Memory of the Grand Mime

In the winter of 2007 the death of Marcel Marceau was in the international news. I had over the years watched the development of his mime character, had seen other mimers always with the greatest of respect for this unusual and exotic art, but did not know that the Master had slipped away now. Quite separately and at his same age, I began to make strange painted pieces on shaped steel plate, which only later I realized were somehow connected to the art of the great mimers, although in a very different manner. Here is a roster of my winter's indoor work, confined indoors, but looking forward to springtime and new work outside. In the meantime. . . .

After a plate of 16ga steel was cleaned off, it was punched with two ton pressure for eyes

and a mouth appeared, which seemed to ask for a nose of some sort.

Shearing around the edges was cautious, roll back the edge line and then a little more nibbling

All this time just a piece of metal, experimenting. But when a certain whitish paint was added it became a strange white face,

perhaps an alien without eyebrows (I was thinking to myself?).

But I had seen him before, perhaps it was someone I once knew.
Perhaps it was a Mime?

You ask me a hard question and look to see if I have understood, you see my eyes do not blink, just blank in an unexplained stare.

That is all from the outside, so you think I have misunderstood.

You look again and my eye shows a crinkled and cracked cornea, as if of a man long unused to sight or thought. You think he might be dead, this living corpuscle.

Behind the mask I am watching you. My vision never weakens or shifting fails. I understand your impatience for an unanswerable answer. I await my turn.

Can't I shake a word out of you, you of the moronic stare? Have you no sense of reaching out in a gush of bright good will? Or will you stay there behind the fixed and painted mask?

When I am ready I will tell you what I know, and then I will be asking you a question you cannot understand. Then your turn to freeze your face and fix your eyes and I will know that you have no idea what I ask. It will be your turn, then to stare.

Facing the future unknown, it is sometime time

to set the mind firm and for the moment try

to hold it in, bind together but then

you know you have to relent and find

a softer way to let the gentle

manner of the classic mime

speak to you.

There will be

need to find the

soft side of this

hard bent metal plate.

There is a time to speak and also a time to be thinking and just be silent.

Often the speaking is long and silence short, but it should be the other way around.

A few thousand words and you can speak Spanish or Chinese.

A million and you have trouble expressing yourself.

It might be good to think first and not say too much and just go slow

So just ZIP THE LIP and maybe MUM'S THE WORD

"Sprechen ist Silber, schweigen is Gold"

There is a Haiku which tells about the pathetic anxiety of a simple country scarecrow, whose hat has blown off and lies on the ground at his feet. He look at it sadly knowing that he can never get it back on his head.

We all have embarrassments of this kind, slight personal anxieties which bother us most because they are situations that cannot get fixed.

Waking one morning we can ignore the bright red nose the mirror shows. We carry it with us out in front when we go to work. It will be there on display for the rest of the week, and we are aware of it every sickly moment of the day.

Of course these things are nothing compared to the permanent embarrassment of being short or too tall, being rough mannered when we want to be thought gentleman smooth.

No help in sight. So the order of the day will be --- Carry On!

What is more lovely than a full faced happy smile?

The joy of a child returning thanks for some little thing

of no importance. Or the calm and even smile a mother gives

to her child for a school report with teacher's praise.

But there are also smiles in times of sadness which mask over joy lost, not to be found again.

And smiles of desperation covering a flood of angry words, or fierce accusations . . . . or of tears.

And then there are smiles which droop off a side of the face becoming a frozen gesture which bespeaks everything that can't be felt or said.

There are many other kind of smiles.

The Smile of Sadness.

You must look closer.

You must catch the moment when

She reveals her self where the sadness

scars her face like the relic of an ancient wound.

Do not be embarrassed, she does not mind

because she knows it is there and if you see it now

she knows there will be no shock of later discovery.

That is the way it is, she is used to it

and in the end she would not want to change.

Excise the sadness and there might be nothing left.

The sad eyed lady of the lowlands lives.

Isn't that enough claim for a certain immortality?

Worse would be never noticed, like the graveyard gray

Of marble headstones marked with unknown names.

Something of sadness

about the eyes

which are dull

without flash of

light or color.

Looking down a long nose,

a mouth should be there,

but silence has capped

the words entirely.

Tears fall aimlessly

without feeling.

Or is there a glint

of hope looking

off somewhere?

We speak to her, miffed by the stiff blank face.

We scan the features which do not move.

Eyes are there looking out, we see dull eyes

peering through dark glasses of despair.

Since there is nothing more to say

so why a mouth which cannot fashion words?

Why a nose when there is no breath to breathe?

But there is still the image of a face

with the sad curve of a jawbone and a cheek

leaning in desperation toward the faintest hope

of someone saying something real which needs reply.

But there could be need for all the feelings lost,

a gesture of having heard and making some reply,

wanting to answer the question yet unsaid,

---- just one word in a desperate reply.

Sappho's every word has a listless sadness to it, a sweet soft edge of delicacy which could be heard as a tone of slight regret.

Her little daughter, her blooming apple tree, the girls who went away to far places leaving shreds of memories, these were all things of beauty to recall in verse, but remembering always has a slight edge of some regret.

The gardens blooming with flowers that all fade away, the smiling faces that smile less in the shroud of long time, the face of the goddess not quite masking the warships of men fighting with weapons in their hands.

Yes, there is a wisp of the listless in the contours of her face, you can see it in her tilting head and the eye that looks away.

It is there but it is not the ancient Sappho's face at all.

Look carefully. It is the face and mouth of our Jeanne Moreau.

William Harris
Prof. Em. Middlebury College