Documentary review: Tintin et moi (2003)
Like many kids, I grew up reading Tintin albums. Great escapism, which rivalled the Bond films for exotic locations, and had a humour all of its own. Today Tintin is about nostalgia for me.
With the new movie out in cinemas, seems to be a good time to review this documentary about the author of Tintin, which is regarded as one of the most interesting documentaries about Belgian Herge and his famous comic universe. The first film where Herge talks about himself, and not just other people talking about him.
Based in part on previously unreleased archive tape footage. Herge was animated using old TV-interviews. The animation of Herge felt like a ghost from the past, and watching encourages you to rediscover the comics and watch the new Spielberg movie, and see Tintin in a new light.
The film is a co-production between Denmark, Belgium, France, and Switzerland. The film is based on Numa Sadoul's revealing interviews with Hergé from the 1970s (Herge died in 1983), and goes into detail about Hergé's life and how the success of Tintin affected him.
Several people upon the release of Tintin et moi questioned that not all the albums were looked at and thought the doc was too dark and Freudian considering the comics are funny and dramatic adventures. The director defended himself by saying that Herge had a dark side, which revealed itself in the audio interview, and that insecurity and doubt was also part of Herges life.
Approximately 350 million Tintin albums have been sold worldwide. Written for children, although adults can also enjoy the comics and relate to the characters.
Tintin is a brave reporter, always fighting against injustice. Tintin’s faithful dog Snowy accompanied him on his adventures. Some have pointed out the Tintin character is boring, and doesn’t have many emotions. It’s the surroundings, which make the albums special, the places he travels, and supporting characters he meets.
Captain Haddock was very different to Tintin, yet they were friends, Haddock had a bit of a temper and drinking problem. During the comics, we also meet other colourful characters such as Dupond and Dupont, the clumsy detectives, as well as hearing-impaired Professor Tournesol.
The albums are graphically of a high level, beautifully drawn, an artful quality. Herge had a rare talent of combining skilful drawing with great storytelling. The stories have elements of fantasy and realism.
Deep down the stories are about Herge himself, made during a time span of 47 years. The Tintin albums are at times contemporary journalism, about 50 years of politics, wars, cars, trains, airplanes, businessmen, dictators, and scientists. You can follow the time line of the 20th Century by reading the adventures of Tintin. On top of that, we get paranormal happenings, dreams, scary moments, things connected to the soul.
Tintin is Herge’s method of expressing himself, his problems, for example in Tintin in Tibet. During the making, Herge was going through a personal crisis and contacted a therapist. He dreamt only in white, and yearned for purity.
Further, Herge admits Tintin is a projection of himself, his alterego. The hero without fear, who Herge dreamed of being and strived towards. During the years, characters emerged with flaws and weaknesses. Captain Haddock had many faults, but we accept him anyway. Dupond and Dupont are idiots, which Herge admits he was too sometimes. There is a desire to be a hero, which Herge seldom was in real life, maybe never. Perhaps he was a hero for other people, but it was difficult for Herge to look upon himself as a hero.
Herge was a scout just like Tintin, and Herge thought promises and loyalty were very important up until his death, just as a scout has those principles. Herge was brought up as catholic, and always had trouble in life ignoring the idea of sin. He suffered when he didn’t keep his word.
Herge felt his childhood was grey and average, he didn’t look back on it fondly. Things started to lighten up when he met Abbed Wallez, editor of a catholic newspaper. Wallez apparent admired Germany and supported the Italian fascism. The youth section of the paper was intended to influence young people politically. He discovered Herge in the ad department. He asked him to create a young hero, a catholic reporter, who fought for good in the world. In 1929, Tintin came to life.
Tintin’s first adventure took place in Soviet Russia. The weekly comics were a success. In the beginning, Tintin was no more than an illustration of the propaganda the boss had submitted to Herge, for example Tintin in Congo, where the Belgian reign is the only way the Africans could get by. Herge didn’t really know what he was doing at the time and drew out of ignorance.
The Blue Lotus was a turning point and is by many regarded as a masterpiece. When Herge announced that Tintin was going to Asia he received a letter from editor Abbed Wallez to not make the Chinese fake and not to make fun of them, which could cause much damage. So he contacted a young Chinese man who was a painter and sculptor named Tchang-Tchong-Jen. He taught Herge many new things, Chinese poems, signs and words used in China. The big street images in Shanghai in Tintin in Tibet with Chinese banners and posters are all genuine Chinese words. Down with imperialism for example. From then onwards, the subsequent albums became very detailed.
Tintin travelled all over the planet, Herge travelled nowhere. He was an armchair tourist. Through extensive research and cuttings, Herge new of these countries. One of his favourite places to go was the Ciquantenaire museum in Brussels. For instance the sculpture in the album The Broken Ear can be found in the museum.
In King Ottokar’s Sceptre, Herge clearly criticizes a country called Bordurien, which obviously is Germany during WW2. For instance they have fighter planes. It was dangerous for him to question Germany in the late 30s. The villain is Müsstler, a combination of Mussolini and Hitler.
The newspaper where he worked was closed down by the Nazis, when Germany occupied Brussels. Herge was offered to continue working for Le Soir, however the newspaper was controlled by the Nazis.
During this period Herge began writing stories about hidden treasures and meteorites. Politics disappeared from the albums, the adventures became neutral and pure escapism.
In a way, Herge now turned into captain Haddock, the grumpy, cynical, middle-aged man who wanted to be left alone. In the album The Shooting Star, an apocalypse is near, perhaps Herge is talking about how he imagines WW2 will end.
The British liberated Brussels in September 1944. Herge was arrested, as it was assumed he had been working for the Germans.
Herge was released after one night in jail, his editor received 4 years.
After the war, Herge worked at a youth magazine for Leblanc, they wanted Herge to write 2 pages a week, and the workload started to take its toll on him, and he had several nervous breakdowns, where he escaped abroad.
Herge wrote to his wife, that he was tired of always writing the same story, sick of grinding out new adventures all the time. His view of the world had changed.
Creating his own studio was the solution, it gave him artistic freedom. He hoped to liberate himself from commercial pressure, so he could work in peace together with capable assistants, whom he could assign some of the legwork.
It was a period of great precision, and a passion for realism. Herge thought realism was the key to a great adventure. In the album The Calulus Affair the scenes from Geneva are completely accurate, the road to Nyon exactly as today.
The documentary Tintin et moi/Tintin and me/Tintin and I/ is available on dvd with English subtitles, if you can find it. On my top 10 list of documentaries. Full of interesting facts, some of which I’ve listed above. A candidate I think for most underrated documentary ever! So obviously recommended ( :
A poster for the 2011 Spielberg motion capture Tintin movie:
What do you think of Tintin? Did you grow up reading the comics? Have you seen Spielberg’s new film The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn? I plan to see it tonight!