Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Harold and Maude (1971)
Almost everyone knows the title of this movie and what it is about, but few seem to have actually seen it. Why this is is anyone's guess, but unavailability on VHS/DVD could be a main factor in that. To be perfectly honest, I don't know what the hell took me so long to view it either considering there's always been a copy nearby me at a video store for umpteen odd years. While not a life changing film for me per say, it does have a peculiar charm that will keep me coming back in the future again and again. The ending almost made me cry like a baby too- which is a good thing because I like feeling feelings.
Plot synopsis: Harold (Bud Cort) is a young man with a rather intense obsession with death. He visits funerals for fun, has no friends, and only finds happiness when he thinks of being dead (and keeps setting up elaborate fake suicides that do little to shake his inattentive mother). While attending one of these funerals he enjoys so much, he meets a spritely 79 year old woman named Maude (Ruth Gordon). He is somewhat nonplussed with her at first, but cannot help but keep going back. Harold falls in love with Maude and through her unique vision learns the value of life and just how much it is worth living, with some serious shenanigans along the way.
I bet you never thought I'd be a right ponce and write a review of a romantic comedy would you? This one gets special dispensation for not only being unique but also being a true cult classic. I can't think of any other film about a misanthrope in his mid twenties who falls in love with a woman about to turn eighty and if I could it would be a total rip-off of the film in question. One thing is certain: This movie would NOT be able to be made in our day and age. Just reread the plot synopsis if you don't believe me and mull it over with yourself, I'm sure you'll reach the same conclusion as I did.
While I don't know about you, I do enjoy a good black comedy now and again. One thing I really got a repeated kick out of was Maude's infallible ability to steal an automobile. How on earth she manages to do this (and almost always get away with it) is beyond me. The one time she does get caught we are treated to a most unexpected (and well camouflaged) appearance by Tom Skerritt, but manages to pull the wool over his eyes and get away thanks to her lead foot and a carefully selected El Camino. Being a fan of horror movies (you might have noticed this from my repeated reviews of various films from said genre) I for one find Harold's repeated (and for a film from the early 70's, awfully realistic) fake suicide attempts uproariously funny. The humor in this film is often times very dry and understated and if you aren't paying attention and actually watching the movie you are bound to miss a prank or ten.
Another strength of this movie is the myriad of things that aren't said. Perhaps the most notable of these is the seconds long moment where Harold notices a concentration camp serial number on Maude's forearm. This moment happens quite late in the film, and is never remarked on or even brought up in the movie besides that one brief moment. I found this an unusually powerful moment for an otherwise comedic romp, and it really gives the attentive viewer something to chew on once the credits role as it pertains to Maude's character and her overall outlook on life. I leave the implications of the scene up to you dear reader, as we will surely all attach our own meaning to it (part of the magic of such open film making).
The soundtrack is done entirely by Cat Stevens. I can't fucking stand Cat Stevens on a normal day, but somehow his music actually manages to work here, and melds with images on screen to create a truly joyous experience. I'm generally not a fan of singer/songwriters doing entire scores for films (if anyone out there recalls the truly cringeworthy effort by Joan Baez for Douglas Trumbull's 1972 movie Silent Running you'll get my meaning), but somehow the rabbit was successfully pulled from the hat here (please for the love of god don't ask me how, because I just don't know). Touche' Cat Stevens, Touche'...
What else is there left to say? This film (as I said a few paragraphs ago) is a true cult classic. Maybe more people will go seek it out after reading this, maybe they won't, or maybe they have already seen it and just want to read what I think about it. Who knows? One thing is sure, and that is that this film's place in cultdom is secure for all times, and I wouldn't have it any other way. If you are grossed out by the idea that two people of such disparate ages can fall in love, then you can it this one out buster because I will gladly take your place on the ride.