The body generates music, the music of the soul, which is why mime connects deeply with the mythology of the human being and has crossed all cultures”. These are the words of Marcel Marceau in one of the last interviews he gave before retiring. The journalist who did it was Ima Sanchís and the interview was published in La Contra de La Vanguardia on May 30, 2003.
The most international French mime was born in Strasbourg on March 22, 1923, one hundred years ago today, and died on September 22, 2007 in Caors. He had decided to retire four years earlier and did so shortly after performing at the Tívoli theater in Barcelona that month of May 2003.
He decided to say goodbye to the stage in Athens, in the cradle of Western culture and, therefore, of one of the six arts of antiquity, theatre. The chosen setting was the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, at the foot of the Acropolis. His last performance took place on July 12 of that same year.
But how did he get mime to cross cultures? Marceau replied: “Being essential through the gesture, reaching metamorphosis, developing the gift of being a bird, being God, being a plant or being a planet. You have to be deep." But he could not explain the secret of the gesture: “First there is the gift and then the work mixed with all the interpretive tradition that has been transmitted throughout the centuries. But above all it is the secret of the human being”.
Just as Charles Chaplin created the character of Charlot, Marcel Marceau created the character of Bip, who was heir to Chaplin and Keaton. And this is not by chance: while the children of his generation laughed at Charlot's gags, Marceau cried: “I was five years old when I went to see Charlot's films and, unlike the other children, I cried; he perceived the tragedy in the comic. Chaplin was my inspiration. But unlike him, Bip is surrounded by unseen people. I make the invisible visible.”
Of Jewish descent, his real name was Marcel Mangel, and he changed his last name during World War II. His father was murdered in the Auschwitz concentration camp and he, around the age of twenty, was part of the French resistance.
His training went through the study of decorative arts and, with regard to interpretation, he was a student of Charles Dullin and Étienne Decroux, professionals in dramatic art. Starting in 1946, he was part of the Renaud-Barrault company, but he immediately specialized in mime, so that, since then, he has acted with his character as Bip.
The theater critic Joan-Anton Benach wrote in his obituary: “He was the patriarch of classical pantomime and a world reference point whenever it came to talking about the language of the gesture. For more than half a century, Marcel Marceau was at the pinnacle of the art of mime, and although since the end of the Second World War he had disciples and imitators for several generations, no one ever disputed the virtuoso perfection achieved in this theatrical genre. Marceau's art had its roots in the pantomime of silent films.