Last year for Halloween I was Bip the Clown, a famous creation of the then recently passed master of mime, Marcel Marceau. I thought it would be good to go an entire day without talking, yet it seemed to arouse violent annoyance in as many people as liked it.
I think it made me realize that I like mime, especially when it’s darker and scarier… as in the mimetic acting of German Expressionist silent film… as well as comedians like Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon, Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin, who were all essentially mimes. And, come to think of it, so was Cesar the somnambulist in Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari… whom I was for Halloween a while ago… come to think of it…
Mime has its roots in ancient Greece but most conventions of modern mime were developed by the Bohemian mime, Jean-Gaspard Deburau, who adapted aspects of the commedia dell’arte for nineteenth century French actors. His most famous character was Pierrot, the moonstruck, dumb romantic in white face and poofy threads. He was portrayed in Marcel Carné‘s Les Enfants du Paradis.
In the 1920s, Étienne Decroux created a highly original take on mime, focusing on statuary poses, a technique known as corporeal mime.
Jacques Tati worked, not surprisingly, as a mime. As a director, he mimed out his actors’ movements.
Steve Harley, in Cockney Rebel, frequently incorporated aspects of mime into his performances. And he always chewed gum, it seems.
Jobriath was obviously informed by mime, mentioning Pierrot numerous times and striking mime-like poses in pictures. He seems a bit nervous here, but there isn’t that much footage of him performing and he seems to get a little more comfortable and mime like as it goes on.
Renato Zero, hailing from the home of the commedia dell’arte, has clearly a been inspired by mime.
Klaus Nomi‘s look, his movements and performance all have a distinct air of mime about them.
Marillion‘s Fish seemed fairly mime-informed… and perhaps owed a little to Peter Gabriel.
I think that part of the reason mimes are so broadly detested is that most people who practice it are just sidewalk performers in whiteface trying to get paid for doing charades. Plus it’s just sort of a comedy cliché, like midgets biting peoples legs. Shakes the Clown certainly addressed it, as has Reno 911 and millions of struggling comedians and bloggers.
More postive portrayals of mimes do exist in film. Consider:
Hildur and the Magician (1969), Le Monde Etait Plein De Couleurs (1973) and Sueño de Noche de Verano (1984)
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century varieties of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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