to bring back German expressionism!
posted by Miko at 6:55 AM on March 12, 2010 [8 favorites]


They're all 'toxed. I can tell from the wrinkles, and by having seen quite a few 'toxes in my time.

---

Seriously, I think there's a little paranoia about this issue. Like a reverse placebo effect, once you start looking for something subjective like this, you start seeing it everywhere.
posted by delmoi at 6:59 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


In Chicago, we have created a term: North Shore Mommy Syndrome. Children who are unable to form emotional empathy because their mothers have frozen, unemotional faces.
posted by zerobyproxy at 7:01 AM on March 12, 2010 [17 favorites]


iacnot relytypppppppe nyomre btmmyfimgers lokgreat
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:05 AM on March 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


once you start looking for something subjective like this, you start seeing it everywhere

Sure, but even if you're not looking for it, even if you don't know why, somebody who can't furrow his brow is really fucking creepy. I don't watch a whole lot of TV, but Jeopardy! has been running a monthly celebrity episode this season, and it's frightening. I don't know if it's more or less noticeable in these folks' day jobs, but it's horrifying on a game show.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:06 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, Saul Rubinek's had a fine career...
posted by leviathan3k at 7:11 AM on March 12, 2010


once you start looking for something subjective like this, you start seeing it everywhere

Ah, the Availability Heuristic.
posted by joan cusack the second at 7:14 AM on March 12, 2010


It's hard to rag on Hollywood actresses for resorting to Botox and plastic surgery when a) it's almost impossible to score leading roles if you're over 30 and/or not super-hawt, and b) if you gain 5 pounds or start to show your age every tabloid on the planet will run full-page photos of you accompanied by mocking headlines and captions.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:19 AM on March 12, 2010 [17 favorites]


I remember seeing a movie made with an actress who had been freshly botoxed, and so she was forced to compensate by acting entire with her mouth, which she would pop open to express surprise, or twist to show scorn. The results were distinctly muppetlike.

If you're an actress and you freeze your forehead, you're a bit like a pianist who breaks his own fingers.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:22 AM on March 12, 2010 [10 favorites]


On the bright side, it's nice to know that folks are doing their best to bridge the Uncanny Valley from both ends at once.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 7:25 AM on March 12, 2010 [54 favorites]


In Chicago, we have created a term: North Shore Mommy Syndrome

In Boston, North Shore Mommy Syndrome causes pierced ears in 10 month olds and 8 year olds in hooker shoes.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:28 AM on March 12, 2010 [14 favorites]


Sandra Bullock did not move her face for the entire Babwa Wawa interview or during the entire three hour run of the Oscars. She must have been paralyzed with emotion, right?
posted by spicynuts at 7:33 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


They'll fix it in post. CGI eyebrows! Digitally added 3D frown lines! You've heard of body doubles: now forehead doubles! With special skull caps for motion capture!
posted by Electric Dragon at 7:35 AM on March 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


However, The Card Cheat nails it. If nobody would hire me after age 30 for my career because I didn't have a large horn grafted to my forehead, I would damn well get a large horn grafted to my forehead. It's not like afte you hit 30 and you've been doing nothing but acting for 12 to 13 years you have a resume that gets you any normal job.
posted by spicynuts at 7:36 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I kind of like her take that we're sort of working our way back to the frozen masks of Greek theater, only because it reminds me of the title card of a particularly good horror movie from the 40s that I saw recently. But she doesn't really take it anywhere, she doesn't really examine the implications, and she doesn't really dig all that deeply other than to get a couple of vague snark quotes from vaguely well-placed people like the "Avatar" casting director. I have a hard time believing that anyone in LA will read this and do anything but snort.

Hollywood has always been about image manipulation, from the very beginning, and to imply (even indirectly) that there was a Golden Age of pure Botox-less acting essence that has been lost to us is to miss that point. There were actors who looked waxen in 1930s screwball comedies. She needs to watch "The Women" (the 1939 version, not the Botoxed Diane English remake) more closely.

And no, Sandra Bullock did not move anything on her face during any part of her determined Awards march other than her lips.
posted by blucevalo at 7:40 AM on March 12, 2010


Electric Dragon: CGI-brows!
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 7:42 AM on March 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


What about HD's impact on makeup? With increasing frequency I've noticed TV performers airbrushed to within an inch of their lives. The results are weirdly plastic looking. Combine that with botoxing and face-tightening, and you have a whole range of creepily unreal and inexpressive faces. Female performers are looking increasingly alike, as well, since all are artificially imposing the same aesthetic on their features.

