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The William Fifield Collection


"Marcel Marceau Speaks"

Marcel Marceau as Bip



"These conversations with Marceau cannot but deepen people's appreciation and understanding of his art."

—Clive Barnes






Cover of Marcel Marceau SpeaksThe liner notes for the vinyl recording (1971):

Marcel Marceau talks—and talks and talks. The poet of silence is only silent professionally. The prince of mimes is one of the most verbal of men I have ever encountered.

     His mind is fast and his tongue keeps pace. Go and see him in his bizarre and lovely cottage just outside Paris. A converted farmhouse, it stands shyly but handsomely in its own grounds. It is a Merlin's cave of riches.

     Marceau collects things—pictures, objets d'art, bright little things that he tucks away like a magpie and scatters around his house. Some are of value, some merely offer remembrances of people and time past.

     He lives simply in his farmhouse. He eats sparingly and drinks hardly at all. He is a perfect host and a very serious conversationalist, in a way that few but Frenchmen can be serious conversationalists. He talks about art, life, philosophy, and women—not necessarily in that order of priority—looking like an urchin Voltaire, his bright eyes gleaming, and his unaccented but highly personalized brand of English bubbling out like a fountain.

     When he talks he moves little. A nervous gesture of the hand to rearrange his hair, or perhaps a hand out in explanation or confirmation. No, Marcel is not one of your mobile talkers—possibly he knows the value of movement too well—but the animation of his face does make a difference between seeing Marcel talk, and merely listening to him. Hearing this record for the first time I was very much aware of the man's presence—he has a voice unusually evocative of his personality, perhaps because it is a nonactor's voice belonging to an actor.

     Marceau has transformed the art of mime in his lifetime. Indeed he has made it a popular art medium, and he has himself become one of the most celebrated of theatrical artists. He can sell out a three-week New York season at the New York City Center, he plays on campuses all across the country, and his international forays from his little French farmhouse have become a way of life for him.

     Naturally he had teachers—Charles Dullin and, of course, Etienne Decroux, for example—and talks about these on this record, just as he talks, very knowledgeably, about the history of mime. But what must be stressed is the originality of Marceau's own quest. In many ways it might be thought that he discovered and adapted more than created—for he was through scholarship and instinct trying to recreate and then reinterpret a theatrical tradition as old as the theater itself.

     This process is one of the continuing themes of these conversations, and Marceau collects facts as eagerly as he collects curiosities and paintings. It is fascinating to hear him here talk about mime from the Greeks to the commedia dell'arte, from the way the Grimaldis moved from Italy to London (although, Marcel, it was Sadler's Wells they played at, not the Palladium) and how this influenced the English music hall tradition, which in turn, through Fred Karno and his great star, Charlie Chaplin, helped create the silent movie comedy that meant so much to the development of Marceau himself.

     Marceau philosophizes—here we find him philosophizing about the public, and the role of the theater. He also talks about the universality of humanity, and his denial of ethnic influences—he is half-Jewish by the way and during the war was forced to hide from the German Gestapo—in his world, preferring the more general concept of universal man. Sometimes he gives sharp little insights into his work—such as where he explains the role of the white mask in his mime—and he defines mime, its function and its place.

     Serious, engaged, and very vital—when asked whether he cares too much about old age, death, and suicide, you can hear his voice throw its hands up in horror—these conversations with Marceau cannot but deepen people's appreciation and understanding of his art. I owe Marcel Marceau much more than I could easily express here, and this record is another addition to that debt.

—Clive Barnes
Former theater and dance critic for the New York Times

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