Friday, 12 August 2011

MOVIE REVIEW: Harold and Maude think life is grand

Directed by Hal Ashby, Harold and Maude is a delightful concoction of high comedy, low drama and touching romance. Ashby is an underrated auteur of ‘70s cinema, with a number of films to his credit that entitle him to as much notice as any canonised auteur of the period. A true iconoclast, he started out as an editor and graduated to directing a number of quirky films and ‘Harold and Maude’ is the second of his efforts which led to ‘Shampoo’ (1975) and ‘Being There’(1980) .

 'Harold and Maude’ did score big with the youth market of the 70s who saw their struggles reflected in the plight of the young and innocent Harold, twenty year old son of the upper middle class, to find a place in the corrupt world that frankly doesn’t seem to be interested in him at all, and the feeling is mutual. The only thing that seems to hold Harold’s interest in the slightest is death; he meets an eighty year old woman named Maude who, contrarily has a very firm grip on life. They endear themselves to each other and begin a relationship, two misfits at either end of the mortal compass so to speak.

Released in 1971, when youth unrest over Vietnam had turned America into a virtual battlefield bordering on civil war, ‘Harold and Maude’ is a seemingly laid back treatise on the hippie culture. But in fact it is actually an allegory of individuals’ rights to live their lives the way they see fit with little or no interference from authority. This conceit in itself makes the film an extremely liberating and enjoyable experience and I think that Ashby displays a sincere interest in people’s inner lives and their struggle to realise their aspirations within the context of an authoritarian social structure. But this sounds too dour and does not reflect the verve and spirit of a film which unlike Harold, but more like Maude is filled with a rebellious joie de vivre that is wonderfully contagious and given the social context, entirely believable.

Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort star in the title roles and they make a great team . The comedy is at times hilarious, as Ashby pokes fun at all kinds of social conventions that exist mainly to keep people separated from each other. But beneath the joyfulness lies a sadness that as humans we should feel the weight on our shoulders of prisons made by our own doing. These prisons can be so harsh, that they drain us of our humanity. The songs of Cat Stevens are used to excellent effect on the soundtrack, which take the place of conventional movie music. This wasn’t’ done often and presages the extensive use of music that has already been recorded in later (but dissimilar films) such as ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and ‘Natural Born Killers’ which started a trend. ‘Harold and Maude’ is a wonderful piece of celluloid, a fine example of the diversity of ‘70s cinema, as well as an exceptional and thought provoking piece of entertainment in its own right and is highly recommended.

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