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  April 1, 2002

Law Professor Explores the Art
of Creating a New Identity
By Meredith Carlson Daly

Thomas Morawetz has spent more than 30 years mastering the art of teaching law and philosophy. Now he has delved into a very different world: the art of transformation makeup.

Morawetz, the Tapping Reeve Professor of Law and Ethics, teaches courses on criminal law, legal philosophy, and law and literature, and has published nearly a dozen books in these fields.

His resume lists some impressive accomplishments: Fulbright scholar, Harvard graduate, and former philosophy professor at Yale. A reference to a new book on philosophy, psychology, and film - an unusual academic mix - is the only hint of another intriguing facet of Morawetz's portfolio.

The longtime professor has an eclectic expertise that bridges his passion for philosophy with his penchant for films.

Unappreciated Art
In his latest, highly readable text, Making Faces, Playing God, Morawetz explores tantalizing questions of identity and the human desire to be transformed.

The glossy book is filled with a before-and-after anthology of actors and their transformed identities.

Many of the examples are not well known, but others certainly are: take Eddie Murphy's multiple characters in the "Nutty Professor," which were created by Rick Baker, and the aliens in the various Star Trek series, created by Mike Westmore.

Morawetz examines the under-appreciated work of makeup artists in movies and their daring work challenging the bounds of identity.

Philosophical questions, such as, how well do we know ourselves and how much do we rely on others to define our identity, have always intrigued Morawetz. From a young age, he was impressed by actors playing the part of completely different characters: a 30-year-old as a 90-year-old in a movie, for example.

"To what extent do we wish to be someone else?" Morawetz asks. "Would we like to be invisible, to hear others, to inhabit another body, to have that power?"

Several years ago, he decided to explore the world of created characters and those who create them.

His book, based on seven years of research, celebrates the "artist-magi cians," as he calls them, who give people that chance. Greek Gods were able to transform themselves into animals, Morawetz explains in the book's introduction. But mortals inhabit the same body. We do change as we age, but the process is slow and "hardly magical," he writes.

Morawetz hopes readers will gain an appreciation for makeup artists as professionals. He equates them to architects or engineers, who work with a team of craftsmen.

"Like every other art, theirs is an art that conceals art," he writes of makeup specialists. "It works its magic only because it fools us into accepting what is created as a new and real identity."

The distinguishing characteristic of makeup artists is their material, he continues. They work not with canvas or oil paints, but with rubber, which they mold around living, breathing human beings. They create whole new people "with whom one can shake hands, have lunch, and go for a walk."

There is very little academic training for makeup artists. It is a "calling," Morawetz writes. There are only a few hundred makeup artists in California and most are self-trained. Many know as teenagers that they want to make the kinds of body-costumes they see in "Frankenstein" or "The Exorcist."

Researching the book was enormously rewarding on a personal level, Morawetz says, because he discovered a new sphere of thought.

"I know the world of lawyers and academicians," he says, but the world of makeup artists was unfamiliar.

Both groups are valuable professionals and share a common bond, he adds. For both, he says, the rewards of their work are in the doing; materialism and money are secondary. Both do what they do because they are passionate about it.

Photo Exhibit
Morawetz's photo collection, which he believes may be the most comprehensive of its kind in the country, has been shown in museums around the country and is on exhibit at the Museum of Television and Radio in New York City through April.

The cover photo of the book is an ominous photo of a demon/vampire created, but not used, for the movie "The Lost Boys." It is certainly a haunting example of transformation art.

The author of 11 books, Morawetz is considering another book or two exploring in even greater detail the lives of makeup artists and the role of transformation.

He says he sees about 120 movies each year and shares a personal ratings list with friends and colleagues, many of whom have encouraged him to publish his critiques.

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