The Winsome Parker Lewis is making an outstanding albeit funny point.

I watched The Lady Eve last night. Charles Coburn, Eric Blore, William Demerest et. al. probably wouldn't translate well into high def, but oh, they were so much more fun to watch than the perfectly pretty people presently populating pictures. Sigh.
posted by kinnakeet at 7:43 AM on March 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


If nobody would hire me after age 30 for my career because I didn't have a large horn grafted to my forehead, I would damn well get a large horn grafted to my forehead.

Or you could do what the rest of us do when unsatisfied with the labor market: start knocking off liquor stores.

Just kidding... I only rob Wal-Marts.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:45 AM on March 12, 2010


I wonder if it wouldn't be possible for Hollywood actresses to take all the money they spend on botox and intend spend it on producing a movie with female character who are middle aged or older, and look and act it. I would go see such a film, if well-made.

Because, honestly, Hollywood is almost never going to do it for them. I worked as a script reader there, and almost every single script I read identified every single female character in it based on only two details: Their hair color and their beauty:

The SECRETARY comes over: a beautiful redhead.

And sudden, in comes MARTHA, 23 and beautiful, with long flowing black hair.

He turns on the television to see the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, 22-years-old and beautiful, with a shortly cropped blond bob.

He gives his change to a HOMELESS PERSON. She is beautiful, but he can't see her hair, because it is covered by a garbage bag.


Sometimes, if the woman is supposed to be smart, they'll describe her as wearing glasses. And if she is a bimbo, they'll describe her breasts.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:47 AM on March 12, 2010 [45 favorites]


If you can't move your face, can you still act with it?

Keanu Reeves seems to do well enough...
posted by yeloson at 7:51 AM on March 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


What about HD's impact on makeup? With increasing frequency I've noticed TV performers airbrushed to within an inch of their lives. The results are weirdly plastic looking. Combine that with botoxing and face-tightening, and you have a whole range of creepily unreal and inexpressive faces.

HD reminds me of the videophones (and society's response to videophones) in Infinite Jest
posted by KokuRyu at 7:51 AM on March 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


The cgi-brows will be exactly what they'll do. Albeit no floating disembodied brows, but eventually they will CGI the emotions on the botox masks and then we'll have to give our oscars for best acting to teams of computer nerds in South Korea.
posted by ExitPursuedByBear at 8:08 AM on March 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's hard to rag on Hollywood actresses for resorting to Botox and plastic surgery when a) it's almost impossible to score leading roles if you're over 30 and/or not super-hawt, and b) if you gain 5 pounds or start to show your age every tabloid on the planet will run full-page photos of you accompanied by mocking headlines and captions.

Yes, this kind of thing reminds me, especially, of The Daily Mail, where sometimes they'll have adjacent headlines reading, "[actress A] looking tired and older than her years!" and "has [actress B] ruined her face with plastic surgery?"

Or my other favorite: one headline criticizing an actress for being "frighteningly thin" while another snarks at a different actress's 10 lb. weight gain.

I would say there's no way for any woman to win this, over the age of 25, but younger women aren't immune from these attacks either.
posted by availablelight at 8:10 AM on March 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter: Sometimes, if the woman is supposed to be smart, they'll describe her as wearing glasses. And if she is a bimbo, they'll describe her breasts.
posted by DU at 8:18 AM on March 12, 2010


Actually, the more I think about the use of CGI to compensate for Botox, the more plausible it seems. This tech demo shows how easy it is to superimpose a photorealistic virtual face over live-action footage now. It seems like only a matter of time before this technique shows up in Hollywood movies, giving plasticized actors their old range of emotions back.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 8:19 AM on March 12, 2010


I'm not saying this isn't a legitimate phenomenon, but it's interesting that the article opened by mentioning all the work Mickey Rourke has had done (which I wasn't exactly aware of, but am not surprised to learn, seeing as how he doesn't remotely resemble the Mickey Rourke of the 80s). I thought his performance in The Wrestler was excellent.

