Horror and Romance

British Academy

the technologizing of the body

 Lon Chaney and Elinor Glyn ‘suffering for their art’ in five films of 1920s

The project

Medical procedures and performances

Many artists have described their perceptions, but very few have put themselves through medical procedures and performances for the sake of exploring the insights it gives. This project will demonstrate changes in attitude to the technologizing of the body through the creative work of two innovators of popular fiction who applied their embodied knowledge to enlarge their audience’s emotional and intellectual understanding of the treatment of deformity and disability.

In the 1920s the celebrated actor Lon Chaney pioneered make-up techniques and bespoke appliances to create his characters on screen, going though the painful procedures required. His contemporary Elinor Glyn, a celebrity author, filmmaker and glamour icon, spent a year putting herself though facial and bodily rejuvenation procedures, and wrote this experience into her novels and films. For both, their intimate and unique personal experience lead to five films which creatively and successfully addressed the latent fears of technologizing the body.

This is a joint project between Karen Randell, Professor of Film, and Alexis Weedon, Professor of Publishing, at the University of Bedfordshire and is funded by the British Academy SRG1920\101483

Actor and Author

Lon Chaney

The celebrated actor Lon Chaney pioneered specialist make-up techniques and created bespoke appliances to construct his characters on screen, going through much pain and discomfort resulting in permanent damage to his body. His depiction of the amputee in The Unknown (1927) and The Penalty (1920) and of facial disfigurement in Phantom of the Opera (1925) engaged the audience’s visceral emotions in the genre of horror and affectively exposed fears of social dysfunction and trauma.


Elinor Glyn

Chaney’s  contemporary Elinor Glyn, author and Hollywood filmmaker, was known for her beauty regimes and her definition of ‘It’ or sexual allure. In 1926 Glyn underwent her own facial procedure, the same year that Suzanne Noël published La Chirurgie Esthetique, describing facelift, eye lift, and the correction of burns and scars. In Glyn’s fiction Man and Maid (1922) her war veteran hero rebuilds his sense of self after amputation and in The Mask of Love (1930) the main character undergoes surgery and therapeutic regimes to change his appearance leading to love and fulfilment.