August 24, 1912 [Max reprend sa liberté/Confessions of a Grasswidower]

At once dapper and hapless, Max Linder breaks up a none-too-happy home and effects outright chaos. While Max's grasswidower seems, well, little more than a half-wit, enough remains to construct some satisfying gags. And maybe something more: the pure arena of comedy, isolated from logic and succor, fending for itself in a precarious reality. The couple argues, the wife storms off to mother. Triumphant, Max sets out to assume all domestic duties—at one point, his attempt to do the family grocery shopping draws admiration from a female observer. "Attempt," fortunately, is the operative word here. Naturally, Max all but demolishes his home, employing (if that's the right word; his actions seem more negation than contribution) strategies that call into question not only his competence but his sanity.

I've observed my wife (as well as a stray house-maid or two) in her duties—and have at times assumed them myself. My father insisted the mark of a man was independence, and so the least manly reason to marry was to find someone who could take care of me. Much to my chagrin (and often embarrassment), he apprenticed me, as it were, to my mother, who schooled me in the domestic arts and sciences. I can cook and scrub and the rest of it—even my mending displays a serviceable tenacity. It was, then, with some irritation that I watched Max attempt his kitchen chores as though he had not the slightest idea of the function of a spoon, let alone the inner workings of a stove. Now, Max's on-screen incompetence may find its proof in the lives of many men; but I've noticed it's usually the more "civilized" nations that have developed the least productive divisions of labor—with the resulting "alienation" from it, if I may use a term from the dreaded Karl Marx. As the poet says, the higher we rise, the farther we have to fall.

But in the hands of the comic, such ignominy becomes "acres of diamonds," found in one's own home—as it crashes gloriously down around one's ears. This delight in mental deficiency and demolition keeps comedy's strange heart beating, with a thump and thud, sending Max's topper permanently askew.


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