The article also reminds me of a specific shot in Kill Bill, an extreme close-up on Uma Thurman's eyes. You can see all the laugh-lines and imperfections in that shot, and at the time I thought it was interesting that they were visible--that she hadn't had work done on herself, or insisted on digital retouching. There are a bunch of different tangents that the shot suggests: 1. This probably counts as courage among Hollywood actresses these days; 2. The shot wouldn't have worked without the wrinkles to suggest her grit and resolve; 3. Uma Thurman is an unusually beautiful and bankable star, even so I wonder how much pressure she has felt to maintain an unnaturally youthful appearance.
posted by adamrice at 8:22 AM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Perhaps these actors and actresses could learn something from 'The Great Stone Face'.

If everyone in Hollywood started acting like Buster Keaton, I might start watching more of their films.
posted by soy bean at 8:37 AM on March 12, 2010


I said this before in a thread about Heidi Montag, but I'm curious about the aftereffects of people surgically altering their faces to a specific aesthetic standard. In 20 years, will we know that Nicole Kidman has the '09 model, for example, or will people keep cutting and botoxing to the new standard?
posted by runningwithscissors at 8:53 AM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


. She needs to watch "The Women"

So many lines from that show could be made today.

"A muffin? They're Gluten free!"

"Beautician at Sydneys #1: [to "Gillingswater"] You don't look a day over 35!
[walks into room]
Beautician at Sydneys #1: That old gasoline truck, she's 60 if she's a minute.
Beautician at Sydneys #2: Who is she?
Beautician at Sydneys #1: Gillingswater.
Beautician at Sydneys #2: Oh, that old bag! One more permanent and she won't have a hair on her head.
Beautician at Sydneys #1: [taking a puff out of her cigarette] She's got plenty on her arms baby! "


"Sylvia Fowler: Oh, you remember the awful things they said about what's-her-name before she jumped out the window? There. You see? I can't even remember her name so who cares? "
posted by The Whelk at 8:56 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you can't move your face, can you still act with it?

Instead of calling it "The Botox Method" - we should dub it "corpsing"!



[wiki: Corpsing is a British theatrical slang term used to describe when an actor breaks character during a scene by laughing[1] or by causing another cast member to laugh. A BBC TV programme on 18 November 2006 stated that the term "corpsing" originated when a living actor played a corpse on stage; there was sometimes a tendency to try to make that actor laugh}
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:58 AM on March 12, 2010


There was a neat episode in the Lone WOlf and Cub comics where Ogami ran up against an assassin who had been trained from childhood to not move his face into any emotional expression ever. Guess they won't have any trouble casting that part if it ever gets turned into a movie.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:27 AM on March 12, 2010


they'll describe her as wearing glasses. And if she is a bimbo, they'll describe her breasts.

Large, round, and firm... with a scratch resistant coating and titanium frames.

(Glasses or bimbo-cyborg, you decide)
posted by quin at 9:28 AM on March 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


One of the pioneers of naturalistic (i.e. "Just say your lines") acting in television was Gary Shandling.

Gary Shandling probably has more botox in his face nowadays than the entire cast of The Young and the Restless.

Just sayin'.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:34 AM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Great article. As the piece implies, the rise of motion-capture movies like Avatar will change the whole game : any actor will be able to look as old or young as is needed on-screen, but non-Botoxed actors will get all the parts because they've got the most expressive motion to capture.
posted by w0mbat at 9:35 AM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


The article also reminds me of a specific shot in Kill Bill, an extreme close-up on Uma Thurman's eyes... even so I wonder how much pressure she has felt to maintain an unnaturally youthful appearance...

You did see Darryl Hannah in that movie, didn't you?
posted by Naberius at 9:41 AM on March 12, 2010


Noh drama, ancient greek theater...
posted by polymodus at 9:42 AM on March 12, 2010


It's hard to rag on Hollywood actresses for resorting to Botox and plastic surgery when a) it's almost impossible to score leading roles if you're over 30 and/or not super-hawt, and b) if you gain 5 pounds or start to show your age every tabloid on the planet will run full-page photos of you accompanied by mocking headlines and captions.

Meh. I have little sympathy. Hockey players find something else to do after 35. Not everyone has the genetics to do what they did at 25 forever.
posted by GuyZero at 9:53 AM on March 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


When I got an HTPC, the first thing I noticed was how all the movie and TV actors had instantly turned into strange looking freaks with plastic skin and bizarre facial deformities. Did they always look like this, I wondered, or is there something wrong with the computer? It turned out that my computer was running some heavy handed deblocking and image sharpening algorithms, and once I figured out how to turn them off the actors went back to looking normal again. So I'm wondering if maybe Amanda Fortini is doing the same thing here: running a sort of mental algorithm when she watches TV shows and movies that gets in the way of just enjoying the stories.
posted by Kevin Street at 9:55 AM on March 12, 2010


Meh. I have little sympathy. Hockey players find something else to do after 35. Not everyone has the genetics to do what they did at 25 forever.

