Michael Westmore is an Oscar and Emmy-awarded makeup artist. But his greatest work was for a film released before the official Academy Award for makeup.
In addition to his lengthy career in TV and film, starting as John Chambers’ apprentice in the early 1960s, Michael Westmore served as makeup department head of Star Trek for the franchise’s films and TV shows from 1987 to 2005. He was nominated for a Best Makeup Academy Award for Star Trek: First Contact in 1996 as well as for The Clan of the Cave Bear in 1986 and 2010 in 1984. He won the Best Makeup Oscar in 1985 for Mask.
But it was a 1980 film that possibly produced his greatest work, even though it came before the time when makeup was regularly awarded by the Academy. Raging Bull was director Martin Scorsese’s epic boxing biopic of real-life middleweight Jake LaMotta. A bruiser from the Bronx, LaMotta was known to be as tough outside the ring as he was in it, where he became middleweight champion in the 1950s after a decade’s struggle. Brought in to create the makeups and effects was Michael Westmore, coming off nearly two decades in the business at that point, including a sleeper boxing film of the late 1970s called Rocky.
Recreating a Boxer
For the new film, Westmore created various likenesses for LaMotta, played by Robert DeNiro in an Oscar-winning performance. In the story, the character goes from the 20-something Jake in his fighting prime, to the 40-something retired Jake 60 who is pounds overweight. DeNiro wore different foam rubber noses that Westmore fabricated for the various life stages. For the boxing sequences, Westmore also made eyelids for the extreme cuts and bruises that LaMotta endured.
For closeups of LaMotta’s nose breaking, Westmore made a nose rigged with a teeter-totter sitting over the bridge of DeNiro’s nose. Westmore said, “It had a wax nostril on one side. So, when you actually put the glove into the nose, it crushed the wax nostril which hit the teeter-totter which went across the bridge of the nose and pushed it down. It was made to actually look like it broke on camera.” Westmore rigged other effects such as eyebags hooked up to hypodermic needles with tubes under the skin to simulate blood coming out of LaMotta’s face when he’s received a punch to the head. On camera, with Scorsese’s slow-motion preferences and Michael Chapman’s black-and-white cinematography, these makeups and effects were of the highest caliber of realism.
Of his time on Raging Bull, Michael Westmore said, “When I finished Raging Bull, I literally said to myself, ‘I probably will never do another movie like this the rest of my life.’ I’m really glad and happy I’ve had my one shot on a film like this.” According to many film critics’ circles, Raging Bull was considered the best film of the 1980s.