The dozens of films on which hair and makeup designer Heike Merker has worked during her decades-long career have varied in genre from period biopic to sci-fi epic to contemporary romance. She still, however, encounters narrative topics that are entirely new to her, as was the case when she joined the crew of Edward Berger’s World War I drama “All Quiet on the Western Front.” Watch her lay out the details of how she met this challenge and “got in touch with” the global conflict in the exclusive video feature above.
As Merker notes, Erich Maria Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” has twice been adapted from page to screen, “but never from a German perspective,” and she recognizes this as “a very important angle of coping with the past.” Lewis Milestone’s 1930 feature film adaptation of the novel won Oscars for Best Picture and Director, while Delbert Mann’s 1979 TV version was nominated for seven Primetime Emmys.
In crafting the makeup and hairstyles for this film, Merker did not simply emulate the work done in previous versions, but rather approached the task almost blindly and with a sense of acute curiosity. One of her priorities was to “support the individual characters in their experience through fatigue [and] deficiency,” which partially involved familiarizing herself with how the actors’ costumes affected their movements.
In discussing how mud is a major visual aspect of the film, Merker says she originally “didn’t think [she] could develop so many different variations” of it. Over time, she assimilated to the perpetuity of the soldier characters’ dirtiness, which resulted from them “crawling around all the time and having fights” as well as rain, bombings and spending time underground.
Berger, who served as both director and co-writer on this project, says Merker was “a wonderful choice” for the job of its makeup designer, while director of photography James Friend adds that working with her “was just a dream” and that her makeup “looked perfect.”
“All Quiet on the Western Front” is available to stream globally, exclusively on Netflix.
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