"Marcel Marceau," a profile of the great French mime that airs on Channel 26 at 9 this evening, opens with shots of him painting in a studio. "He paints Marcel Marceau," says the narrator, perhaps unintentionally pointing up the ego that lies behind the innocent white face of the mime. Through his art, Marceau creates all the characters himself; he is not only Everyman, he is everyone.
Marceau, largely through the character of Bip, which he conceived in 1947, has popularized the silent art of mime, otherwise a somewhat precious offspring of pantomime, acting, dance, acrobatics and clowning. He has performed all over the world and has influenced thousands of young performers who find in the silent world of mime a particular poetry that encompasses a sense of alienation as well as freedom.
Unfortunately for this documentary, mime does not seem to translate well into the medium of television. On stage, the purity of a lone performer creating a world with his gestures and facial expressions can be enthralling; on the screen, where the camera has made magic commonplace, it seems somehow flat.
The show, first of two one-hour programs to be shown tonight, profiles the artist, while the second, "Magic World of Marcel Marceau" (at 10 on Channels 26 and 32), is a series of seven of his pieces, spliced together with Marceau's comments. Marceau is revealed offstage to be a handsome, graying Frenchman in his early fifties, retreating to a lavish country estate where he has planted more than 3,000 trees. He notes that while he uses no props in his performances, at home he surrounds himself with beautiful objects.
There are scenes from some of his dramatic works, such as a version of "A Christmas Carol," in which he played all the parts, and "The Overcoat," dramatized by the company he headed in Paris for 12 years. He is also shown with students at his school, where budding mimes are put through a regime that includes classical and modern dance, acrobatics, fencing and "experimental theater."
"I learn from my pupils, and I learn from me," he says at one point.
The comments from Marceau seem to be read from a script rather than spontaneous answers to questions, and the filmmakers fail to elicit much thought from him on the choices he makes in his performance--why, for example, he sometimes uses costumes and sound effects rather than relying solely on mime. Ultimately, mime is a limited medium for drama; it would have been interesting to hear more of Marceau's thoughts on the subject. "It's very difficult for a mime to tell lies," he says at one point. "For lies, you really need words."