Plastic Reconstruction of the Face, 1918

Circulating Now

One hundred years ago, in August 1914, the powers of Europe embarked upon a calamitous war which resulted in the death, mutilation, and suffering of millions. This silent motion picture fragment from the collection of the National Library of Medicine documents the work of a small workshop in Paris where men with terribly disfiguring facial wounds were fitted with masks.

Essay by Zoe Beloff

Originally published in Hidden Treasure: The National Library of Medicine [2013] and also available on Medical Movies on the Web.

A tiny, black-robed woman scurries down a deserted street and ducks into an alley overgrown with ivy. The black-and-white film flickers, as though what is left of the emulsion might crumble away at any moment. The alleyway dissolves; we find ourselves in an artist’s studio. The walls are lined with plaster heads. Are these death masks, works of art, or a gallery of lost souls?

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