Harold and Maude Reviews
One of Ashby's great strengths has always been persuading us to care about characters, and by extension actors, with whom we normally wouldn't dream of associating ourselves. He is, after all, the man who turned Peter Sellers from a self-parodying has-been into the toast of the Academy, getting the performance which in many ways defines Sellers as an actor and comedian. In this case he manages to make us care for two characters who would normally be repulsive or obnoxious: one a mopey teenager with a suicide fixation, the other an overly quirky septuagenarian with a penchant for stealing cars.
The reason we end up caring for these people lies in Ashby's make-up as a director. Although he was considerably older than his New Hollywood counterparts - the likes of Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma and William Friedkin - he empathised greatly with the ideas and free spirit of the 1960s and 1970s. While Scorsese and Friedkin made their name in gritty dramas, exposing the dark underbelly of American society after a decade of mainstream froth, Ashby is more whimsical and forgiving. He is a deeply humanist director, concentrating on human reason and emotion over any kind of spiritual or religious allegory (at least at this stage).
This might help to explain why it takes a while to get a handle on Harold and Maude. Most black comedies work on the basis of dark, pessimistic humour set against an equally dark, pessimistic worldview. In Kind Hearts and Coronets, it is the cruelty of Dennis Price set against the persistent injustice of the British class system. In Dr. Strangelove, it is the absurdity of Jack D. Ripper's conspiracy theories set against the greater absurdity of Mutually Assured Destruction. Harold and Maude has darkness in the mind of its male protagonist, but its goal is to demonstrate how joyous life can be. While it doesn't resolve everything oh-so-neatly, it doesn't entirely play by the rules either.
Because Ashby treats his characters with such affection and respect, the opening act - if not the opening hour - can feel like two different films trying to mesh together. The civilised, refined and decidedly dull home of Harold's parents sets us up for some kind of comedy of manners, only to be punctuated by Harold self-immolating, covering the bathroom in fake blood or hanging himself during the opening credits. And that's before we even get to Maude, whose kookiness makes Diane Keaton's "La-di-dah!"-ing in Annie Hall look positively ordinary.
The opening sections of Harold and Maude are repetitive and arguably episodic, insofar as you could watch Harold's death scenes in any order without them compromising the dramatic tension. The same could be said for Harold's scenes with his psychiatrist, or his introductions to his computer-selected dates. But even as we get the feeling of going in circles, we decide to stick around, somehow knowing that something special is around the corner. Repetition is, after all, a form of comedy, and the individual set-pieces or big gags involving Harold are in and of themselves quite funny.
The film only truly takes flight once Harold has been invited back to Maude's eccentric home - a converted railway carriage or static caravan filled with all manner of unusual artworks, musical instruments and cultural paraphernalia. What emerges from these scenes is a personality which exists beyond artistic flights of fantasy or eccentric behaviour on the road; this is a window on the soul of a woman who genuinely loves life and lives for it every day. Maude has a great deal more depth and heart than other 'Manic Pixie Dream Girls', such as Zooey Deschanel's character in (500) Days of Summer.
After this scene Harold and Maude blossoms from a slightly awkward but enjoyable collection of stories into a focussed film about two people deeply and blissfully in love with each other. We might still shrink at the age gap, or the implication later in the film that they have slept together, but that's not important. What's important is that their relationship opens Harold's eyes to the possibility that life is not all bad, and more importantly that he does not have to be at the mercy of other forces to live life in this fashion.
Ashby's film is as much a sweet romance as an existential and social commentary on two generations of America. On the one hand we have Maude, whose survival of WWII has given her perspective on the wider and higher purposes of life, and keeps up her energy so she can confidently live how she pleases. On the other hand we have Harold, who has no experience or existential crisis to fall back on: he lives in the shadow of both a meaningless war and his pushy parents who want him to live life their way. Harold's encounter with Maude is on one level an existential crisis, where hope clashes with despair, what he doesn't understand meets what he does and he is drastically changed as a result.
Don't think for a minute, however, that Harold and Maude is a film that forsakes realism or weight for the sake of some uplifting life lessons. Just when we are getting comfortable, embracing the central characters and accepting them for who they are, the film deals us a total curveball as Maude decides to slip away. As Harold screams at her and we cut to inside the ambulance, we remember the couple of clues left for us earlier on and share in Harold's anger and grief. Like Being There, the film gives us the reality of death and the negative emotions that come with it, refusing to entirely sugar-coat the bitterest of life's pills.
