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What is the fuss surrounding Bradley Cooper's prosthetic nose in 'Maestro'?

Bradley Cooper and Carey Mulligan in 'Maestro'
Bradley Cooper and Carey Mulligan in 'Maestro' Copyright Netflix
Copyright Netflix
By Jonny Walfisz
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The first trailer for Bradley Cooper’s new film Maestro has faced criticism for his use of a prosthetic nose to play the Jewish conductor Leonard Bernstein.

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Everything about the trailer shouts prestige Oscar-bait drama. There’s the monochrome colour grading and grainy film aesthetic, the focus on a charming single conversation cut with poignant juxtaposing imagery… and a big prosthetic nose in the middle of Bradley Cooper’s face?

The follow-up to his award-winning directorial debut A Star is Born, Cooper’s second film Maestro is a biopic of the legendary conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein. Best known for writing the music to West Side Story (and mentoring Lydia Tár), Bernstein was an enigmatic man whose homosexual affairs look to be a key feature of the film, which will premiere in Competition at the Venice Film Festival this September. 

While Cooper might have his sights on the Best Actor Oscar after he lost out to Rami Malek in 2018, it’s not his acting that has lit up headlines following the trailer’s release.

To play the Jewish conductor, the non-Jewish Cooper has donned a prosthetic nose. Some critics have claimed this plays into anti-Semitic stereotypes. 

Historically, performers have worn prosthetic noses to play Jewish characters like Shylock in ‘The Merchant of Venice’ and Fagin in ‘Oliver Twist’. The stereotype of Jews having large noses is one that was particularly played into by Nazi propaganda.

The online uproar has been so loud that Bernstein's family have responded directly to the criticism.  

"We were touched to the core to witness the depth of his commitment, his loving embrace of our father's music, and the sheer open-hearted joy he brought to his exploration," Jamie, Alexander and Nina Bernstein wrote about Cooper.

"It happens to be true that Leonard Bernstein had a nice, big nose. Bradley chose to use makeup to amplify his resemblance, and we're perfectly fine with that. We're also certain that our dad would have been fine with it as well," they continued. 

We won’t comment on whether we think Cooper’s use of a prosthetic nose is anti-Semitic or not. Instead, the Euronews Culture team gives its rundown of some of the most notable schnozzes in cinematic history.

Robert Helpmann - Child Catcher (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang)

United Artists
Robert Helpmann as Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang BangUnited Artists

This could be the most terrifying prosthetic nose of all time. 

To many Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a whimsical, heartwarming family musical. 

To me, growing up and still to this day, it’s the stuff of utter horror - all thanks to Robert Helpmann’s brilliant portrayal of the sinister, net-wielding Child Catcher. With his long and unmissable pointy prosthetic nose, Helpmann's character helped teach a generation of children why they should never accept lollipops from strangers. 

Thanks for the nightmares Robert! Theo Farrant

Nicole Kidman - Virginia Woolf (The Hours)

Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP - Buena Vista International
Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf in The Hours (right)Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP - Buena Vista International

It could have been Gérard Depardieu’s bulbous conk, but Nicole Kidman’s Oscar-winning schnozzle in Stephen Daldry’s The Hours is a far more interesting onscreen nose. Her portrayal of Virginia Woolf was a haunting one and awards-worthy; however, no one could let the distracting prosthetic go. 

Instead of recognizing it as a way to better make herself – one of the most recognizable women on earth – disappear in the role, it became the butt of the cultural joke in 2003. When Kidman won her Best Actress Oscar, presenter Denzel Washington announced her name with: “By a nose.” It was later revealed that film producer Scott Rudin supported the idea of the fake nose, but that financer Harvey Weinstein desperately tried to convince Kidman to drop the trunk. “I paid a million dollars for that girl, and no one knows who she is,” Weinstein reportedly snapped. He didn’t get his way. And is currently serving a 23-year prison sentence for rape and sexual abuse. 

Still, good news aside, it remains a depressing reality that when men are caked in prosthetics, they are brave and enhance their character; when it’s women who don even one facial enhancement, the conversation frequently tends to forget the performance and take a more sexist turn. David Mouriquand

Robert De Niro - Jake LaMotta (Raging Bull)

Shutterstock - United Artists
Robert De Niro in Raging Bull (right)Shutterstock - United Artists

Although a bit more subtle than other noses, at least in the beginning of the film, De Niro’s prosthetic nose is nonetheless a notable one in Martin Scorsese's epic boxing film Raging Bull. Almost having a mind of its own, this cinema prosthetic starts as only slightly noticeable as the young star starts his career, and develops into a fully grown russet potato by the end. Mesmerizing stuff. Savin Mattozzi

Ralph Fiennes - Voldemort (Harry Potter)

Warner Bros./AP
Ralph Fiennes in and out of costume as Lord VoldemortWarner Bros./AP

Last but not least, the ultimate anti-schnozz of cinema. For the Harry Potter film adaptations, Ralph Fiennes needed a memorable look to play He Who Must Not Be Named, the series’ villain Lord Voldemort.

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In a reference to the character’s serpentine leanings, the production of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire opted to remove his nose entirely. Instead, Fiennes appears on screen with two snake-like slits in the middle of his face.

The work to get the look was apparently painstaking with a team dedicated to editing out Fiennes’ actual nose frame-by-frame. The result though — like any attempt at prosthetic nose cinematics — is iconic. Fiennes’ Voldemort is seamlessly sinister. 

Fiennes almost looks weirder with his nose back on. JW

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