Friday, December 24, 2010

#221 Harold and Maude (1971)


Director: Hal Ashby

Cast: Ruth Gordon, Bud Cort, Vivian Pickles, Cyril Cusack, Charlers Tyner, Ellen Geer, Eric Christmas, G. Wood, Jud Engles

Perhaps this is where the few readers of this blog throw up their hands in frustration and finally stop following me once and for all–today is the day I give Harold and Maude 5 stars. But let me tell you why.

While it's true that it boasts no true surprises– that very early on you gather a sense of where these characters are going– it's the entire purpose, point, and play-out of this film that make it such a gratifying watching experience.

Bud Cort is Harold, a young, wealthy, death-obsessed boy, constantly performing elaborate mock-suicides for his own pleasure and ironical attention-seek. The dark humor of these spectacles are brilliant unto themselves, as they are the catapult for so many serious and comical nuances in each of the characters. Harold, also in his spare time, enjoys attending funerals in his self-purchased hearse. It's at these funerals that he runs into Maude (Gordon) and begins a reluctant albeit curious friendship.

Maude is a vivacious, arguably-crazed maniac bent on sucking the marrow out of every moment. As she approaches her 80th birthday, she sees all the joy of every situation, and with the innocence of someone who has never been through anything (although she is quite the opposite, we know, due to her Nazis prison camp tattoo) she approaches Harold as not only her contemporary but her best friend.

The two fall in love with what I like to classify as 'a different kind of love.' The kind that spans across ages, the surreal, the inhuman–anything capable of loving or being loved, no matter what form it takes. And although they often express their affections in the realm of we like to call romance, their almost sacred affection and understanding seems to stretch far beyond the limits of that classification.

It's true that this free-spirited film is just what we might expect to come out of this era in film-making, but it is the mastery of character, mood, and script that make this film entirely un-dismissable and unforgettable. I think there are many different ways to approach films. You can approach them for what they mean, how they expressed something, the sheer mastery of the skills and art form of film itself, their experiments in capturing something new, etc. While I'd admittedly not be able to stand my ground in holding this film up to some of the 'standard greats' in film history, I firmly believe it should be recognized and revered for what it is great at doing: capturing the limitless vitality of the human spirit.

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