Apr. 18, 2012 - Issue #861: The Long Game
Harold and Maude
Generally, though, Harold and Maude is less quirky and more mellow, not trying too hard but keeping more of a wryly observational distance than the other oddballs in its solar system. There's its black comedy, offered by deadpan morbid 20-something Harold (Bud Cort) who stages suicide-scenes (blood-spattered neck-slitting, self-immolation) that his haughty mother usually ignores. There's the score, Cat Stevens' cheery tunes, played against Harold's suicide-obsession. Theres Raging-Granny-style rebelliousness against police authority from 79er Maude (Ruth Gordon), not just her flower-childlike love of life. And there's editor-turned-director Hal Ashby's eye for the right shot (on-location in the Bay Area): close-ups before the shocking drop Harold takes on us in the opening scene, or the pull-back to reveal the odd pair in a vast cemetery.
Ashby would make another notable film about an eccentric stuck in a cut-off world, Being There (Peter Sellers' final work), but Harold and Maude lacks that film's sustained social commentary on Nixon-era America. Still, Harold's fake suicides are both a pale defiance and reflection of his cloistered, sapped life under his aloof mother's roof. (Cort's gangly build and intense eyes make Harold seem misfit for life, but still drawn to it.) And in an echo of Vietnam draft-dodging, the vital counterculture (Maude) helps Harold avoid the army when an uncle, his prosthetic arm wired to salute, tries to enlist him in the murderous fight for one's country. (Ominously, the man officiously prattles on, Uncle Sam-like, beneath a portrait of pre-Watergate Nixon.)
Despite Maude's reckless motoring, the film lacks drive for its first hour, coasting on its budding May-December romance between two opposites. And girlish Maude's dialogue sometimes becomes spacey cheerleading. Still, Harold and Maude, unlike claustrophobically cute odd-couple movies, bottles some of the flavour of its time in its fizzy little frame—a naïve, joyous view that a youthful spirit could protest and dance and shout out enough to make a difference.
Tue, Apr 24 (9:15 pm)
Directed by Hal Ashby
Originally released: 1971
Metro Cinema at The Garneau
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