“Do not the most moving moments of our lives find us all without words?”
– Marcel Marceau
This is the age of over-consumption. Humanity has become immersed in consumerism; a throwaway planet where objects are frequently valued more than people and the phrase “out with the old and in with the new” manifests an odor which, vigorously infiltrates our lives. Nothing is made to last. From cars to relationships, if something is no longer purposeful we “swipe left” and thus, it is rendered useless.
The modern world can be a tremendously expensive place to live. However, as we all fall victims to a disposable society affecting both our purse strings and emotions it is imperative we remember the importance of a culture that has always stood the test of time.
Storytelling is a crucial narrative to our society and the cultural wealth it generates is a priceless commodity we must nurture, as the modern world evolves so too do some of the finest art forms of storytelling.
Philippe Mora is a world-class LA based filmmaker and artist; hailing from the iconic Melbourne based bohemian family, the Mora’s have been a fixture in the Australian art scene since the 1950’s. Born in Paris in 1949, the son of George Mora, a French Resistance fighter, Entrepreneur and Restaurateur and Mirka Mora a renowned Australian artist, Philippe’s brilliant knack for combining his personal and artistic endeavors with commercial recognition is a talent in itself.
In 1967 Philippe moved to London to pursue his career as an artist and filmmaker where he found himself in a cultural colony. ‘The Pheasantry’ was a hub for some of the cities most creative revolutionaries and his neighbors included Germaine Greer, Robert Whittaker and Eric Clapton who became a good friend and composer for a number of Mora’s films.
With 39 film credits to his name and a number of art exhibitions, Mora’s work is an eclectic mix of avant-garde fascination, immense artistic dedication and historically rich personal attributes; both Mora’s’ parents were Jewish refugees and holocaust survivors. One gets the feeling, that Philippe is fueled by an innate drive so powerful the only possible outcome is the creation of such exquisite and intimate work leaving the audience with one choice – to love and appreciate the art form which is wholeheartedly Philippe Mora.
An artist, a filmmaker, and visionary, Philippe Mora is an indisputable storyteller whose invaluable artistic narrative must be cultivated, never to conform to society and most importantly, never to be disposed.
Alixandra: Your work is wonderfully stylized and personable with your latest documentary Monsieur Mayonnaise revealing your family history and how mayonnaise did in fact save innocent souls from the Nazi’s. What inspired you to create this project and what were some discoveries you made along the way?
Philippe Mora: The origin of the documentary has a few angles. I have been working on a feature film Monsieur Mayonnaise for many years ever since Marcel Marceau started sharing details with me in LA. Monsieur Mayonnaise was my fathers code-name in the French Resistance and Marceau (who would later become my Godfather) worked closely with him and told me the story about how my father and other members of the Resistance dressed up as Catholic nuns to smuggle children and adults across the boarder. My father noticed that the Nazi Custom Officers would not open baguette’s or sandwiches if they had mayonnaise smeared on them in fear of getting sauce on their gloves. So, he spread the word throughout his fellow Resistance members and they began to put all documents in wax paper, and conceal them with mayonnaise in baguettes. It is because of mayonnaise thousands of souls escaped across the boarder and survived.
The feature is almost ready to go now as a Resistance epic!
Meanwhile, documentarian Trevor Graham, after seeing some of my art work on Facebook approached myself with an idea to make a film about me creating a graphic novel. I watched Trevor’s film Make Humus Not War, liked it and so agreed to work with him. Originally it was going to be based on my graphic book about the history of art which is still in progress. However, Trevor was able to get financing more easily if the story was about Monsieur Mayonnaise as I had related it to him. So, I agreed to switch horses for the documentary. It’s worth mentioning that Stanley Kubrick’s publicity guy, Brian Jamieson, at Warner Brothers years before, told me to use that title after I told him the story! He was right, everyone likes that title immediately.
Trevor set up two things which really had impact on me while filming. The first was meeting Giselle Fourier whose family hid my family for two years from the Nazi’s during World War 2 ,the second was meeting Dr Henri Parens,who my father helped get to safety in the U.S. The Resistance Organization (today Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants-OSE) had various routes out of Vichy, France. I believe dad helped Henri get on a boat to Boston via Lisbon. My father worked for OSE. He had one day to teach Henri some English. He taught him to say “I want to be a doctor!” Which is EXACTLY what he did!
A: With your impressive resume you have captured a range of genres. What have you enjoyed creating the most?
PM: When it comes to genres I have no preference but now I am getting fussier about the content and it’s meaning. I don’t want to make anything I don’t want to watch. I see art and film as all part of the same minestrone. Its bad in my view to pigeonhole people into categories. Artists are artists period. Was Cocteau an artist or filmmaker? He used whatever medium he felt was appropriate. DaIi worked with Hitchcock and Disney. He made the first sound feature in France with Bunuel. So for me painting and film are the same thing. (Painting is cheaper.)
I framed a film screen in 1970 at Sigi Krauss Gallery, London, to make the point. It was back projection. Filmed in 8mm. It was Passion of Christ starring Jenny Kee and Michael Ramsden. Kubrick came to see it and used the giant penis sculpture made by a friend also on exhibit, in Clockwork Orange. We were crossing all kinds of lines but the point was we were using all media: we were not looking at career pigeonholes but at art.
Many great director’s were excellent graphic artists: Kurosawa and Resnais come to mind and in my opinion comics are the closest art-form to film.
A: You come from a culturally wealthy artistic family and you too are a talented artist with your work being a fusion of your creative ability. In your early days in London you became quite successful in the art world and provided works for “The Beatles Illustrates Lyrics.” At this time did your creative ambitions solely focus on being an artist or were you always driven towards film?
PM: In the late Sixties I did get media attention and some great critical attention in the Times (Guy Brett), Art and Artists, and Art International (R.C.Kennedy). My anti-Art or Dada meat sculpture made the cover of Time Out and a royal scandal when Princess Margaret complained about the odor from the gallery. Scotland Yard ultimately ordered the sculpture destroyed as a health hazard, which I thought was a fitting Dada end. However, film was always on my mind and I never stopped shooting 8mm, Super 8 and 16mm. Trouble in Molopolis with the unlikely producing duo of Arthur Boyd and Eric Clapton was my first 35mm film in 1969 and starred Germaine Greer. The premiere was held in aid of OZ Magazine at the Paris Pullman in Chelsea.
A: Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper and Eric Clapton are just a few of the renowned talents you have worked with. What inspires you to work with someone?
PM: Many times the cast ends up being the result of schedules and availability. For Mad Dog it was close between Hopper, Martin Sheen, Jason Miller, Stacy Keach. I originally wanted James Coburn for The Return of Captain Invincible however, he did not get the humor. Alan Arkin did. I worked later with James on a drama Death of A Soldier. Walken’s agent wanted $700,000 which was a fortune for us, but we scraped it together and I am glad we did. All of these actors were artists in their own right, so communication on an artistic level was comfortable and in my opinion, effective.
I have worked with a clinically insane person but I do not recommend it. He got a good review! If actors are incompetent I treat the scene as a documentary. I started out very young and was a bit scared of actors. Now I love them, and sometimes go in front of the camera which has been helpful in my understanding of the process.
A: What next for Philippe Mora?
PM: It is often the fate of filmmakers to have many projects in the air to see what lands first. Some projects take decades. I am no exception. Although, with the new digital freedom one can just go out and start shooting. I am working in many genres at the moment including my most recent film French Movie which, is a genre hybrid of parody and serious current and historical events. I have current projects based around surrealism, General Sir John Monash, Goethe, Nazi mothers, more documentaries, two musicals and two animation projects.