Missed Oscartunities – ‘Suspiria’ Make-Up

If we are talking serious Oscar snubs, let me shine light on one that personally still hurts me. Before we dive into the snub itself, let’s go over some brief background info first. In 2019, the Academy announced the expansion of the Makeup and Hairstyling category from three to five nominees. While some may just assume this was strictly because the category was overdue to include five nominees, I think of this as the Suspiria rule. 

The Missed Oscartunity that I am here to dive into is Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria in the Make-up and Hairstyling category.

While Suspiria as a film may not be the Academy’s cup of tea, the Make-up and Hairstyling category is often a category in which we see films recognized that don’t fit the typical Oscars mold, including past nominees Maleficent: Mistress of EvilSuicide Squad and Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa. While Suspiria did have the horror bias working against it, the makeup and hairstyling team included Mark Coulier, a two-time Oscar winner, which added some pedigree for the Academy to feel a bit more comfortable acknowledging the intricate work.

The makeup and hairstyling in the film really gave you everything you could ask for: simple hair and make-up looks on the ballerinas in the dance academy, theatrical looks for their performance, 70’s era hair and make-up on the instructors, creature work (!!) and a full transformation on Academy Award-winner Tilda Swinton into two additional characters other than her main role in the film. 

Yes, Swinton plays three characters in Guadagnino’s reimagining of Suspiria. While Swinton is easily identifiable as Madame Blanc, she also plays both Helena Markos and Dr. Klemperer. For months, the team behind Suspiria claimed Dr. Klemperer was played by a new actor, Lutz Ebersdorf, who even had an IMDb page created. Rumors swirled that Ebersdorf was actually Swinton and eventually it was confirmed. But this creation of Ebersdorf highlighted how incredible the work of the makeup and hairstyling team was.

Swinton wanted to first transform into Ebersdorf and then play the role of Dr. Klemperer as him. Coulier, the artist behind the transformation, discussed in an interview that they “had to get away from Tilda’s feminine features—she’s got a long, slender neck, and a very feminine jawline, and high cheekbones, and we had to thicken up the jaw quite a lot, and the neck, to get her into those male, heavy-set proportions. She’s completely covered, her entire head, in several sections. We had a tubular neck that was pulled over, made out of silicone, and separate cheeks, a chin, top lip, nose, forehead, ears, back of head, hand prosthetics, fingernails. We had a wig on there. So, it was a full deal—bits of body padding—and we painted it up. We had a few reference characters—Germanic looking, 80-year-old male reference—which all worked really well. Josh Weston sculpted the makeup, and Anna Kiesser did all the paintwork on the pieces.” 

You can see the incredible work the make-up team did in a behind-the-scenes featurette:

While special effect make-up seems to go unnoticed by the Academy, this category itself was created in 1981 following backlash and complaints The Elephant Man was not honored for its incredible work. Since its creation, the category has been difficult to predict. The category can lean into fat suits, period pieces, war make-up or you know…Suicide Squad

Suspiria did make it on the shortlist for Make-up and Hairstyling in 2019, but the film ended up missing the nomination. Whether the reason was horror bias or not enough campaigning from Amazon Studios, we will never know, but we will always be angry. 

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