Sunday, 6 March 2016

Harold and Maude

Title: Harold and Maude
Director:  Hal Ashby
Released:  1971
Starring: Ruth Gordon, Bud Cort, Vivian Pickles, Cyril Cusack, Charles Tyner, Ellen Geer, Eric Christmas, G.Wood, Judy Engles, Shari Summers, Tom Skerritt

Plot: Harold (Cort) is a privileged young man with a morbid obsession with death who finds an unlikely kindred spirit in Maude (Gordon) an anarchic 79 year old to whom he soon becomes an accomplice to.

Review: This might be one of the those films which has been on the watch list for the longest having first come to my attention on one of the Henry Rollins spoken word albums in which he talked about a project he was working on with Bud Cort. It was Rollins simple personal recommendation without even saying anything about the film which marked this film out to me as one to watch advice which only now finally sees me getting around to watching it I only wished that I hadn’t put it off for so long.

Opening to Harold hanging himself which soon turns out to be another his numerous fake and increasingly elaborate fake suicides which feature throughout the film all which are humorously ignored by his mother who carries on with whatever she is doing and ignoring the fact he son is seemingly hanging from a noose (or whatever cause of suicide he’s imitating). This morbid obsession with death of course isn’t just limited to these fake suicide attempts as Harold also enjoys attending funerals and driving around in a hearse which his mother attempts to curb by buying him a Jaguar which he retaliates by somehow turning into a sports car hearse combo.

Once Harold meets Maude who shares his morbid interest in attending funerals she immediately becomes a source of fascination for him, as he soon becomes her unwitting accomplice as she randomly steals cars and engages in high speed chases with the highway police aswell as seemingly on a whim deciding to uproot and replant a tree from a city street. Why Maude has chosen to live a life filled with such reckless rebellion is never truly clear but at the same time Gordon’s performance comes with such a lust for life that you can understand the unlikely paring of these characters with Maude teaching Harold about music and how to appreciate life in general with the bond between the two only growing stronger the more time they spend together.

While this relationship is certainly engaging and frequently amusing to watch grow at the same time director Ashby also weaves into the film the great subplot involving Harold’s mother’s attempts to save her son by marrying him off a plan which soon sees him finding ever more inventive ways to sabotage these dates as he uses them as an audience for another his fake deaths as one date see’s him appearing to set himself on fire while another he breaks up the tedium by pretending to hack off his own hand. Most amusing of these dates though is with the wannabe actress Sunshine (Geer) who after he performs a fake Seppuku (Japanese ritual disembowelment) only for her to mistake it him performing the final scene from “Romeo and Juliet” and for a change leaves Harold as the one not knowing what to do.

Further to these attempts at marrying Harold off, he has to also deal with being forced to join the army as furthered enforced by his patriotic one armed uncle, who has installed a wire in his uniform to enable his missing arm to still salute in one of the many delightfully dark moments we get from this character who is also one of the few that Maude helps Harold with when it comes to getting out of being drafted as she poses as a war protestor that Harold gets into an argument with, while attempting to freak his uncle out with an unbridled enthusiasm to see combat.

Your enjoyment of the soundtrack wil depend heavily on how much you like Cat Stevens who also puts in a cameo as a funeral goer and here provides a jaunty and upbeat soundtrack which works surprisingly well especially considering the frequent morbid humour at play throughout the film.

Shot with such a darkly comedic vein it’s hard to say if this film is for everyone, though it certainly appealed to my own warped sense of humour. At the same time both Gordon and Cort are so believable as the leads with a great chemistry  which ensures that they are constantly playing off each other, especially in the case of Gordon whose really sells the mischievous nature of Maude, despite her character being almost 80 and making the ending all the more impactful let alone unexpected.  Ultimately this film really is a celebration of embracing life, despite their characters obsession with ending theirs and the only regret I had was that I didn’t see this film sooner.  

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