Thursday, February 22, 2007

Make 'em laugh

The grown-ups' birthdays in this household tend to go without much celebration in recent years — mine is the day after Helena's, J-F's just a few days before Christmas.

This year for J-F's birthday I bought a DVD. The movie as a whole was not intended as the gift; rather just one specific scene. Helena led him into the living room where a cappuccino and becandled day-old muffin were awaiting him. The movie already cued up, I pressed play, and we watched Donald O'Connor make 'em laugh, make us laugh.

I'd never seen Singin' in the Rain when I was growing up. My mother didn't care for Gene Kelly. If ever the movie was on TV during my childhood, it was passed over, for Bing Crosby or for the news. Of course, I knew the song — everyone knows that song. But it didn't mean anything to me.

It was a few years ago that we stumbled on some television program featuring classic movie moments or dance sequences or some such, and amid the hilarity, J-F made the bold pronouncement (shh, don't tell anyone) that Singin' in the Rain was one of the best movies, and O'Connors' Make 'Em Laugh one of the best scenes, ever. Now that I've seen it for myself, I agree. Even in my dourest moods, the finale of this number never fails to elicit deep and sincere spasms from my belly.

It seemed right this birthday to give the gift of laughter, start the new year on a laughing foot.

What I didn't foresee was the impact of this movie, this scene, on Helena.

From that first viewing on J-F's birthday morning Helena was fascinated. Interestingly, the title number resonates least of all (though it gives her some context, a cultural reference, for the Gene Kelly Muppet Show episode).

But when the mood here is musical she will take a jazz stance and proclaim "gotta dance!"

She sings Good Morning, loudly and clearly when we take the metro, putting smiles on other people's face. I cringe a little at the now less-than-innocent connotations, but I smile too, for reasons they cannot know, for the joy this film and this little girl bring to my household.

She exercises her booming low voice and squeaky high voice. "No, no, no," as she nods, and "yes, yes, yes," shaking her head emphatically. It's a bit she's found good for bringing levity to the yes/no questions I may ask her at trying times.

But it's Make 'Em Laugh that captivates her, that she requests repeatedly. She is perfecting her pinwheel, running circles round her shoulder on the floor. She is learning to rubberize her face. She is examining the possibility of running up the wall.

She's studying the humour, mining it for material.

Make 'em laugh, little girl.

(I started writing this post exactly 2 months ago today when I first noticed a little phenomenon that has since ballooned. I've been struggling all week with getting much of anything done, and for some reason this has been the biggest stumbling block of all. Though it's waited this long already, it's the thing I have to put to paper, to finish. It poses the problem of articulating very particular kinds of ineffable joy — that of one insignificant (in the grand scheme of things) movie scene, how it seems to punctuate the 3 lives intertwined in this household (and did so enthusiastically this last weekend), and that of the child, both in what she experiences and in what she brings to others. How does one write seriously about laughter without the writing itself being comedic, or slapstick? How do you capture laughter without being laughter? This is neither here nor there, really. Simply: I'm blocked. Writer's block, blogger's block. Fortunately, not laugher's block. I've never been one known to make 'em laugh, but beyond my expectations and contrary even to my own inclinations (and to any evidence in the tone you may hear here) this week I'm laughing with the best of 'em.)
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