Wes Alwan: Good evening everyone. Thanks for coming. Thank you to the Brattle for asking me to do this.
I am here to talk to you about damn dirty apes and after that some philosophical themes. So I think that this is a really good film to be watching the day before Halloween. I actually wanted to find a good Planet of the Apes costume for Halloween tomorrow but I couldn’t find one. Even if I did, of course it wouldn’t come close to what they did with the make-up in that film, which is a kind of famous story in its own right. The movie almost wasn’t made because of the technical challenges in doing the make-up and presenting the apes as these humanized apes that really would just get a laugh out of the audience. One of the screenwriters, Rod Serling, the creator of The Twilight Zone, really early on was asked to do some initial drafts of the screenplay and he went through like thirty or forty drafts. But, before he was convinced to go through all that work, he said he couldn’t be associated with the movie. He just didn’t think it was plausible. He thought everyone would laugh. The studios initially felt the same way. It took years for the producer Arthur Jacobs to convince them to do the film. To do that, he had to do a strength test where he had people in make-up. The make-up artist John Chambers actually ended up winning an Academy Award. The film actually spent the most money adjusted for inflation on make-up of any film in history. Twenty percent of the Planet of the Apes budget was spent on make-up.
Why do I mention all this? I think the greatest challenge and accomplishment of the film is to not to make humans convincingly apelike but to make these apes convincingly human. To do so, you need not just a mask. Chambers adapted techniques used during World War II to help disfigured soldiers. He used latex prosthetics in addition to make-up so that the actors could still make emotional facial expressions. They could use their eyes to act, they could wrinkle their noses, and they could convincingly speak underneath the latex and make-up. It’s still not perfect, however. Planet of the Apes has a very campy reputation because of that. There’s still a mask-like effect to the make-up, but I think that works better than full-blown CGI. There’s actually something important about the fact that the make-up is not perfect and there’s still a mask-like quality to it.—I think of it almost like a semi-mask or almost a Venetian half-mask. I’ll talk more later about why I think it’s so important that the make-up is done like that.