David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve in ‘The Hunger’
Before the advent of photography as a widespread practice available to common citizens, it was not unusual to take casts of the faces of prominent personages in the moments after death. For those who had logged noteworthy accomplishments, it was a way to fix the memory of that person, to remind one of his (seldom her) reality. A quick round of Googling reveals the existence of death masks of such well-known folks as Abraham Lincoln, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Napoleon, Ludwig van Beethoven, Benjamin Franklin, Ulysses S. Grant, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin), Martin Luther, Richard Wagner, and Isaac Newton.
Once you hit the mature years of the 20th century, death masks become far rarer. For some reason there is one for James Dean, and Nazis are statistically overrepresented in the group, there being death masks for Reinhard Heydrich, Heinrich Himmler, and Erwin Rommel. It’s not a thing we do anymore. In the age of Facebook, even un-famous people are often photographed incessantly, so the need is not as pressing to fix our memory of a person’s visual appearance. There’s always plenty of pictures out there!
To the best of my knowledge, there never was a death mask taken of the distinctive visage of David Bowie, but a “life mask” was taken, during the making of Tony Scott’s moody vampire flick The Hunger. In one point in The Hunger, the vampire John Blaylock rapidly ages several decades, so it was necessary to depict Bowie as an old man. Rather than subject Bowie to extra makeup sessions, the life mask was taken to make life easier for Dick Smith, in charge of makeup effects for the movie.
The process of making “old Bowie” is documented in Anthony Timpone’s Men, Makeup, and Monsters: Hollywood’s Masters of Illusion and FX, of which a relevant page is shown above.
At the risk of being called morbid, it would certainly be an apt sign of devotion to have a casting of Bowie’s life mask in your living room, and just such a possibility is currently being provided by Kirstie Hewer of Classic Castings, located in Warwickshire, England. They are made from plaster of Paris and come in white, silver, and copper as well as an iconic Aladdin Sane face paint version. The price for the single-color version is £40; the Aladdin Sane one is £60 (shipping in the U.K. is £6.50; international £30).
via Church of David Bowie
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
David Bowie: ‘Aladdin Sane’ latex mask