September 25, 2007

Au revoir, Marcel Marceau

My childhood heroes continue to exit the stage, as do heroes of my adulthood. One by one, they release their tools — pens and papers, uniforms and costumes, needles and threads, batters and mixes. Now, they live in memory. And, in some lucky situations, preserved on paper, canvas, vinyl, and digitized bits of reality in multiple formats.

How I dearly loved them, and how they fascinated, entertained, and enlightened me endlessly with their courageously creative signature expressions.

Marcel Marceau spoke loudly in an inaudible voice.

I was a child in New York City when my parents took me to see the French mime who died this week, at age 84. Watching his speechless performances thrilled me as did listening to stories of his courageous exploits in the face of the monster Hitler and his systematic war to exterminate the Jews. Marceau's father was deported and died in Auschwitz. In his twenties, the mime forged identity cards (much as my grandfather did), proving youths too young to be sent to labor camps, and hid Jewish children from the Gestapo and the French police.

The artist spoke to and about all humanity. From an interview, quoted in The New York Times obituary
Mostly I think of human situations for my work, not local mannerisms. There is no French way of laughing and no American way of crying. My subjects try to reveal the fundamental essences of humanity.

What were the fundamental essences of humanity that my ten- or eleven-year-old girlhood memory stored? Fortunately the wonderful online magazine captured some —

. . . going up and down an invisible escalator . . .; attempting suicide; personifying all seven sins; and acting out the creation of the world, from amoeba to man, in 10 minutes or so. . . . His [was] . . . a world fashioned out of thin air. You see a statue, a pickpocket, a matador, a lion tamer, a soldier, a man passionately embraced by his lover.

How does the child in me remember so much about the mime from so long ago? Salon explains —

It's no accident that children are his best audiences, because his art demands active participation, imagination.

In the photo, which I took at the Arab Jewish Community Center in Jaffa, Israel, a bevy of children express themselves joyfully, silently!

Probably, they never heard of the great mime whose art was for them, too, of course.

I pray that some day these children will see his work and listen to his clear unspoken messages on the fundamental essences of humanity. Equally, I pray that they and all children will develop their talents and perhaps bring to audiences the enchantment, comfort, inspiration, and hope, as Marcel Marceau brought to me when I was a child.

No comments: