Certainly better than the makeup in Lhomme qui Rit, not as good as Jack Pierce’s design though, granted this one could be labeled the man who smirks, i have strong feelings for how the makeup is done in films with my favorite literary characters,especially Erik and Gwynplaine, Not to mention the Creature from Frankenstein
I know I said “don’t get me started,” but I thought about it so I’m started already, and it’s already been an emo-day, so I may as well go-for-broke. I just hope you don’t mind having this conversation. And anyone who wants to join in, feel free.
I posted this morning on Clair de Lune with images of the makeup used for John Barrymore, which, I think all of us agreed, looked really good (for at least the one half of his face on which it was applied). Since there is no way to see how well it moved or how little it impaired his performance, those few visuals are all we have to go on. And this brings up the issue of visual representations through various media and venues.
First, when it comes to storytelling, there are two aspects that need to be present in Gwynplaine’s appearance: The Horrific and The Absurd. Both vary from incarnation to incarnation. But there is another unrecognized element that is imperative to keep in mind: Realism, both in Appearance and Functionality.
Second, I think it’s important to realize that stage makeup is going to be much different than movie makeup as the stage is usually at a distance from its audience and only needs to look good at that distance. It will likely be bigger, brighter, and less realistic up close. Film on the other hand will get much closer and much more intimate with the performers and the makeup has to be a great deal more believable, even at the price of vision, because the demands are greater.
Looking therefore at film, I don’t think anyone will argue that the Jack Pierce design is incredible. It captures Hugo’s vision better than any incarnation I have seen (save for perhaps graphically, although even that is highly debatable), a successful mix of the pitiable and the horrific, and visually it reads beautifully. But it has one serious flaw with it: Conrad Veidt could not speak while wearing the prosthetic/denture set. Fortunately, that film was a silent, so speaking was not a great barrier to great makeup. Horrific? Yes. Absurd? Yes. Realistic in Appearance? Yes. Functional? No.
Heading into the post-silent film world, there are other examples of grimaces in makeup. Mr. Sardonicus (1961) has a character that sports a Gwynplaine-like grimace, but this affect is achieved through, what has been described in articles pertaining to the production as, a mask that enabled Guy Rolfe to speak behind it, but while the visual implications are well-driven home upon the audience, it doesn’t move. It doesn’t look real. From the perspective of a twenty-first century audience, it just doesn’t hold up. Horrific? Yes. Absurd? Yes. Realistic in Appearance? No. Functional? No.
Then there’s L'uomo che ride (which I haven’t seen yet, but of which I have seen visuals) and it appears to also utilize dentures. This however does not impress upon me the existence of a frozen grimace. It is less about the mouth in this instance than it is about really gnarly teeth that happen to protrude out of the mouth giving it that lifted and twisted appearance. It doesn’t look functional, realistic, or the least bit in keeping with the Hugo visual. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see a smile or laugh there at all. Horrific? Yes. Absurd? No. Realistic in Appearance? No. Functional? No.
Then we have L'homme qui rit (1971). For much of the time, it looks like the same denture treatment. Sometimes it looks like he can’t speak at all and other times he can which makes me wonder if they dubbed over many of the scenes due to the difficulty of the makeup (no idea though, so if you know, let me know?). Sometimes it looks really good and at others not so much, and I can’t even say that the less-realistic times fit within narrative flow (ie, Ursus’ performances). Horrific? Yes. Absurd? Maybe. Realistic in Appearance? Sometimes, some scenes much more than others. Functional? No.
And then we’re at L'homme qui rit (2012). I have read a lot of criticism over the makeup. I can understand it. If the character is supposed to be horrific, then he should be horrific. Frankenstein’s Creature? Phantom of the Opera? The uglier and more grotesque the better. But in this case, I wasn’t upset about it which, considering how passionate I am on the story, may seem unusual. But here’s why: the movie makes a great big show out of absurdity, of looking absurd, of being absurd, of being perceived as absurd. If you don’t believe me, look at the depiction of the courtiers, for they looked more like clowns than the clowns did. And while some may disagree, having a big smile carved into your face is absurd, especially when painted to be more noticeable, as happens more often than not during the movie. Ugliness is just a side-dish that doesn’t really belong in this film’s world, because what’s really ugly is the poverty and the way people use one another. And moreover, the makeup, understated though it is, is entirely functional and moved very well. It’s not a Hugo vision or a Pierce masterpiece, but it worked for what it set out to do. Horrific? No. Absurd? Yes. Realistic in Appearance? Yes. Functional? Yes.