Anybody remember the pounding Meryl Streep was taking against the boards in the third period of Kramer Vs. Kramer or that nearly career ending shot to the knee she took in the French Lieutenant's Woman. It's brutal out there.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:05 AM on March 12, 2010 [8 favorites]


Have you SEEN Death Becomes Her?
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 10:16 AM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


People who go into an industry in which they get to project pictures of themselves 25 feet tall and scream 'LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME!" over and over are more concerned about how they look than their actual abilities for acting? Color me shocked!

Actually, the more I think about the use of CGI to compensate for Botox, the more plausible it seems.

Have you seen things like the side-by-side comparisons of Madonna photos before and after retouching? I really wish she'd just figure out how to be the woman she is, rather than demanding all this fakery. (And I hate hate hate hate hate what her surgery has done to the shape of her face! But that's a gay man rant.)

I'm sure that we aren't too far from being able to retouch an entire actor's performance digitally. Remember -- Bruce Willis once delayed the release (and substantially increased the budget) of one of his pre-bald movies because he wanted his bald spot "covered" during post-production. It's only a matter of time before we get truly plastic actors, ones who are only voices with digital everything else. Na'vi in human form.
posted by hippybear at 10:17 AM on March 12, 2010


Her nose is CRAZY now.

Have you SEEN Death Becomes Her

You can't raise an eyebrow without major surgery!
posted by The Whelk at 10:20 AM on March 12, 2010


"Have you seen things like the side-by-side comparisons of Madonna photos before and after retouching?"

Wow, that second photo looks more like a black velvet painting than anything from real life. All it needs is Elvis and a Sleestak and the picture will be complete.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:29 AM on March 12, 2010


To the annoyance of those around me who like Tom Cruise and Keanu Reeves, I refer to this style of acting as 'shovel to the face'. To my eye, they look very much like someone who has just been struck to the visage with the flat of a spade. Shock! Tears! Laughter! All with the same, slightly stunned expression of one who has been poleaxed.
posted by LD Feral at 10:31 AM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hollywood is to Art as South Korean Couple is to Baby.
posted by bam at 10:33 AM on March 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Gary Shandling probably has more botox in his face nowadays than the entire cast of The Young and the Restless.

In fairness, there are only so many Young and Restless castmembers you can fit in a your face.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:45 AM on March 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


In The Diamond Age when Miranda has her first audition to become a ractor what really catches the manager's attention is not her acting skills but the high-end motion capture nanosite implant job she popped for. She is dropped into any number of characters per hour and her performance is mapped onto the appropriate character face, costume, voice, and environment in real time.
posted by Babblesort at 11:02 AM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


In fairness, there are only so many Young and Restless castmembers you can fit in a your face.

Well, I admit that you'd have to freeze most of the meat, but there's no reason you couldn't eventually get through it all.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:14 AM on March 12, 2010


In The Diamond Age when Miranda has her first audition to become a ractor what really catches the manager's attention is not her acting skills but the high-end motion capture nanosite implant job she popped for.

Also he is impressed that she can read words on a page or screen.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:15 AM on March 12, 2010


Michael Madsen and Malcolm McDowell were both guest stars on a recent CSI: Miami episode. (Hey, guilty pleasure.) Madsen's 52, and his face was so freakishly stretched and shiny it was weird looking. Meanwhile Mr. McDowell, at 66, looked wrinkly and crinkly--and handsome.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:21 AM on March 12, 2010


Like w0mbat says, you've got to have facial motion before the technicians can do a facial motion capture. There's only so much you can simulate in or do later.

Of course, they are trying to reanimate the dead, and facial motion is one of many things those folks lack. Bruce Lee comes up often in that discussion-- I guess there's a bust of his head somewhere that they might use as a baseline. And, of course, there were those Orville Redenbacher commercials David Fincher directed before Benjamin Button.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:35 AM on March 12, 2010


it's interesting that the article opened by mentioning all the work Mickey Rourke has had done...

