Are they ready for a high-definition close-up?
By Catherine Elsworth in Los Angeles
The unforgiving clarity of high-definition television has induced paranoia among celebrities obsessed with their appearance.
The technology, soon to become available in Britain, produces images so sharp that even subtle imperfections, usually hidden by make-up or flattering lighting, are brutally exposed.
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Hollywood commentators have begun savaging stars normally considered attractive who appear haggard or saggy in the new medium, which boasts resolution six times that of normal television.
Distressed celebrities are rushing to plastic surgeons and dermatologists for Botox or laser treatments. Technical and make-up experts are, meanwhile, devising increasingly ingenious techniques for masking flaws such as acne scars and bulging veins.
Philip Swann, whose website TVPredictions.com covers television technology, said: "With high-definition television facial imperfections and ageing signs are dramatically visible." He said many celebrities were "scared to death" by the technology.
"New make-up techniques are being worked on and I get e-mails from actors expressing concern because they are going on shows in high definition and it's not like going on regular TV - it's like being naked. You think Cameron Diaz is flawless until you see her in high definition. She looks like a different person."
Swann recently produced a scathing analysis of stars' high-definition looks. They included Demi Moore, whose complexion was described as "coarse and leathery", and Donald Trump, who appeared "puffed up … and covered with an odd mixture of orange and white".
Heather Locklear was cited as "a classic case of the HDTV effect. In regular TV, she still looks great, sexy as ever. But in high-def, the ageing lines and wrinkles are everywhere." Top of his list was Teri Hatcher, the Desperate Housewives actress, who is described as looking "really desperate". Hatcher's forehead is said to have "bulging veins, making it look like a page from a road map".
According to Swann, celebrities who appeared flawless on high-definition television included Mischa Barton, Anna Kournikova, Eva Longoria, Catherine Zeta Jones and Jessica Alba.
"High definition as a medium is a brutal mistress," said Cynthia McCourt, a veteran of film and video production who is now a technical consultant. With traditional make-up appearing "painterly and obvious on HD … new cosmetics must be translucent and ever-so-slightly reflective," she said.
Cap Lesesne, a New York-based plastic surgeon, recently told the Australian Financial Review about a newsreader who, despite her youthful good looks, wanted surgery because her programme was about to begin broadcasting in high definition. The differences between high definition and conventional broadcasts are more striking in America where television images are made up of 525 lines compared with 625 on British screens.
Swann thinks that the technology could affect casting decisions and the longevity of careers. He believes that it could wrong-foot the "Hollywood glamour machine" which turns ordinary-looking people into stars, thanks to glossy magazine shoots and air-brushed videos. "Take Britney Spears," said Swann. "If you see her in high definition you realise she's actually not so very attractive."
In Britain, Telewest cable customers will get the first regulary high definition broadcasts early next year, followed by BSkyB's national service. The BBC will make high definition programmes available to satellite and cable viewers within months.
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