"I suppose the sets and the studio lights needed the girls and boys to be made to look ugly in order to look presentable in the movie"

(Please have a look at the image I have attached, which actually contains the text from which the line is taken.Please note that the word "pancake" refers to make-up in the text. Thanks to all)

In this sentence I have 2 questions - First, what does the author want to say by saying "needed the girls and boys to be made ugly"? Is he saying this because he is against the idea of using make-up and personally thinks that make-up makes people ugly? If not, then what does else does he want to say?

My second question is that, why are boys and girls needed to look ugly because of the sets and studio lights? What is the connection of sets and studio lights with them being needed to look ugly in order for them to look presentable in the movie?

Thanks to all, whoever sees this or thinks of answers for me :) . . enter image description here

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    He's just referencing the (well-known?) fact that that the kind of makeup used to make people look good on screen doesn't actually look good in the flesh. Which he's whimsically exaggerating - obviously the set makeup artists aren't deliberately trying to make people look ugly (but they don't really care if that happens; all they're interested in is how it comes out in the eventual movie, not what it looks like in close-up on the film set). Feb 13, 2018 at 14:33
  • Thanks Fumble Fingers! Can you confirm, if 'good in the flesh' means - look good in real life, when seen face to face? Really, really thanks though :) Feb 14, 2018 at 7:57

1 Answer 1


In the early days of movies the monochrome film they used was notoriously sensitive to the blue end of the spectrum, including ultraviolet, to such an extent that clouds in the sky didn't show on the film at all. As skin tones are at the red end of the spectrum humans appeared darker than was natural, and uneven skin tones looked dirty. To overcome this actors wore heavy white (or orange if they wanted to appear dark-skinned) greasepaint-and-powder make-up, painted on eyebrows, and eye make up for definition, and hence appeared 'ugly' to the human eye but looked good to the camera.

Find some background here and here.

  • Thanks a lot Roaring Fish! Can you also tell me what does the word 'sensitive' mean in regard to the monochrome film? I mean, how/why were the monochrome film sensitive to the blue spectrum? Did it not detect the blue spectrum lights? Really really thanks though :) Feb 14, 2018 at 8:17
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    You are welcome! I don’t know why monochrome film was blue sensitive - something to do with chemistry - but the result was film that ‘saw’ blue better than it saw red. Blues tended to show lighter than human vision, while reds appeared darker. Feb 14, 2018 at 10:17
  • Oh, I got it! Also, can you answer the second question of mine - "My second question is that why are boys and girls needed to look ugly because of the sets and studio lights?" What role did studio lights and sets have to play in this? Feb 17, 2018 at 6:55

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