As well as an instruction to live life to the full every day, Harold and Maude is a warning not to belittle or underestimate the older generation. We are often told the elderly have greater enthusiasm and lust for life than teenagers do, with physical infirmity not always being an accurate representation of the energy that exists inside. Maude may not be entirely representative of her generation, but she is not meant to be. She is a heightened example of an overall approach, designed to surprise, confound and eventually reshape our expectations.
Even if you don't choose to read into the subtext of Harold and Maude, it's still very enjoyable as a darkly uplifting comedy. The physical comedy is generally very well-executed, with Maude's repeated incidents of grand theft auto playing havoc with the local police. Harold's suicide attempts are funny, even if they are not mounted quite as skilfully as the deaths in later black comedies like Heathers or Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The interplay between Harold and his uncle is enjoyable, especially the running gags about his severed arm. And the final scene is emotionally close to the ending of Quadrophenia, delivering a good balance of anguish, uncertainty and fulfilment, all conveyed through the music of Cat Stevens.
Harold and Maude is not Hal Ashby's finest work. Even by his slow-burning standards it takes a while to take hold, with a lot of the first half lurching around in terms of tone and focus. But once it gets into its stride it is a little triumph, making the very best of its leading man and woman, and cementing Ashby's status as one of the key directors of the 1970s. Most of the ingredients he would refine in Being There are present here in some form, and even after 41 years it hasn't lost the ability to lift your spirits.
Harold (Bud Cort) is a young morbid man who fakes his own death in elaborate suicides, just to get the attention of his rich neglectful mother. He also attends funerals of people he has never met just to indulge his obsession with death. It's at one of these funerals that he meets an old lady named Maude (Ruth Gordon), who is so positive and full of life that Harold is captivated by her and they both begin to fall in love with each other, exploring the wonders and beauty of life.
This is one of those 'sleeper' films that seems to pass people by, for no other reason than they haven't heard of it or it can be difficult to get hold of. It was shamefully ignored come awards season also. Over the years though, It has garnered enough word-of-mouth attention to become a cult classic, and rightfully so. It's an absolutely superb little black comedy that sensitively deals with themes of suicide, death, love and overall, life itself. It's also the most unconventional love story you're ever likely to see. The thought of a relationship between a young man in his late teens and an old lady in her late 70's may put some off. However, this is a relationship that's delicately handled with fabulous performances from Bud Cort as the morbid, death obsessed Harold who has a 'sense of the absurd' and especially Ruth Gordon as the eccentric free-spirited Maude, who opens his mind up to having a zest for life. It was for "Rosemary's Baby" in 1968 that Gordon won an oscar but it's here that she delivers one of cinemas finest and quirkiest of characters.
Cat Stevens' songs throughout, also deserve a special mention. They are just a joy, and a fine example of how a soundtrack can compliment a film.
An unusual, often hilarious yet touching and heart-warming gem, that leaves you with a big grin from ear to ear. A pure delight.
Also, I must comment on one reviewer, Mr. Kehr has completely missed the point since he got whiny about the concentration camp mark. If this movie was supposed to be drama over WWII, we would have known. What that was was a story about a lady who had been surrounded by death, got past that and decided to live and not to dwell on it. Contrasting of course with the barely lived teen who was obsessed with killing himself. Go back to English class, Kehr and learn your allegories!
An unexpected love, great performances, great music, but expected situations and expected final scene. Although, his love for her, that grows natural and real, is very touching. My first reaction was: I want to grow old as Maude, but she is, actually, too much charcterized by a free spirit full of uplifting messages. (...)
Harold is a rich young man, unsatisfied by his life but engrossed with death. Maude is a lively, high-spirited 79-year old woman and when the two meet they form a close bond and embark upon some very humourous adventures.
Harold and Maude one of the most unusual love stories out there, filled with witty dialogue and memorable scenes that leaves the viewer captivated everytime they watch it.
Bud Cort portrays Harold extremely well, capturing every inch of his morbid nature and blank stares. Ruth Gordon is enjoyable to watch and plays the role beautifully. Plus the Cat Stevens soundtrack fits the film perfectly.
Harold and Maude is a wonderfully uplifting yet darkly poignant film. It holds a great message about living your life to the fullest and that love has no boundaries. This is a film you must see before you die.
An absurdest black comedy concerning two people, one young and one old, seemingly opposites of each other, of course making them attract. It certainly tries to find a balance between dark comedy and quirky love story, but you really have to invest yourself in the world of these lead characters to appreciate it.
