Sign in to follow this  
SummerStars

Question about silent film makeup

6 posts in this topic

I've noticed this for quite some time, and had been curious about it ever since.  How come that some male silent film actors wear dark makeup around their eyes?  This seemed common for comedic stars.  Was this the kind of makeup that they wore on stage during the days of vaudeville? 

I know that Charlie Chaplin wore this kind of eye makeup in some of his earlier films, but so did this one other comedic silent actor, Larry Semon.

7124013_1043748971.gif

Since gags like this were common in silent comedies, it sure would be great to see that guy, while wearing that dark eye makeup, get sprayed in the face with water from a seltzer bottle, just like the way circus clowns do.

Stan Laurel, in the very first film that he and Oliver Hardy ever did together (which was a PERFECT yet unintentional pairing), was wearing dark eye makeup, as well.  It was something with a dog, and I had seen pictures from this almost forgotten film in a book in my college library.  Unless this film is lost, I would hope TCM would play it at sometime for "Silent Sunday Nights".

stan_laurel___the_lucky_dog.jpg

If you ask me, he looks sort of like a cross between Buster Keaton, Boris Karloff, and Lon Chaney.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It was probably to give the eyes a more pronounced look so the facial expression would turn up clearly on the antiquated cameras.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's the same reason characters from late 50's-early 60's cartoon characters were drawn with big, black outer lines:

So they'd contrast more easily on B/W film.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

early make up was interesting...they actually had to blend a lot of colors so faces wouldn't be completely washed out --the early film wasn't sensitive to reds or yellows (they showed up as grey/black) so bare skin would look blotchy or dirty.  Eyes got washed out without a lot of help (especially blue eyes, which actually photographed as white) and since a lot of silent acting was using their eyes, they probably thought they better accent them.                                          The Difference Between Silent Film & Talkie Make-Up - who knew they wore yellow lipstick and blue foundation to achieve contrast with early silent film stock?

  • Like 1
  • Thanks 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for all of the useful information!  I kind of had a feeling that certain silent stars were required (unless the choice was optional) to wear dark makeup around their eyes so that they can be see better on the rather prmitive and grainy film used back then.  I do know that when I was in a TV/Film class in college, my professor played the music video of the Smashing Pumpkins' song "Tonight Tonight", and many of the people in it had that dark eye makeup since the video was created to look like a silent film.  Not just any silent film, but that classic (and truly ancient) silent film "A Trip to the Moon" by George Melies.  It was REALLY neat.  I just never found the look of dark makeup on the eyes, like with Larry Semon, to look appealing.  Or especially Stan Laurel in his and Oliver Hardy's first film together.  It just looks sort of odd, sort of like strange clown makeup.  As I said before (and I wouldn't be surprised if this ever occurred with some comedic actor like Larry Semon), it would just be great to see one of those actors with the dark eye makeup getting sprayed in the face with water from a garden hose or a seltzer bottle, since this kind of humor was frequent in early silent comedies, as well as in vaudeville.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You mean like this?:

 

TTPublicity12.jpg

As you can see, Mr. Tyler's brown eyes stand out enough to not need the dark makeup although he is wearing mascara. Not how the lip rouge does not fully cover his lower lip but instead forms a small "bow". This photo is dated 1927. The silver/light gray on his eyelids is noticeable, and standard throughout his remaining silent films made in the 1930's.

Now, if you were to watch a movie like "Deadwood Pass" 1933, you might note that he is wearing the lip rouge during the opening scene where is in the stagecoach with Alice Dahl. At some point in the mid-1930's the lip rouge is gone though, in his movies.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

New Members:

Register Here

Learn more about the new message boards:

FAQ

Having problems?

Contact Us