Performing Arts: Dance
July 24, 2018
The French Mime Marcel Marceau (1923-2007) stole my heart as a child and I cried through one of his last performances at Hunter College. Seeing Dominique Delouche’s The Mime Marcel Marceau, newly released footage shot in 1964 of Marceau, in Dance on Camera Festival (DOCF) 2018 at the Walter Reade Theatre was a bittersweet experience. Could his humble character, Bip the Clown, fill stadiums today as he did in his long career? A Jewish survivor of World War II who helped smuggle Jewish children out of Nazi-occupied France, Marceau was quoted in a Smithsonian article as saying “the people who came back from the [concentration] camps were never able to talk about it… My name is Mangel. I am Jewish. Perhaps that, unconsciously, contributed towards my choice of silence.”

Delouche, a French documentarian whose films have been shown many times in DOCF, honors that code of silence, never slipping into the usual documentary format of jumping from interview to archive footage. The closest Delouche comes to providing background information is a segment called “Lineage” with stills of mimes through history, including drawings of Commedia Del’Arte characters, and a marvelous stage moment in which Michael Jackson and Marceau exchange bows towards each other.

Delouche’s film follows Marceau in his white face, white sailor pants, striped shirt, and top hat sprouting one stemmed red flower, ambling through the traffic of Paris, as well as capturing several of his solos in a black box, and some moments on stage without his white face as a striking actor. On the street, Marceau appears like a mirage, invisible, perhaps, to only a few. His intent never seems to entertain, so much as to direct our attention, like a camera zooming in for a close-up, or a scientist examining minutiae of movement. Absorbed in thought, coping with dilemmas, big and small - passing time dangling an arm while leaning on an invisible support to breaking out of a cage, Marceau makes us appreciate the mysteries of the human machine, of living.

His lightness of being, his precise emotional changes, and, of course, his moon walk are all bench marks of physical theatre. Delouche offers a Valentine to a dignified artist. Always exacting, Marceau has a unique place in theatre history, his focus, timing, and his empathy are to be cherished.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Deirdre Towers

©2001 Eye and Dance and the Arts | All Rights Reserved