I'm pretty sure he was in some horrific mark hamill-esque traffic accident and had to have his entire face rebuilt.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 11:59 AM on March 12, 2010


Madsen's 52, and his face was so freakishly stretched and shiny it was weird looking.

In this case, I'm going to go ahead and say I prefer my Michael Madsens to be weird looking.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:20 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


But when someone like Nicole Kidman tells Marie Claire, “To be honest, I am completely natural. I have nothing in my face or anything,” we can’t help but furrow our own brows.

LOL!
posted by anniecat at 12:44 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


the more I think about the use of CGI to compensate for Botox, the more plausible it seems

I'm a visual effects artist, and so far, it hasn't really gone that way - I do a lot of digital retouching - smoothing out dents and wrinkles, replacing necks. Since there is a real emphasis on perfection, however, any adding of expression has been confined to things like adding tears, or combining parts of different takes to get the best performance.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:47 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Replacing necks?
posted by The Whelk at 2:16 PM on March 12, 2010


it's a strange job
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:28 PM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Mickey Rourke is not a great example. He wasn't in a car wreck, but he tried to be a boxer for a while. He got his face punched in but good a few times and the work done to fix it was less than successful. I don't think his work was all vanity.

Although, as I type this, it occurs to me that I could be just parroting what some press agent said.
posted by Trochanter at 2:47 PM on March 12, 2010


Rourke's a bit of a special case as I think he had some work done, then had the shit pummelled out of his face by taking a bit of bizarre side-step into boxing, then had the resultant mess worked on by some incompetent butcher ... along with the drink and the drugs, it's lucky he's got a face left.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:49 PM on March 12, 2010


Ah damn, jinx
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:50 PM on March 12, 2010


"Watching gorgeous actors in workaday roles, we’ve always had to endure a measure of cognitive dissonance (Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich..."

Well, except Brockovich was an actual beauty queen who had large breasts. So what, it's that Roberts looks like an Afghan hound?
Derek Zoolander was a mine worker and he had some work done.

I don't know what Clooney is talking about. What's wrong with not having died? I'm looking forward to being an old guy and looking like an old guy. Those people tend to be far more interesting. I spoke to a guy who worked on the Gemini project and other space things a bit back, talked about quantum physics (I mostly listened) and art and those bullseye carmels they used to have which he knew where they came from originally and how they were made so the cream in the middle didn't fall out (I forget, but made me laugh) and some sad stuff about his wife.
The guy had lived. Had the scars and wrinkles to prove it.
So, ok, you can't play Hamlet anymore, you're more a King Leer. So?
Seems to me there's a difference between acting and playing into youth fixation.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:09 PM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm looking forward to being an old guy and looking like an old guy.

Once I realized that at some point in the future, I could end up weathered with lines like Lance Henriksen, I've been completely ok with getting older.

Now I just gotta perfect the voice.
posted by quin at 3:22 PM on March 12, 2010


(And Mickey Rourke is a special case. I suspect - and I'm pulling this out of my rectum, but - he did his face thing on purpose. A lot of the roles he's chosen have involved facial disfigurement, wounds or hiding his face, and self-destruction (Homeboy, Johnny Handsome, Bullet, Sin City, etc). And he seems to have been one of those actors who resented being appreciated for his looks the whole pretty boy thing and wanted the attention for his skill/talent, etc. Not saying he's not a good actor. Just seems like he's got a thing there.)
posted by Smedleyman at 3:28 PM on March 12, 2010


Most of this is unmitigated, incomprehensible gabble to me, so excuse me for confining my attention to one small part I feel qualified to comment on: Julia Roberts does not look like an Afghan hound.
posted by Wolfdog at 4:01 PM on March 12, 2010


The Card Cheat: It's hard to rag on Hollywood actresses for resorting to Botox and plastic surgery when a) it's almost impossible to score leading roles if you're over 30 and/or not super-hawt, and b) if you gain 5 pounds or start to show your age every tabloid on the planet will run full-page photos of you accompanied by mocking headlines and captions.
But as the hockey example noted, once you hit the level of box office success we're discussing, you can bank f-you money before you're 30. If you *need* to work after that, you spent your money poorly.

Besides, given the way this place explodes like a 10-megaton jizzbomb when someone makes a FPP about the apparently all-natural 35-year-old Christina Hendricks, I dispute your central premise.
posted by hincandenza at 4:35 PM on March 12, 2010


hincandenza: "10-megaton jizzbomb"

Band name.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 5:03 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Julia Roberts does not look like an Afghan hound."

