How the mask has played a starring role throughout movie history

From the cannibalistic killer Hannibal Lecter to Zorro and other Marvel superheroes saving the world, masks have been a central accessory for many characters in movies.

Hiding identities, misleading the viewer for good or evil motives: the mask has a long history in movies. And films crews and actors must wear masks on sets during the coronavirus crisis, it may only be the beginning for the facial covering. Is the mask about to take the spotlight? During the silent movie era, masked heroes were commonplace and popular with audiences, whether in horror, crime films and even comedies. As “talkie” films came to the screen, some also featured facial coverings to great success. The 1929 movie The Iron Mask, starring Douglas Fairbanks, featured a swashbuckling mask-wearing hero. Another version based on the same story of a French prisoner by author Alexandre Dumas hit cinemas in 1939. Read More: Drive-in cinemas are booming in Germany amid COVID-19 restrictions A means of deception Masks can be used as camouflage or to deceive others — even for the good guys. The hero is often portrayed as someone who, out of modesty, or because he has a blemish on his face, reaches for a mask before committing heroic deeds. Perhaps one of the most successful early uses of the sort was in the 1920 film The Mark of Zorro, when sword-wielding vigilante protected the people of California in the olden days. In the era of Marvel and DC Comics movie success, many superheroes have one thing in common: they wear masks while saving the world. Interestingly, few female characters, aside from Catwoman, are depicted wearing masks. Anthony Hopkins starred as Zorro in the 1998 film The Mask of Zorro Then there’s the dastardly villain who uses a mask to protect his identity. After all, a bank robbery without a mask is hardly conceivable. The mask in horror films Horror movies are particularly known for their mask-wearing antagonist. One of the highest-grossing films in this genre was Wes Craven’s Scream, featuring a serial killer wearing a cheap ghost mask while on his rampage. Few can forget the antagonist of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Leatherface, who wears a mask made of human skins — perhaps one of the most frightening mask uses in film history. In some cinematic scenarios, a mask protects a villain from getting close to the good guys. Hannibal Lecter, the murderous cannibal, for example, wears a mask to keep from biting those around him. Halloween is a classic horror movie Masks are also sometimes used to hide abnormalities, such asin The Elephant Man by David Lynch, which tells the story of a severely deformed man in late 19th-century London, or in The Phantom of the Opera, where the disfigured Phantom also uses a mask to conceal his face. These days, the masks we wear serve as protection against the environment around us during the COVID-19 outbreak, or against air pollution. The same is true in some films, where masks are worn as a survival tool. In the 1931 Austrian film Comradeship, masks protect people during a mining accident rescue mission. Another film which hits quite close to home these days is Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, which describes a fictional pandemic that took place almost a decade ago. Naturally, masks play an important role in the film, just as they do in the world around us now. German Film Awards 2020: the nominees ‘Berlin Alexanderplatz’ Six films were nominated in the top category, best feature film. Among them is a film that just premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival: Burhan Qurbani’s modern-day adaptation of Alfred Döblin’s classic novel, “Berlin Alexanderplatz,” originally set in 1920s Berlin. The film is an impressive three-hour epic on flight, migration and big city life. German Film Awards 2020: the nominees ‘It’s the Spoken Word’ “It’s the Spoken Word” by director Ilker Catak also addresses central issues of contemporary German society, showing some parallels to “Berlin Alexanderplatz.” In the film, a Kurdish man (played by Ogulcan Arman Uslu) wants to gain a foothold in Germany and gets involved in a fictitious marriage with a German. German Film Awards 2020: the nominees ‘Undine’ In the statistics of the German Film Awards, director Christian Petzold is listed as the person who has been nominated most often to date — but he’s never received the award. This time around he has another chance with his film “Undine,” which oscillates between fairy tale and contemporary drama. “Undine” (with Paula Beer) also celebrated its world premiere at the 70th Berlinale this year. German Film Awards 2020: the nominees ‘Lara’ “Lara” is an intense drama and another work on the list of six nominated films in the top category. Director Jan-Ole Gerster tells the story of a woman who had to break off her career as a pianist and who now dumps her frustration and passion onto her son, who is also a pianist (played by Tom Schilling). Corinna Harfouch offers an impressive performance in the main role. German Film Awards 2020: the nominees ‘Lindenberg! Do your thing’ “Lindenberg! Do your thing” is a trip back through time to the Federal Republic of Germany during the 1960s and 70s, offering a very entertaining view of the early phases of musician Udo Lindenberg’s career. Director Hermine Huntgeburth manages — along with her outstanding leading actor Jan Bülow — to create a musical biopic that’s also a historical snapshot of an era. German Film Awards 2020: the nominees ‘System Crasher’ The multiple award-winning “System Crasher” is also one of the films that are now competing for the main prize in the category best feature film on April 24. Director Nora Fingscheidt and her impressive story of a child (played by Helena Zengel), who apparently does not want to adapt to any German educational system, was submitted as the German contribution for the Oscars. German Film Awards 2020: the nominees ‘Born in Evin’ In the second main category, best documentary film, three works made it into the final round of the competition. In addition to “Schlingensief” (about director Christoph Schlingensief, who died in 2010) and “Heimat ist ein Raum aus Zeit” (a cinematic essay on German history), the third film “Born in Evin” (photo) was nominated — a personal story by Maryam Zaree, born in the notorious Iran prison. German Film Awards 2020: the nominees ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’ The third main category at the 70th German Film Awards, best children’s film, features only two works in the final round. “Fritzi: A Revolutionary Tale” is an animated film for children about the fall of the Berlin Wall. “When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit” (starring Riva Krymalowski, photo) is the literary adaptation of the popular novel by Judith Kerr, directed by Caroline Link. German Film Awards 2020: the nominees ‘The Perfect Secret’ The award in the category greatest box office success is already known. Here, “The Perfect Secret” by director Bora Dagtekin won the competition. The comedy is a remake of an Italian box-office hit and features a number of prominent German actors (including Karoline Herfurth and Elyas M’Barek). Five million movie-goers have seen “The Perfect Secret” so far. German Film Awards 2020: the nominees Honorary Prize 2020: Edgar Reitz It’s also clear that Edgar Reitz will grab an honorary prize. The director, who created a feature film series called “Heimat” in 1984, brought worldwide recognition to German cinema. Reitz is being honored for his life’s work. He was one of the founding fathers of the New German Cinema in the 1960s and since then he has made many award-winning feature films and documentaries. Author: Jochen Kürten (als)

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