March 12, 1985: If the idea of a spoken conversation with Marcel Marceau sounds odd, a telephone chat with the man is positively metaphysical. No postures, no big grins, no leaning against the wind or imprisonment in shrinking boxes, just this soft French accent across the air … from a mime, weaver of silent images, master of the art of the wordless.
He sounds the way you imagine his character Bip would sound if he became elderly, which he never will. He’s a lot more self-confident than Bip will ever be, too. He knows he’s the single individual most responsible for the remarkable surge of interest in mime in recent decades (since he first brought his version of the art form to North America 30 years ago) and he’s matter-of-fact about why.
It’s his artistry, he says.
“The public comes to see Marcel Marceau, not to see mime.” But why him, rather than someone else? “Why did Chaplin create what he did in film? This is a mystery. I was born doing it.”
Mime is his obsession. “I lead a very austere life. I need great discipline. I don’t drink or smoke. I’m not a man who goes to cocktail parties.” He thinks mime goes “to the issue of humanity.” That is why the crowds flock. “Because man is man all over the world. Our ability to laugh, to—how do you say?—grieve, it is a common denominator in man everywhere.”
He’s almost persuasive enough to make me take mime seriously. Almost.