My mother and father had very little in common taste-wise. I assume, like all blushing young lovers, they agreed on everything at first, but the years after their divorce revealed how much even the things they had in common, they didn’t really have much in common. They were even both in computers—at a time when that was a rare and lucrative thing—but they were in it for entirely different reasons and with entirely different interests.
My dad liked rock ‘n’ roll, and both car chase scenes in movies and talky foreign films, and he had two Citroens. You had to have two Citroens because one was always broken, but it was an engineer’s car—it came with a hand crank, e.g., so you could start it when the battery died, and its novel suspension made it possible to, if you had a flat, drive with the tire off the ground. Or something. He was tight as a drum in a lot of ways (though he grew out of that) and had zero interest in getting the Next Bigger House or Fancier Car. He was averse to exercise on near religious principles.
My mom liked Neal Diamond, movies without a lot of talk, or tear jerkers (like Brian’s Song), and had (though eventually grew out of) a lot of aspirational materialistic goals. She is the sort of lady who mourns the passing of the department store, where one was waited on and bought goods with the expectation that they would be well made and well supported by the merchant. She, endearingly, tried to get my dad into playing tennis, which worked right up to the point where she got to be as good as (or better than) he was at it. Her goal was to get him to exercise so he didn’t drop dead at 40 and his goal, noted earlier, was to not exercise.
This very long introduction—and as I’ve noted elsewhere, this site has become more of a diary and history than a film review blog—brings us to a movie they both loved: Harold and Maude.
Which probably sums up all you need to know about my family.
This “cult classic” features a goth-before-the-first-goth’s-parents-were-born in the form of Bud Cort as Harold, a morose boy of indeterminate age (though probably around 20) who delights in killing himself in front of his mother in order to shock, embarrass and ultimately gain sympathy from her. His mother, played hilariously by Vivian Pickles, just wants to get him all sorted out in life, by any means necessary, presumably to brag or at least not to hide him from her society friends. (This is all sort of implied: This rather low-budget film features a small cast but Pickles conjures up a world of tea parties and country clubs with her every expression.)
One of Harold’s hobbies is going to funerals, and it’s there he meets Maude (Ruth Gordon, at 75, more coquettish than she’d ever been in her previous movie career). Maude is a rebel. She has a ring of keys that allows her to basically steal any car. She can’t really be bothered with authority figures. She’s enamored of life and sensuality and experience, and she seems utterly fearless. In short, despite their common hobby, she’s the exact opposite of Harold.
And the two begin an affair.
It’s a deeply funny movie, but not disrespectful to the concept. Their romance is played for laughs, but only in how others see it: The two of them are as deadly earnest as if both were teenagers. The question is, will Harold actually learn the lessons of living—will he take them to heart?
The score is by Cat Stevens, who has a cameo, and it’s one of the best uses of a pop soundtrack ever. Stevens wrote “Don’t Be Shy” and “If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out”—the latter standing in for Colin Higgins terrible song-poem in the book. (Those are never good, are they? Maybe some of Roald Dahl’s were okay?)
The Flower noted it was in Technicolor, though by the ’70s, they had turned the saturation levels way down (for “realism”, presumably, in that ugly era). Still, the color holds up well, and despite being as 1971 as all heck, it has aged charmingly and not in that clunky fashion so many things of the ’70s do. She loved it.
The Boy and His Girl were not as taken with it, though they allowed as how they did like it. His Girl noted that she couldn’t say she “loved” a movie about suicide. (It’s not about suicide, I thought to myself. It’s about life!) The Boy pointed out—fairly!—that much like my beloved Heaven Can Wait (1943), the character of Maude is less impressive in 2017 than it was in 1971, because in 2017 everyone is Maude. (Just like everyone is Heaven’s Henry Van Cleve now.) It’s much less endearing to be a rebel in a world where nobody lives by the rules than it was when everyone was a lot more uptight (and responsible).
I still love it. And I got to see so much more this time, like how Harold’s outfit exactly matches in psychiatrist’s at one point. And how blatantly the movie cheats with its feigned death scenes. (Cuts and mutli-person special effects are used in a way that could not possibly play in real life. But I loved that aspect of it, too.) And whatever became of Cat Stevens, this was a glorious artistic moment for him, young director Hal Ashby, and fledgling writer Colin Higgins. Higgins and Ashby would light up the ’70s (before dying horrible deaths in the ’80s, but don’t let’s think about that).