'All Faces are Masks': Visible Difference in Silent Cinema

BSL-English supported event

An exploration of silent cinema's portrayal of visibly different characters led by critic and filmmaker David Cairns and Chris Heppell, campaigner from Changing Faces, the UK charity providing support and promoting respect for everyone with a visible difference.

Hollywood, world capital of glamour and beauty, had an ambivalent attitude to themes of disfigurement and difference. The cinema of Lon Chaney used the art of makeup and physical performance to present complex characters with various disabilities or outward differences, and Chaney’s success in The Hunchback of Notre Dame would lead directly to The Man Who Laughs, also based on a novel by Victor Hugo. These films both exploited and criticised the sideshow aesthetic, combining the spectacle of “human oddities” with genuine, if imperfect, compassion.

With images and clips, we will explore the origins of the “horror” genre in connection with visible differences and discuss the I Am Not Your Villain campaign, which calls out those in the film industry using scars, burns or marks as a shorthand for villainy.


Performing live: Mike Nolan (piano)

Run time: 1h 30m approx. 


10 Hope Street Bo'ness
EH51 0AA

01324 506850


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