Going beyond face values

A weekend of movies examines how our sense of identity is linked to the way we look
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The Independent Culture

The face on Film Weekend adds a celluloid dimension to the exhibition Future Face at the Science Museum in London. It is the intention of the organisers to promote discussion of how the sense of identity is linked to appearance, and to encourage interchange between the often separate worlds of art and science. Melissa McCarthy, curator of the Documentary Film-makers Group that is organising the weekend, feels that film is a good way to foster an interchange between arts and sciences and broader culture: "Almost by stealth you can encourage the audience to engage with biomedical issues, but at the same time entertain."

The face on Film Weekend adds a celluloid dimension to the exhibition Future Face at the Science Museum in London. It is the intention of the organisers to promote discussion of how the sense of identity is linked to appearance, and to encourage interchange between the often separate worlds of art and science. Melissa McCarthy, curator of the Documentary Film-makers Group that is organising the weekend, feels that film is a good way to foster an interchange between arts and sciences and broader culture: "Almost by stealth you can encourage the audience to engage with biomedical issues, but at the same time entertain."

For the first night - the Night of the Evil Surgeon - Professor Sir Christopher Frayling, rector of the Royal College of Art and chairman of the Arts Council, will introduce the Japanese arthouse film The Face of Another (1966). Frayling's forthcoming book on the role of the mad scientist in popular culture makes him an ideal compère. Directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara, The Face of Another is about a disfigured man who dons a hi-tech mask and finds that his new face brings with it a new, troubling identity.

Facelift, a BBC documentary from 1981 featuring graphic footage of cosmetic surgery, will be screened on the Saturday, and there will be a discussion featuring the psychologist and writer Susie Orbach and Simon Withey, a consultant plastic surgeon at the Royal Free Hospital in London.

Among the many other screenings will be Martin Scorsese's anti-Vietnam War short The Big Shave (1967), about a man who shaves off his face; Robert Drew's Faces of November (1963), "which covers the funeral of John F Kennedy shown almost entirely through faces: of the soldiers guarding the coffin, of mourning members of the public, of his young widow"; and the UK premiere of Saving Face (2003), by the cult writer and video artist Jalal Toufic, "which shows the decay of the posters of candidates' faces during the Lebanese parliamentary campaign of 2000".

A talk entitled The Outcast: Physiognomy and Society will introduce the politics of facial disfiguration and difference, and incorporate a discussion of racist propaganda, the notion of "the criminal face", disability and prejudice. It will be followed by A Stolen Face, a 1952 melodrama directed by Terence Fisher about a rakish plastic surgeon whose efforts to transform a petty criminal into his lost love have disastrous consequences.

The closing film will be Seconds, directed by John Frankenheimer in 1966. "Rock Hudson is bored, so he gets a new face," McCarthy explains. "But things don't go quite as planned. It's a very startling film. We wanted to end the weekend with a bang."

The Face on Film Weekend, Curzon Mayfair, London W1 (020-7495 0500; www.wellcome.ac.uk/futureface), 19-21 November

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