Sasha Archibald at Cabinet:
Cinema tends to make beautiful people look more beautiful, but it wasn’t always so. In its earliest days, film had an adversarial relationship to beauty, exaggerating the tonal and textural variations of the human face so that even the most stunning heroine became a blotchy caricature. Early black-and-white film stocks—first, orthochromatic film, dominant until 1927, and to a lesser degree its successor, panchromatic film—rendered dark colors darker and light colors lighter, turning features that seemed innocuous off camera (rouged cheeks, a constellation of moles) into distracting blemishes when seen on the screen. Pimples and freckles looked like spots of mud and blue eyes seemed colorless; lipstick made the mouth a cavernous hole and a complexion with sallow or pink undertones appeared, in the term of the time, “negroid.” Techniques borrowed from the stage also proved problematic: face paint used to suggest wrinkles to a theater audience, for example, read as tattoos on film. Cinematic makeup, then, was not born from vanity—it was a necessary antidote to the flawed medium of film.