Tuesday, November 16, 2010

`Made Merry With the Hardy Laurel'

What’s the natural restorative for a cold, dripping, under-caffeinated Monday morning? Laurel and Hardy, who arrived at dawn via e-mail, thanks to Dave Lull. The scene is from Way Out West (1937). The boys have just arrived by stagecoach in Brushwood Gulch, and in front of the saloon the Avalon Boys are singing “At the Ball, That's All” – at least on the original soundtrack. The version Dave sent is roughly synched to Santana’s cover of Tito Puente’s “Oye Como Va.”

For my money, no one is funnier than Laurel and Hardy, especially when they dance. “Slapstick” is misjudged a broad form of comedy, clumsy and heavy-handed, but the art of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy is one of delicacy and grace in the service of idiocy. Watch the way Stanley flutters the tails of his coat as though shooing away slow children and the tenderness of Oliver’s gesture when he lowers his bent leg with one finger applied to the knee. I’ve always envied the rakish tilt Oliver achieves with his bowler. If ballet were funny, it would be Laurel and Hardy.

I’m convinced another admirer, Samuel Beckett, had Laurel and Hardy in mind when writing Mercier and Camier (1946). Keep in mind the boys dancing while reading this scene:

“Even side by side, said Mercier, as now, arm to arm, hand in hand, legs in unison, we are fraught with more events than could fit in a fat tome, two fat tomes, your fat tome and my fat tome. Whence no doubt our blessed sense of nothing, nothing to be done, nothing to be said.”

In his “Addenda” to Watt (written in occupied France during World War II, published 1953) Beckett includes this lightly encrypted encomium:

“I helped to lay out this darling place, said the old man.

“In that case, said Arthur, perhaps you can tell me the name of this extraordinary growth.

“That’s what we calls a hardy laurel, said the old man.

“Arthur went back into the house and wrote, in his journal: Took a turn in the garden. Thanked God for a small mercy. Made merry with the hardy laurel. Bestowed alms on an old man formerly employed by Knott family.”

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