Friday, April 23, 2010


Even before I knew I would spend my life playing make-believe in front of paying audiences, I loved movies. One of the few things I can thank my father for... Ironically, it was Dad who introduced me to the first male I would fall in love with, King Kong. And as I discovered more great horror films, I started to appreciate the artistry that went into creating the special effects. And in particular, the makeup and masks.

When I was younger, I collected a few extraordinary pieces from here and there (and still have one or two). Lord knows I've made my fair share, mostly for Shakespearean shows (And I do still have Benedick's; Beatrice's; Romeo's and Juliet's). The most elaborate mask I ever made was for the first production of The Tempest I did, in college. I was playing Gonzalo in what was a ridiculous Persian-themed production. The director, knowing I was unhappy, thought he'd cheer me up and asked me to design Caliban's makeup and one of Ariel's masks. I did the best I could withe the stupendously bad Creature from the Black Lagoon body suit and headpiece they gave the poor fellow playing Caliban, so I was sort of forced to go reptilian with the make-up. But I managed to insert a private joke into the design of Ariel's mask - a live-action Easter Egg, if you will. I modeled it after David Lee Roth's cover for Eat 'Em and Smile. No one got it until the high school matinees. And the poor director couldn't understand why every high school matinee audience laughed at that scene, when no one else had.

And my sweet K gave me the mask you see me wearing in my profile. It is truly an extraordinary work of Venetian craftsmanship and the only mask I display in my living room. Above my desk here in the home office, is a lovely wood-carved mask of the Serene Buddha, given to me by my sister. The simple lines and natural wood color variations are in perfect compliment to the subject matter, and looking at it helps to remind me that calm and clear can see you through just about anything.

Masks have been around as long as humans have. Like Theatre itself, masks were first (and in many places still are) made for use in religious ceremonies. In Ancient Greece, actors wore gigantic masks with megaphones built in, so the huge audiences could hear what they were saying and clearly see the expressions on their faces. Pagan religions in ancient Europe used masks to evade evil spirits (a holdover to the modern holiday of Halloween), and during the Black Plague, people wore "Plague Masks" in hopes of fooling the disease into thinking they were birds, which did not contract the plague. For centuries, masks have allowed revelers in Venice to be anonymously wicked during Carnival, in the weeks leading up to Lent.

In modern genre films, there are probably two legendary masks of note: Darth Vader and Michael Meyers. By now we all know that Michael Meyers' mask was a store-bought Captain Kirk mask. That's right - it's Shatner. The costumer widened the eye-holes a bit, painted the whole thing white and teased the hell out of the hair, et voila! An icon is born. As for Vader, while I'm sure George Lucas had a pretty good idea of what he wanted (back when he was sane, at least), it was up to Oscar-winning costume designer John Mollo to create the iconic black geo-head we've all come to know and love.

So, what brings on all this talk of masks, you may well be asking (and even if you're not, I'm going to tell you). Today (I think on CNN) I came across this story about Conrad Zdzierak, a Polish national who used a very expensive silicone mask to disguise himself as a black man while robbing banks and pharmacies. He bought the mask, known as The Player, from SPFXMasks where it retails for $689.00. Zdzierak was known as "The Hairless Robber." If you'll note in SFPX's description of The Player: "The Player mask does NOT come with hair or eyebrows unless ordered custom."

Here's a video of SPFX's $789.00 "Lucifer" mask:

Impressive, aren't they?

Masked bandits are nothing new. A bandanna and a Colt 45 were de riguer for 19th century robbers. Of course, if I were a really smart criminal, I wouldn't be using a product I bought off the Internet to disguise myself. I can't imagine there are very many folks out there buying $700 to $800 masks, online. Is it any wonder they caught this guy? I guess he was maybe a little smarter than these guys, but still. Masks can disguise many things, but stupid always seems to make itself known.

And on that note, I leave you with this:

I won't go into the concept of personal masks, for this post. Of course, that doesn't preclude a future post on the subject. For now, I'll just say how much I love the right masks in the right situations, and leave it at that.

More, anon.

No comments: