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The Notebook hair/makeup


By Jack Egan
Holding its own in the midst of tentpole blockbusters, The Notebook, a bittersweet, traditional weeper, was one of last summer’s surprise hits. By early August, the film, directed by Nick Cassavetes and based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks, had grossed over $70 million domestically, more than double its $30 million budget. Long after its release the movie continued to draw audiences based on strong word-of-mouth recommendations that offset the largely tepid response by reviewers.
And come Oscar time early next year, the film may surprise again by nabbing a few nominations, not just for some emotional star turns by the actors but for some impressive crew contributions.
The film moves between two time periods, tracing the full arc of a romantic relationship. Relative newcomers Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling play the young couple in love’s first throes, set in the South toward the end of the Depression era. Veterans James Garner and Gena Rowlands (Cassavetes’ mother in real life) portray the same couple many decades later in a nursing home.
Crew members who added to the film’s distinct sense of place as the narrative jumps back and forth between the present-day pathos and the pre-World War II period when the romance first smolders include costume designer Karyn Wagner and hair stylist Milton Buras. The two rose to the occasion, especially in recreating the earlier period, when women wore flatteringly fitted fashions on top of many layers of foundation garments. And their hair was long and piled high with soft curls—the result of hours of effort.
“I had a lot of fun setting up the characters, both in terms of the class they came from, and their emotional tones,” says Wagner. For the women in the earlier period—played by McAdams as Allie and by Joan Allen as her buttoned-up mother who tries to thwart the romance between her daughter and Noah, Gosling’s ardent poor-boy character—Wagner used changing color palettes to convey plot development. “The mother’s clothes were cool and refined, and so were Allie’s, until she meets Noah,” says the costume designer. “Then the strong colors came in.”
Wagner did research by visiting the Costume Institute at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and going through old copies of Vogue magazine. For Gosling’s lower-class character she was inspired by the frugal tradition of sewing men’s shirts from calico-patterned bags made to carry feed and serving a double purpose.
As for the character of the aged Allie played by Gena Rowlands in a contemporary setting, “I was trying to convey the sense that even though she had lost her memory she was still a classy person,” says Wagner.
“I like to work with the costume designer to try and create a total look,” says hair stylist Buras, who enhanced Wagner’s costumes with complementary stylings. “I love period work because it really makes you search and exert yourself,” he adds.
Buras has had lots of experience with women’s ’40s hairdos, and techniques such as finger waves, and flat-head crowns. Favorite research material for him includes old copies of Life magazine and the Sears catalogues of that period. He also credits Jerry De Carlo, his assistant on the film, “who loves to do 1940s styles.” Working on the hair for McAdams took one and a half to two hours each morning. “We had to curl every day,” he says.
Based in New York, Buras, 62, had spent 18 years behind a hairdresser’s chair. He became a professional at the urging of a friend. He started on Broadway, then got into television, including a brief stint on Saturday Night Live, and then movies, where his credits as key hair stylist include Donnie Brasco.
Making his job more challenging was director Cassavetes’ firm injunction not to use wigs. That required Buras to have to do hair extensions to lengthen the actors’ natural coifs hair by hair. “Nick was very involved with the hair, the makeup and the wardrobe,” says Buras. “But while I was trying to be very authentic, he wasn’t bothered by that so much. In the end he let me do most of what I wanted.”
In terms of costumes, Wagner says that Cassavetes was “very hands on, very clear in what he wanted.”
Wagner, 44, is the third generation in her family to work in the movie industry. Her grandfather was a cinematographer and her father a sound mixer. Before dallying with a career in art, she wound up in Hollywood. Her credits include The Green Mile and The Majestic. Her next project involves working with director Brian Barber and musical group OutKast on a 1930s swing musical.

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