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What does the Ghostface mask ‘mean’?

Everybody knows Edvard Munch’s famous painting ‘The Scream’, and if you’re reading this you probably know the Ghostface mask from Wes Craven’s classic Scream. What is their relation? I think there is more to it than the Ghostface mask simply being a hurried selection from a costume store before filming began. Munch’s painting and the Ghostface mask are not coincidentally related, it’s not just that the latter was inspired by the former. Critic Frederic Jameson saw the painting as being a portrait of pure anxiety in the context of modernity, arguing ‘its gestural content already underscores its own failure, since […] the cry, the raw vibrations of the human throat, are incompatible with its medium (something underscored within the work by the homunculus’ lack of ears).’ The weird figure in ‘The Scream’ is ineffective in its self-expression, of its attempt to scream out and proclaim its own individuality. The disturbed individual and its specificity within the painting both contrasts and corresponds to the Ghostface mask. The killer and its identity become one of a lifted aesthetic, a notion of some previous period re-emerging, in Roger L. Jackson’s words: ‘retaining a mournful sadness that’s almost dreamlike.’ The subject of the painting which screams transformed becomes within the film the contemptuous and sardonic subject which inspires screams. No longer is the screaming subject silent but neither is it entirely as personable as the painting. Ghostface is anonymised, as Wes Craven says ‘that horrible ghost face killer is us and […] to me the most important thing that we all have to do as human beings is stop externalizing evil and look inside of ourselves.’ As critic Walter Benjamin argued, film transcends paintings for its ability to traverse space in completely new ways, but I would also argue in addition that the innovation of sound in film lends another dimension to its revolutionary potential. The subject of the painting, once trapped within its soundless scream, is transformed by Ghostface, whose voice grants themselves at once a cruel and detached personality and power. If one looks at the original concept art for Ghostface we understand in its cartoonish forms and its pointed eyes that it bears almost too much personality as it were, rendering them too close in a sense, to the original painting. The final design of Ghostface is the postmodern answer to Munch’s work, sanitised of fleshy blemishes and the human character, liberated by its ability to speak and in turn inspire screams.

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