Monday, May 25, 2015

From O. Reader

Reasons to rise

In addition to all the serious things of life, it is nice to have hobbies and interests – things that can get you up in the morning with a sort of spring in your arthritic step.

Over the years I have had many. I loved joining clubs and writing for them. I still do. But their activities all seem to fall into two extremes.

I was one of the earliest members of the Jerome K Jerome Society, which illustrates the two extremes quite well. On one hand there was deadly serious research on both the man and his late Victorian and Edwardian times, before it all got blown out of the water by the Great War of 1914. I was quite pleased over the years to have serious research published, which is still available in printed form. But on the other hand, there was the spectacle of grown men (company directors, bank managers, doctors, etc.) dressing up in white flannel trousers and straw boater hats, larking around splashing each other with water on the River Thames, trying to recreate Three Men in a Boat.

The same extremes feature in another of my clubs. The Laurel and Hardy club called itself The Sons of the Desert, based on a Masonic parody in the film of the same name. My interest in all things Laurel and Hardy went back to infancy. As a pre-teen, I used to be packed off to the British equivalent of the American Summer Camp each year – where we were “looked after” by bored, spaced out teachers earning an extra crust during the long summer vacation – a throwback to when children were needed to bring in the harvest. But they used to keep us quiet in the evenings (well, not exactly quiet, but at least attentive) showing Laurel and Hardy films. In retrospect, the main attraction was often seeing the 16mm projector break down, and sweat pouring down the teachers’ faces, as they tried not to use language their charges would have gleefully repeated.

Again, there were the two strands of interest. On the one hand, there was serious film scholarship – still finding extra footage after all these years, especially foreign language versions of their movies with new material; and I had a number of articles published in various obscure journals over the years to show my continuing obsession with the minutiae of trivia. But the other strand was the boozy get-togethers, with grown men of the middle-aged variety in costume shoving custard pies into each other’s faces. (Serious historian bit here – in over a hundred movies Laurel and Hardy only ever did one custard pie fight, and that was in The Battle of the Century – 1927 – but the concept has sort of stuck. A bit like the custard.)

Obviously – harrumph - you can guess which school I fell into. Although I confess, I used to do a passable impersonation of Stan Laurel. (Generally while public speaking...)

And just think - if I had been an Elvis fan I would have attended Elvis conventions, dressed in a Rhinestone cowboy romper suit, doing his portly Las Vegas days. (I still do the John Stewart parody “I Wanna Be Elvis” in folk clubs when good judgment deserts me). Actually in the music field, I was much more of a Gene Vincent man, and even if I say so myself, could do a mean impersonation. Before my orthodontist got to work, I sort of had the teeth for it.

Still, as noted at the start – apart from the actual serious things of life - it gives people that little extra to get up for in the morning. To quote from another John Stewart song:

To carve out a face on a mountain of stone,
Day after day, one man alone.
And it took twenty years just to get to his eyes
- But he's found him a reason to rise,
Finding the reasons to rise.

Reasons to rise. I used to think this was a reference to the presidents’ heads on Mount Rushmore, but it is actually about the Crazy Horse Memorial still being created in South Dakota.

Or to revert to a favorite Laurel and Hardy catch phrase (pinched from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado) – “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into...”


Harry H said...

I too loved Laurel and Hardy, but thanks to a local TV station playing old movie shorts on Saturday mornings, my favorites were the Three Stooges. Of all the Stooges, I loved Curly the best. I could do his NYUK-YUK-YUK-YUK just like him, but I soon learned that it did not impress the girls.

An occasional reader said...

Laurel and Hardy used numerous variations on one main joke – along the lines of Hardy turning pompously to Stan – “Give it me Stanley, you might drop it...” - followed by the inevitable pratfall and Hardy’s cry of anguish, Although strange as it may seem, my favorites are still their silent movies.

The Three Stooges had much more violent slapstick routines like a slap covering several people’s faces in one go, and the classic hitting someone on the head, and the sound of a hammer on an anvil ringing out.

I have about a dozen of the Stooges Columbia shorts on DVD, although I have the whole works (at least everything that survives) of Laurel and Hardy covering all the studios they worked for. (If there are any readers out there with a print of Hats Off, or a complete Rogue Song, please call).

For some reason, Mrs O always decides to retire when I put them on the player...

You do realize don’t you that when the Beatles suddenly hit the big time in 1963, they stole their haircuts from Stooge, Mo Howard...

Amy Goddard said...

I've enjoyed Laurel and Hardy films too. I particularly liked 'Liberty' which was regularly shown at parties when I was a child, usually along with Rin Tin Tin.

I can also relate to your comments about the extremes of interest in a particular subject. I love playing my songs in the folk clubs but some of the members are also involved in that cultural art form known as Morris Dancing. This consists of banging sticks whilst skipping around to piano accordion music usually dressed in bells, ribbons and long socks. I have to admit that's not really my scene.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Morris dancing is creepy. just sayin'

An occasional reader said...

In response to Amy Goddard

We must have attended the same kind of parties because I can remember seeing Liberty at parties too.

Laurel and Hardy are escaping from jail but get into a muddle with their getaway clothes in the back of a car. We are into the wrong trousers and wrong hats routine. Hardy ends up in too tight pants, and Laurel in huge ones that keep falling down. Attempts to change back into the right clothes result in all sorts of embarrassing situations, and they finally end up on top of an unfinished tall building using routines that Harold Lloyd used to good effect in Safety Last.

The camera man George Stevens later became a director and directed Shane, and the film features a young Jean Harlow in a bit part role.

Yup – the trivia one can remember!!

But where did I put my car keys...?

Postscript to Sha'el

Politically incorrect Morris Dancing joke:

Why do Morris dancers wear bells? So they can annoy blind people as well.

roberto said...

My grandfather (I posted his photo some time ago) loved Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. I (me) too.

An occasional reader said...

Laurel and Hardy were extremely popular in Italy, and generally were dubbed very skilfully by the same people for years. In the very early days of talkies, around 1930, they even spoke “Italian” when films had the stars speaking phonetically off idiot boards just out of camera range, and native speakers took the minor roles. Hearing genuine Laurel and Hardy voices massacring the Italian language (along with Spanish, French and German) would have a quaint charm. Sadly, I understand that the Italian versions are generally lost, but the Spanish versions survive, and I have a good selection of these. They are often much longer than the English versions (up to twice as long) with extra routines that either never were included in the English original or more likely ended up on the cutting room floor.

You know, I can turn into a real Laurel and Hardy bore if people are foolish enough to let me...

roberto said...

Yessss Occasional Reader

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