Movie Article

Makeup Test

Does an actor's onscreen hair and makeup ever bug you? Owen Gleiberman answers this and other reader questions

Elizabeth Taylor, Cleopatra | TAYLOR HAM Elizabeth's makeup job in Cleopatra reflects the '60s
Image credit: Cleoptra: TM & © 20th Century Fox Film Corp/Courtesy Everett Collection
TAYLOR HAM Elizabeth's makeup job in Cleopatra reflects the '60s

Does an actor's onscreen hair and makeup ever bug you?

Does it bug you when you're watching a period drama and the hair and makeup are so perfect, even when the character has been mending fences and shoveling horse poo, that you can't suspend your disbelief? Recently, I saw Cold Mountain, and all I could think about was Nicole Kidman's hair. — Michelle
The entire history of Hollywood period films is a cavalcade of incongruous glam styling. Just think of Vivien Leigh's gorgeous bedragglement in the ''I'll never be hungry again!'' section of Gone With the Wind, or Jean Seberg as the immaculate cropped pixie Joan of Arc in Saint Joan. Often, however, it takes years of perspective to realize that the way actors have been coiffed and powderpuffed reflects nothing so much as the historical era in which a movie was made. Cleopatra (1963), it's clearer now, is a profound study in '60s mascara, and even a frontier drama as authentic as Robert Altman's McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) features Warren Beatty and Julie Christie looking shaggy-chic enough to be at home on a counterculture commune.

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Originally posted Oct 15, 2004 Published in issue #788 Oct 15, 2004 Order article reprints