Das Dick und Doof Buch. Die Geschichte von Laurel und Hardy in Deutschland

The Dick und Doof Book. The Story of Laurel and Hardy in Germany.

When in 1980 the first (and up to this day, only) translated German edition of William K. Everson's classic THE FILMS OF LAUREL AND HARDY was published, German editor Joe Hembus added a three page title list identifying many of the countless German adaptions of the Laurel and Hardy films, noting how intrusively the comedians' works had been changed for the local market. Yet Hembus had only scratched the surface, noting: "The following overview can only roughly sketch the history and method of these manipulations [of Laurel and Hardy films in Germany]; an exhaustive analysis would require extensive researches necessitating their own book. This detective story remains to be written."

Now Norbert Aping, film historian and member of the TWO TARS and THAT'S MY WIFE tents, has written this story, based on years of in depth research. The book, tentatively titled "Ein schönes Schlamassel für Dick und Doof. Die Geschichte von Laurel und Hardy in Deutschland" [A fine mess for 'Dick & Doof'. The story of Laurel and Hardy in Germany] will be available in spring 2004 in the film book edition from Marburg publishing house Schüren.

Aping follows the traces of film censorship and certification, reconstructs the reception of the team, even starting with their respective solo works, in German language states from 1924 to the age of DVDs, in the light of the press -- from daily papers to business publications, party-affiliated and faith-based review publications, and analyzes the marketing activities within the German distribution chain of the team's films.

Laurel and Hardy in Germany - this is, for one thing, the story of the unparalleled popularity of the team from 1927 onwards. Already in the days of the Weimar Republic , the slapstick comedians won the audience's affection, and their films continued to be shown well into the Nazi time, until a trade ban in 1938 prohibited German import of US films. Pretty much from the very beginning, Laurel and Hardy were know to the Germans as Dick und Doof (albeit spelled Dof in those days), which loosely translates as Fat and Dumb. Unaffectionate as that may be, these names, which are still associated with the team in popular reception today, did nothing to diminuish the high audience appreciation for Laurel and Hardy.

Even before Germany's film classification and "self control" boards took up their work in post-war Germany, the team was back on the silver screen in the Western occupation zones in 1949. Right from the end of WWII, numerous film distribution companies were founded only to disappear again right away in many cases, milking cash out of the teams ever-popular films. Throughout the following decades, their silent and sound shorts as well as their features were submitted over and over again for classification by the German Film Board FSK (Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle = "Voluntary Self-Control," a film industry board which anticipated as much as it prevented federal film censorship).

While the German adaptions had been popular for decades, it was only in the 60s, though, that film critics and historians started to praise Laurel and Hardy's artistic merits again, as they had in pre-war times. This is largely to film distriutor Atlas' credits, who - following their popular re-issue of Buster Keaton's GENERAL -- re-dubbed and re-released a number of the teams' films, while even refusing to use the popular "Dick und Doof" label in their marketing. Furthermore, Atlas managed to get an official seal of artistic distinction (the label "wertvoll" = valuable) for the films, not the least important consequence of which was a tax reduction for the films' distribution, resulting in even more exposure to the public.

In addition to the behind the scenes story of the dubbing industry from 1934 onwards, the author further fills in an unknown piece of television history by tracing how millions of people got familiar with classic slapstick comedies on German TV since 1961, thanks to the activities of Atlas collaborator Werner Schwier and later Roach Libary head Heinz Caloué.

In addition to the unprecedented research into the German dubbing industry, Norbert Aping has also double-checked the history of Laurel and Hardy's elusive phonetic German language films, from their original distribution to the lucky rediscovery of the only surviving two minutes, as a toy projector snippet in Denmark. Meticuously checking and correcting previously unsubstantiated filmographic entries against contemporary trade papers, verifying which films were indeed shot in German (as opposed to dubbed or subtitled), Aping has thus also made a significant contribution to the Laurel and Hardy "phonetic" filmography.

While this may be an piece of film history offering insight into the local release history while evoking quite a bit of nostalgia for a German readership, international Sons of the Desert may be especially interested to learn that the book will lavishly illustrate the research with memorabilia from all different eras of German film distribution. These include rare posters, trade ads and lobby cards, and materials offering further proof for an official Laurel and Hardy fan club predating the SONS by a couple decades. Most of these documents have not been published since they originally appeared decades ago.

International readers will also appreciate the availability of an English language condensation (approx. 25 pages) guiding them through the 500 page book. Furthermore, Aping will map the chaos of German Laurel and Hardy adaptions in all conceivable distribution media (from theatrical prints to TV, videotapes, and the different video discs format up to nowadays' DVDs) by means of a 300 page supplemental filmography. Both documents will be made available to owners of the book in digital format, either on CD-ROM or via the internet. The retail price of the hardcover book (excluding S&H) will be 29,90 Euros.

ED NOTE: This book certainly sounds interesting, we will let you know when it will be released later this year.

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