Friday, February 29, 2008

Mona Lisa Smile

Is the world’s most enigmatic smile a fake? Is Mona Lisa really smiling or is she faking it?

Because real and fake smiles are controlled by different parts of the brain, different muscles are used to create them – and this indicates whether a smile is genuine or not. When faking a smile, the brain signals the major muscles in the cheeks to contract and pull the corners of the mouth outwards.

Genuine smiles are triggered by feelings of pleasure which pass through the part of the brain that processes emotion. When a smile is real, the eyes crease up, and the end of the eyebrows dip slightly.

Looking at the right side of the painting of Mona Lisa it is instantly evident that she has definite up-turned lips for a smile.

But her eye on this side does not show 'laughter lines' at the outer corner of the eyes where the skin crinkles up. There is no smile evident in this eye. Overall, this side of her face indicates her mouth is smiling but her eye is not part of it. This is a gentle 'polite smile' we all can turn on and off at will.

On the picture's left side, the body language indications are reversed. Her lips do not have a smiling up-turn, but, we can see that this eye hints of the tension associated with a true smile. The upper and lower eye lids have a slight upward pull at the outer edge. But a smiling eye without a smiling mouth contributes to an uneasy feeling of mystery and bewilderment of this painting.

The body language indicators are conflicting in this face. It is easy to understand how this could happen if Leonardo painted different parts of her face at different times. Her mood may have been different over several days. Her left eye may be her Monday eye, her right eye may show her Tuesday mood, her right mouth side possibly Wednesday, and maybe he painted her left mouth last and that gentle smile was for Leonardo on Thursday as he finished his masterpiece!

So the answer to whether Mona Lisa is smiling or not depends.

So what does this have to do with us? We spend a lot of time behind the camera lens and in the editing suite. We are practiced observers and can spot a fake smile from 50 paces. Fake smiles rarely "make the cut" into our wedding movies. Although it is a very subtle cue, viewers can also spot a fake and can feel there is something "a bit off" even if they can't place a finger on the inauthentic smile. That is why we film a lot on a wedding day; so we can be very, very picky and make each wedding movie feel unstudied and real, in the best possible way.

Some brides fear they will not look good in their wedding movie. We find that people who behave in a contrived fashion don't look their best. So, we don't pose people, ask for "re-enactments" (which can never capture the original feeling), or ask people to do cheesy unnatural things like throwing the veil over the groom's head of having the groom dip the bride. Because we allow the action to unfold naturally, we are much more likely to capture people's natural expressions. And, people are less anxious because they are engaged in actions that they would naturally do. So...with us, everyone looks their best.

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