• Jul. 8th, 2008 at 6:46 AM
my_daroga: Mucha's "Dance" (comic)

What's sad is that making this macro was my first thought upon seeing this in Forks, WA. I wish the photo had turned out better.
my_daroga: Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera (phantom)
[Post inspired by PRI's The World]

Warning: Some images in the links contain disfigurement and may be disturbing

Gaston Leroux could not have known that mere years after the publication of Phantom of the Opera, an catastrophic event would occur that would make real the horrific visage he'd imagined. I speak, of course, of World War I, and the soldiers confronted with new weapons that left many with gunshot wounds to the face.

The new issues of Smithsonian Magazine has an article (images) on the subject of the "Masks for Facial Disfigurement Department," where doctors and artists worked together to create new faces for soldiers whose disfigurements the populace had no context for. People, unless they'd perhaps seen some traveling sideshow, had never seen faces like these. Neither had the patients. Mirrors were forbidden in the wards, because men who managed to catch a glimpse of themselves were inconsolable. Nurses were screened and trained not to betray any hint of repulsion. "They're watching you very closely," a head nurse is quoted as saying. In one town which contained such a hospital, benches were painted blue to warn townsfolk that any man sitting on one of them might possibly be difficult to look at. This was as much to protect the patients as the general populace.

While surgery (Project Facade is an amazing site with photographs and case studies) had limited effectiveness, the "Masks for Facial Disfigurement Department" created masks out of "visiting card" thick copper that hung off the face via glasses around the ears. They were then painstakingly painted to match the patient's skin tone and to minimize the metallic look. The masks were, of course, expressionless and served only a cosmetic function, granting no assistance to men whose jaws no longer worked properly for eating or talking. However, from letters sent by former patients, the masks appear to have granted these men at least the illusion of normalcy: "Thanks to you, my wife is no longer repulsed by my appearance; as she had a right to be," one wrote. Very little is known about what happened to these men after being fitted for masks which were, in the end, only illusions, and would wear thin and break one day.

It strikes me that this is the clearest notion of what Erik might have looked like had he been alive in Leroux's time. I look at these operations, these masks, and see his dream of looking "like anybody else"--cold, expressionless, immobile faces that, despite the obvious discomfort, allow one to go out without being screamed at. Allow one to keep one's wife from blanching at your appearance. I have no doubt at all that these circumstances were in the minds of many watching Lon Chaney in 1925; indeed, his Phantom forgoes the black (or white) featureless mask for one very similar to those shown in the Simthsonian article. "Real life phantoms" or not, this is a fascinating story that is just now coming to light.

[x-posted to my journal and [ profile] phantomfans]


my_daroga: Mucha's "Dance" (Default)
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