Why does every male in a silent picture look the same?


I was bored so I was watching silent films and I realized every man had the same pale-face style of makeup.

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The black and white film they used in those early days was orthochromatic film that could see the blue end of the spectrum but not the red. The weird make up was designed to compensate for the problem that, in orthochromatic film, red would render as black and colors toward the blue end of the spectrum could seem overexposed (washed out). Later they started using panchromatic film that captured the full spectrum and movies started to look more natural (and of course eventually they switched to color film).

Just as a side note, the differences between ortho and panchromatic film allowed for one of the most famous (or infamous?) special effects transformations ever pulled on camera live in one take: 1937’s “Sh! The Octopus.”