A Journey Into European Puppetry

Lucile Bodson

Back in Charleville-Mézières at the Puppetry Institute

Inside the Grand Marionnettiste (1)

Inside the Grand Marionnettiste in Charleville

And so after an early morning bus to train to TGV run I arrived at Charleville-Mézières with my French friend and translator Paulette Caron. The point of this trip was simply to present the idea of our Gravity From Above documentary to the Director of the Institut International de la Marionnette (International Puppetry Institute), Eloi Recoing, which is also directly connected with ESNAM (l’École Nationale Supérieure des Arts de la Marionnette) (The International Puppet School). We arrived fairly around 10AM and met Brigitte Behr who was quite happy to see me again. At that point I also met Eloi (for non-French readers that would be pronounced Ehl-Wa.) And Raphael Fleury, la Responsable du pôle Recherche et Documentation, the woman in charge of research center and the library.

Arabic Puppet Poster (1)

A poster from Charleville for Algerian puppeteer Hamidi Saïd

Unfortunately the library was under reconstruction and so was closed. And the students were having rather uneventful classes. But the purpose of this particular journey was twofold: to get permission to film the students and classes as well as teachers later in the year (financing allowing), and to interest the Institut in any possible support for the project. Some of this I had discussed with former Directrice Lucille Bodson back 2012, but one must recalibrate with changes in administration. (A similar situation has occurred with the museum in Lyon.)

Well our official meeting was to be help at 17:00 (5PM for you Americans) and Paulette and I drifted through an afternoon of French meal (I am suffering as you can see), wandering the streets of the charming, yet unexciting, streets of Charleville, performing a few chores and finally ending up at the Musée de l’Ardenne (Museum of the Ardenne region).

Students Looking at Puppets (1)

Students looking at Puppets at the Musée de l’Ardenne

For those wandering the puppet trail, the Musée de l’Ardenne actually has a great exhibit dedicated to puppetry, where we encountered a voluble class of students who were being given the museum tour in both French and English. (All of the puppet images here come from the museum.) The exhibit has a very good survey of the history of puppetry in France, not as detailed or thrilling as the Gadagne Museum in Lyon. But certainly worth the price of admission. The rest of the museum has its charm as well with antique guns, paintings and a glimpse inside the Grand Marionnettiste, the giant outdoor clock that is in the shape of a puppet with a little marionette show at the top of the hour. (See our previous trip to Charleville.)

Face By Pol Paquet

Large Face Puppet by Pol Paquet

At 17:00 Eloi took us into his office where Paulette had her first real workout translating between French and English. Although I would occasionally surprise myself by understanding more than I realize that I do. I presented the basic idea of Gravity From Above, which should be familiar to anyone who has been following this site for a little while. But just in case, a reminder might be helpful, the point of Gravity From Above is to investigate the art of puppetry in Europe to unveil its meanings in the past and its possible connections to the 21st Century. (I’ve got to watch myself, this is almost beginning to sound like a mission statement.) Eloi found the idea fascinating and was very much in favor of the project. I think also the fact that I had already captured interviews with folks like Jan Švankmajer, Josef Krofta, Henryk Jurkowski, the Brothers Quay, etc meant that I was also seriously interested in archiving this material for future use, which is certainly in line with the purpose on the institute. (Especially since two of those figures have passed away since I filmed them.)

Ugly Puppet (1)

A rather Homely Puppet at the Museum

We also breeched the subject of possible financial support for the project. While it wasn’t out of the question Eloi made it clear that he couldn’t promise anything. Yet I had the feeling that this was exactly the kind of project that that he heartily endorsed. And wanted IIM to promote. He talked about his idea of Poétique de la Trace, of a poetry of the traces of the history of puppetry, and of ESNAM & the institute. And the fact that I was already collecting a few those poetic traces that puppetry so naturally leaves in its trail. One of the intriguing aspects of puppetry is its long yet fragmentary and evocative history. And even in the present so much goes undocumented unrecorded.

BYRNE & ELOI.jpg

With Eloi Recoing in at IIM

Raphaele Fleury also made it clear that I could easily submit a proposal to stay for anywhere from a few days up to a couple of months in the apartment building we stayed this time as residency. And so I felt that they were completely aligned with the nature of this project. We will see what develops.

Bronze Marionnettiste (1)

A Bronze Nude Puppeteer? A curious collision of European cultures.

Speaking of the apartment a very odd occurrence woke me in the middle of the night. There had been some noise from students in the late evening, including evidently some singing, perhaps karaoke style of rather pointless French pop songs. These echoed in the classically echoey European building. Eventually I fell asleep but was wakened again at perhaps one in the morning by some other musical sounds. Generally I have a good idea of where any style of music might originate. But not this time. It sounded as if Moroccans had become Pentecostals and were playing eerie repetitious harmonic praise songs with a droning organ and electric guitar. Having described it that way does no justice to the strangeness of the sound and melodies. I drifted off to sleep again and awoke around 3:30 in the morning to more loud strange musical sounds. Were I not sure of what I was hearing I would have assumed it was a dream. Paulette who was in the next studio apartment, slept through the odd part. But it was no dream. I woke up and made a sound recording of my thoughts in a voice that Tom Waits would have envied with shards of the music in the background. Unfortunately, for the sound recording, the music had settled down a bit and is not too clear in the recording. And then I could tell that this interlude was finally coming to a close as the music played a hymn-like dirge at the end. And then silence. I have no explanation for any of this weird event.

But this is why I travel!

French Masonry

Looking out my back window at French Masonry

After a fond farewell to Brigitte at lunch it was time to depart Charleville; again much too short a stay.

Now on to Brussels…

Byrne Power
Charleville-Mézières
2/3/2016

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