Ok. But Kim Jong Il looks just like the woman from Poltergeist.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:34 PM on March 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


. . . Meanwhile Mr. McDowell, at 66, looked wrinkly and crinkly--and handsome.

This is another reason I've always preferred BBC dramas and comedies. I know that's a statement nearly as insufferable as "is this something I'd have to own a television to know?" but for me, it's true. British actors appear to be real people, because they are. Many of them even had educations! Accordingly, their faces have certain characteristic asymmetries. Some of their teeth aren't even straight. Probably this has changed in the years since I formed my judgment, or is in the process of changing, but the generations of actual judgment shouldn't go away so quickly.

It's also a reason that I don't care for fictional legal dramas, at least not American ones. I'll watch the true-crime shows on Discovery till infomercials come on, if I'm not stopped, because I know I'm watching actual cops and prosecutors. Fat, bald, helmet-haired, be-mulleted -- those are human beings. The closest analogue in your procedural shows would be Richard Belzer, and his ears.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:23 PM on March 12, 2010


How can no one have noted the eponsterical nature of this post?
posted by zusty at 8:02 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I caught most of an interview between Rachel Maddow and Nancy Pelosi this week, and found that after a couple of minutes, I had mostly stopped listening and was just watching. As the camera closed in on Pelosi for several seconds last night, I was struck by the uncanny valley of smoothness in the central part of her forehead. There were creases galore in each outer third of her forehead, and her eyebrows kept moving up and down, but that jarring blank between her brows took all my attention. And whenever the camera cut back to Maddow, the contrast between the younger woman's almost constantly furrowed forehead -- the furrows going all the way across -- and Pelosi's forehead was especially jarring.

A lot of people look at still pictures of themselves and are bothered by those vertical worry lines between their eyebrows, thinking that they look angry or old or tired. I believe you do get that effect in a still picture. But the inability to frown, even though it emphasizes those lines, seems to sap a lot of warmth from the face when it's in motion. Both women were speaking about health care, the obstacles Congress faced, and the effect on people across the country. Maddow could frown as she spoke or listened and appear thoughtful, concerned and empathetic, but Pelosi's forehead was not in synch with her words and voice and she appeared quite fake and cold in comparison.

I wonder how much of the scorn shown toward Pelosi and other botox users is not just the usual reaction many people have about cosmetic surgery ("It's fake! It's vain! It's a waste of money! They've ruined their faces! Who would put a deadly poison in their face?"), but also a conscious or unconscious reaction to gaps in the expression of a certain range of emotions.

So -- back to the topic of this post -- how much does botox affect the popularity or likeability of actors? Sandra Bullock, whose fame is partially based on her highly expressive early performances and her down to earth and funny persona, apparently is now hitting the botox with a vengeance. If she now has an immovable forehead, perhaps it's even more to her credit that she somehow managed to pull off an Oscar this year.

-- and after writing all this, I went to see if Paul Ekman had said anything about likability and botox, and it turns out he has:
Q. If I received Botox injections all over my face and could not make normal expressions, would my emotions be similarly curtailed?

A. Probably not. I did a study with Robert Levenson, professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, on people who had been born with facial paralysis. We found no impairment in their ability to recognize or experience emotions. There is a problem with Botox, though. Limiting facial animation may make people less appealing.
posted by maudlin at 9:03 PM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


"We didn't need dialog. We had faces."
posted by dhartung at 10:57 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I like the essay, but I feel sure the relatively recent vanity panic of HDTV has nothing on the generations of vanity panic still photography has inspired. Nowadays, photographers go everywhere and their pictures get cropped and yanked out-of-context and used everywhere else (think of the "funny" photos used for visual headlines on the news). I think HDTV is an incredible opportunity for naturalistic actors of all ages. So many people have this big, high-res screen in their homes now. Producers need to find stuff to fill it with, and actors need to get their characters to work with the whole scene. Television shows have been changing their structure to meet the artistic challenge. I think it could take a generation to finally figure out, but I expect a big win for the humans, if only because after millions of years, faces are what we do best. The frozen-faced may end up only getting roles specifically written for the frozen-faced and/or their scenes carefully edited or adapted in post to make it work.

I'm usually wrong though.
posted by wobh at 8:09 AM on March 13, 2010


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