The Human Face is a 60-minute documentary made BBC Arena in 1991. Muscle Films produced the documentary with Wall to Wall television, with co-production finance from Island World.
Nichola Bruce and I wrote the script for the film and created storyboard drawings and collages of some of the more complex scenes. We spoke with Sinead O'Connor and about Leigh Bowery about being the presenter, but Nigel Finch at BBC Arena was keen to use performance artist Laurie Anderson. Laurie Anderson agreed to be the presenter or "talking head" and flew over to London from New York. Our idea was that the "talking head" would be transformed with specially created masks and digital effects as we explored ideas about physiognomy and perception. Laurie was initially disturbed when we told her we had to cover her face with plaster and latex on the first day of shooting in order to allow Christopher Tucker, the special effects artist, to create the masks before the end of shooting. Luckily she didn't get back on the plane, but collaborated with us on several of the scenes, writing dialogue and working with us to design how the sequence would play.
In one section of the film Laurie Anderson peels away the skin from her face to reveal the same face below. In another her face has a marble cast like a classical statue as she talks about ideas of beauty and proportion. In a third, as she speaks she transforms and distorts into a seventeenth century caricature of a housewife and jokes about the prejudices of the day. Towards the end of the film which explores the consequences of the Victorian theories of eugenics, her face undergoes an elaborate series of changes, each change representing a step down the "the evolutionary ladder" until she is transformed into a baboon.
The form of the documentary was unusual and was initially very difficult to make work as a conventional documentary. We always knew Laurie Anderson would be the "anchor" holding other elements together at first but it was hard to see how the many disparate documentary sequences would work together. Alex Graham was originally involved as executive producer and was really helpful with the factual elements in the film, but as the film became more amorphous, his partner Jane Root took over to work with us on the script and the voice over which helped pull the story together. I went to New York with Jane to work with Laurie Anderson in her Canal Street Studio to record the voice over and hearing Laurie's voice, described as sounding like "an airline stewardess on acid" by Time Out magazine, I knew it would help give the documentary the other-worldly feel we were looking for.