Harold (Bud Cort) is a depressed, death-obsessed 20-year-old man/child who spends his free time attending funerals and pretending to commit suicide in front of his mother. At a funeral, Harold befriends Maude (Ruth Gordon), a 79-year-old woman who has a zest for life. She and Harold spend much time together during which she exposes him to the wonders and possibilities of life. After rejecting his mother's three attempts to set him up with a potential wife, and committing fake suicide in front of all of them, Harold announces that he is to be married to Maude. Further romantic adventures follow...all to the poppy tunes of Cat Stevens.
I mention Cat Stevens because its such an appropriate artist to fit into this film, him being one incredibly quirky guy himself. This film really tries hard to be quirky, with how deliberate it is in showing Harold annoy his mother, oppose to shock her, with his ridiculous fake suicides and then bringing in Maude as an elderly hippy. That's all well and good, but you just have to be ready to go on that ride.
I wasn't really ready. I sat back and found some enjoyment in what was happening, enough to recommend the film in fact, but for the most part Harold remained odd and bug eyed and Maude was just doing the over-the-top old lady thing. These aren't poorly acted by any means, just odd enough for me to take a step back.
Maude: A lot of people enjoy being dead. But they are not dead, really. They're just backing away from life. *Reach* out. Take a *chance*. Get *hurt* even. But play as well as you can. Go team, go! Give me an L. Give me an I. Give me a V. Give me an E. L-I-V-E. LIVE! Otherwise, you got nothing to talk about in the locker room.
The storyline could be a metaphor for any socially unacceptable relationship and if you find the deeper meaning to this film, then you will truly absorb the story.
Of course for me the icing on the cake was the Soundtrack featuring ing my favourite recording artist Cat Stevens.
Unusual and original.
Stars: Bud Cort, Cyril Cusack and Ruth Gordon
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Harold is a depressed, death-obsessed 20-year-old man/child who spends his free time attending funerals and pretending to commit suicide in front of his mother. At a funeral, Harold befriends Maude, a 79-year-old woman who has a zest for life. She and Harold spend much time together during which she exposes him to the wonders and possibilities of life. After rejecting his mother's three attempts to set him up with a potential wife, and committing fake suicide in front of all of them, Harold announces that he is to be married to Maude. However, Maude has a surprise for Harold that is to change his life forever.
Harold and Maude, considered one of the great classic films of the 1970's and one of the great films of all time. One film which has always been on my "to watch" list and other films always got in the way. Luckily it was my DVD to be sent to me and sat down an watched it. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it suprised me a bit.
Firstly, Harold and Maude feels way ahead of it's time. With the Cat Steven's soundtrack, often used in Wes Anderson films, you feel like it was made 5 or 6 years ago. It still has a "fresh feel" to it, which is why it's still being watched even today. The Wes Anderson like presentation of the film, makes you want to keep watching and really gain an insight into the livs of Harold and Maude. Again, Cat Steven's soundtrack is key to the freshness of the film for me.
The film opens up with Harold walking down the stars, with Steven's OST and attempting another "fake suicide." Instantly we can see that character's deep and troubled. far away from life with his Mother. Harold is presented as a deep and troubled man, but also with a constant pale face, again reinforcing to us as the audience what kind of behaviour that you should expect from this character. Harold visits the psychiatrist, who's room is depicted as a set from a Kubrick film, i.e- huge , spacious room which feels like it is going to move in on you. The dialogue with the Psychiatrist is short, and with a hint of black humour, which again instantly puts you with the character-you feel what he is feeling. the acting of Bud Cort, as Harold is key to the presentation of his character. For example we wouldn't have thought of him that way if it wasn't for his portrayal.
The performance and presentation of the character of Maude is the exact opposite of Harold. Once they meet at funerals, you can see they are similiar. Maude, the care free woman seems to have the mind of a 25 year old but gives Harold advice on life and how to get the most out of it. Harlold makes Maude feel like a younger woman which makes for c harming on screen couple. I loved the uneasiness of Harold and the attitude of Maude, which seemed to gel together onscreen instantly. One of my favourite scenes is where they re-plant a tree that was originally in the street-then they stopped by the police. One scene to look out for.
Overall, Harold and Maude is one film to discover in American cinema. Harold and Maude is a classic indie like film that we have come to know today. Reminiscent of Wes Anderson films and slightly different to the Graduate, the film is one not to get grossed out by the content of the film but enjoy the chemistry between one of cinema's odd couple and a truely inspiring film.
I can guarantee you'll be humming Cat Steven's soundtrack to the film after...