I’ll start this post with a mea culpa: I can be easily-distracted by minor details when I’m watching a film, be they details of dress, or mannerism, or verbal tic – anything along those lines is anathema to my concentration. Once I’ve honed in on this sort of thing, that’s it, that’s all I can see or hear, and I find it very difficult to stop fixating on it - but in recent years, something has started to take over in film which is not just noticeable to someone like me who gets hung up on a lisp or mad hair or the fact that there’s actually someone in the film who goes by the real-life name of Mimsy Farmer. No, this is a Real Thing. Something weird is going on…
This isn’t a matter which solely affects horror, by the way, but as I watch horror the most, it’s in horror that I inevitably notice it the most, whenever I’m trying to immerse myself in tension, or atmosphere, or period detail – whatever happens to be going on in the fictional universe of film which interests me at that particular time. What am I talking about, I hear you cry? Well, perhaps I can best answer that with an example.
Hobo with a Shotgun: not a realist piece of cinema, to be sure, but would you seriously expect a Gentleman of the Road to have a set of gnashers like that, after potentially years of riding the railroad, drinking fortified wine and eating out of skips? They bothered to get everything believable about Rutger Hauer’s appearance – right down to the dirt under his nails (unless he came in like that), but all I could see were those pearly whites. All I could see. A beaming grin, getting in the way of the character and set-up. The Hollywood smile - it is everywhere.
Yep, look where we may, actors and actresses universally look as though some lunatic has shoved a kids’ toy piano into their heads. Dental veneers, man. They freak me out. And even if you could make allowances that, maybe, the girl being chased through the woods by a masked killer might belong to the type of family where she could go and get her teeth ‘done’, i.e. have a dentist expensively insert huge, uniformly-sized and shaped blocks into her until you don’t know whether to shake her hand or play Chopsticks on her face, can you really believe it of Hobo with a Shotgun? Historical epics? Burke and fucking Hare? Victorian prostitutes who lived in a world of gin and domestic violence, with ne’er a tooth astray? If you saw Season of the Witch, then you probably noticed Nicolas Cage’s wig; it was a hell of a wig, to be sure. But I posit that they only put the wig on him to draw the eye away from the fact that we’re supposed to believe a 14th Century mercenary had such impressive bridgework. Ron Perlman, as well, who looks as though he wasn’t born but hewn out of granite – he had one of those flawless grins too. I repeat: two guys who had braved the Crusades and all of the violence and malnutrition which that entailed came out the other end looking like Larry fucking Hagman.
The OptiSmile has taken over all time periods, situations and characters being filmed, and by the seems of it no filmmaker or make-up artist can bring themselves to do anything to the OptiSmile which would in any way tarnish it or alter it, even though this is the only way in which it could be made to look at all believable. It really gets in the way of character acting, and it’s another trend which makes all those on our screens looks the bloody same. As if it’s not bad enough that all the women have the same figures and all the men are oddly hairless with those weird defined abdominals which make them look like genuine human centipedes. I can’t empathise with these people! Speaking of human centipedes, everyone involved with casting seems to be oblivious to the fact that these anodyne horsey grins are distracting no matter how outrageous the action on screen gets. I watched The Human Centipede; I reviewed it for this blog in fact, and I quite liked the film. However, I was as much absorbed by the own-light-source smiles of the two lead actresses as I was by the fact that those dazzlers were about to be torn out.
I’m not saying that I think the world of film would be better with more decay on display, but a bit of variety – you know, like we have in the world – wouldn’t go amiss, and no one is going to get hurt if they have to observe a mouthful of regular teeth. It’s fine. Honestly. And it comes to something when you’re breathing a sigh of relief because a cast member looks like a believable person, just because they lack that fashionable, moneyed, toothy look.
I’m told that actors and actresses essentially have to get their teeth fixed to stand a serious chance of being cast these days, and that’s one of the silliest cases of the Emperor’s New Clothes that we’ve had of late, because deliberately fostering disbelief on the part of the audience (or fascination with all the wrong things) isn’t going to help a film! It also dates and types a film quite clearly – in years to come, that might make it laughable, and with horror, that isn’t (usually) what you’re after. Pack it in, all of you filmmakers. If it’s good enough for Terry Thomas then it’s good enough for all of us.