"Speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again."
-F. Scott Fitzgerald

I have realized that the past and future are real illusions, that they exist in the present, which is what there is and all there is.
-Alan Watts

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Interesting Thought #1 and Current Obsession

My close personal friend Anthony L. has been a master puppeteer for six years now and in the last two years I've known him I've been able to witness his true passion for the craft and it's close cousin, the art of masked performance.  He's an aspiring screenwriter and among his favorite films are Jim Henson Company originals: Labyrinth (1986), Dark Crystal (1982) and Mirrormask (2005).  I've had the pleasure of sitting down and watching each of these titles with him and I believe I speak for the both of us when I say our mutual favorite is that beautiful fantasy appropriate for all ages, Mirrormask.  
I'm not here to critique any of the previously mentioned films but I am here to tell you about how Mirrormask has spawned my most recent obsession and revitalized my long time fascination with masks.  It's been a while since last I watched Mirrormask and upon my first viewing of it this week I listened to a line of the movie that sparked a simple but compelling idea.

Line:  Valentine: "How do you know if you're happy or sad without a mask[...]?"
          Helena: "I've got a face."

Idea: While faces hold the ability to lie, masks do not. 

Maybe it's a bit difficult to see the connecting lines between the line and the thought that followed.  Well, Valentine states that in the world he lives in masks control the emotions and thoughts of those who wear them.  Helena rebuts with the ever popular idea that masks are too restricting to be thought of as honest because people change throughout every moment of the day as they react to their environment and daily stressors.  I must have been in an especially contemplative mood that night because my brain snapped to attention at the conclusion of the lines delivery.  Later on in the film while Valentine and Helena are in the library Valentine says "You all sort-of look alike to me. Without a proper face you could be anybody," again Helena rebuts saying "Hang on- I've got a proper face" and continues to demonstrate how she has the ability to control and contort her expression to Valentine's disgust.  Here we see the repeated idea that Valentine has about how masks affirm truth through restriction.
Now, though this concept has many counter arguments, some stronger than others and quite valid, I'm obsessed (at the moment) with masks and how they truly grant anyone who is willing the ability to honestly become another person.  In one sense, a complete lie; but from another point of view as long as the person wearing the mask acts in accordance to the expression of the mask they cannot deceptively lie. It's obvious that if a smiling mask speaks of disappointment or there current misfortunate position they're clearly lying.  Masks force a truth, if not from within us than certainly projected onto our everyday audience.

Now, the last time I delved into the world of sculpture (additive not subtractive) was probably freshman year in high school (approx. 6 years ago).  Today I went out and bought some of the necessary tools for sculpting some masks of my very own.  I started around 1 in the afternoon (13:00) and worked for a good four or five hours before taking my first break of the day for food.  I plan on making both functional and smaller scale ornamental masks as well as learning how to properly emote through masked performance.

©Steve Shilling


Note: All film titles link to their corresponding IMDB.com page. For those interested in looking further into the films are urged to do a quick 'Google' or 'Bing' search.

I've shared a link to a Youtube video displaying death masks and I urge anyone interested in the conceptual side of masks to take a look at it.

-Masks, Transformation, and Paradox By A. David Napier

-Masked Performance: The Play of Self and other in Ritual and Theatre By John Emigh

-Balinese Masks: Spirits of an Ancient Drama By Judy Slattum and Paul Schraub

-Revealing Masks: Exotic Influences and Ritualized Performance in Modernist Music Theater By W. Anthony Sheppard

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