|Harold and Maude|
Re-release poster, 1978
|Directed by||Hal Ashby|
|Produced by||Colin Higgins
Charles B. Mulvehill
|Written by||Colin Higgins|
|Music by||Cat Stevens|
|Edited by||William A. Sawyer
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
Harold and Maude is a 1971 American romantic dark comedy directed by Hal Ashby and released by Paramount Pictures. It incorporates elements of dark humor and existentialist drama, with a plot that revolves around the exploits of a young man named Harold (played by Bud Cort) intrigued with death. Harold drifts away from the life that his detached mother (Vivian Pickles) prescribes for him, and slowly develops quite a strong and close friendship and eventually a romantic relationship with a 79-year-old woman named Maude (Ruth Gordon) who teaches Harold about living life to its fullest and that life is the most precious gift of all.
The film was based on a screenplay written by Colin Higgins and published as a novel in 1971. Filming locations in the San Francisco Bay Area included both Holy Cross Cemetery and Golden Gate National Cemetery, and the ruins of the Sutro Baths.
Critically and commercially unsuccessful when originally released, the film developed a cult following and in 1983 began making a profit. The film is ranked number 45 on the American Film Institute's list of 100 Funniest Movies of all Time and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 1997, for being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant". The Criterion Collection special edition Blu-ray and DVD were released June 12, 2012.
At another stranger's funeral service, Harold meets Maude (Ruth Gordon), a 79-year-old woman who shares Harold's hobby of attending funerals. He is entranced by her quirky outlook on life, which is bright and excessively carefree in contrast with his morbidity. The pair form a bond and Maude slowly shows Harold the pleasures of art and music (including how to play banjo), and teaches him how to "[make] the most of his time on earth". Meanwhile, Harold's mother is determined, against Harold's wishes, to find him a wife. One by one, Harold frightens and horrifies each of his appointed dates, by appearing to commit gruesome acts such as self-immolation, self-mutilation and seppuku.
As they become closer, their friendship soon blossoms into a romance and Harold announces that he will marry Maude, resulting in disgusted outbursts from his family, psychiatrist and priest. Maude's 80th birthday arrives and Harold throws a surprise party for her. As the couple dance, Maude tells Harold that she "couldn't imagine a lovelier farewell". Confused, he questions Maude as to her meaning and she reveals that she has taken an overdose of sleeping pills and will be dead by midnight. She restates her firm belief that eighty is the proper age to die.
Harold rushes Maude to the hospital, where she is treated unsuccessfully and dies. In the final sequence, Harold's car is seen going off a seaside cliff but after the crash, the final shot reveals Harold standing calmly atop the cliff, holding his banjo. After gazing down at the wreckage, he dances away, picking out on his banjo Cat Stevens' "If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out".
UCLA student Colin Higgins wrote Harold and Maude as his master’s thesis. While working as producer Edward Lewis' pool boy, Higgins showed the script to Lewis's wife, Mildred. Mildred was so impressed that she got Edward to give it to Stanley Jaffe at Paramount. Higgins sold the script with the understanding that he would direct the film but he was told he wasn't ready, after tests he shot proved unsatisfactory to the studio heads. Ashby would only commit to directing the film after getting Higgins' blessing and then, so Higgins could watch and learn from him on the set, Ashby made Higgins a co-producer. Higgins says he originally thought of the story as a play. It then became a 20 minute thesis while at film school. After the film came out, the script was turned into a novel then a play, which ran for several years in Paris.
Ashby felt that Maude should ideally be European and his list of possible actresses included dames Peggy Ashcroft, Edith Evans, Gladys Cooper and Celia Johnson as well as Lotte Lenya, Luise Rainer, Pola Negri, Minta Durfee and Agatha Christie. Ruth Gordon indicated that in addition she heard that Edwige Feuillere, Elisabeth Bergner, Mildred Natwick, Mildred Dunnock and Dorothy Stickney had been considered.
For Harold, in addition to Bud Cort, Ashby considered all promising unknowns, Richard Dreyfuss, Bob Balaban and John Savage. Also on his list were John Rubinstein, for whom Higgins had written the part and then up-and-coming British pop star Elton John, whom Ashby had seen live and hoped would also do the music.
Anne Brebner, the casting director, was almost cast as Harold's mother, when Vivian Pickles was briefly unable to do the role.
Hal Ashby, the director, shared certain ideals with the era’s youth culture and in this film he contrasts the doomed outlook of the alienated youth with the hard-won optimism of those who endured the horrors of the early 20th century, nihilism with purpose. Harold is the present, Maude's past is revealed in a glimpse of the Auschwitz ID number tattooed on her arm, as well as her talk with Harold about using an umbrella to defend herself from thugs at political meetings before moving to America. Part of what has made the film a classic is that Ashby understands and is sympathetic of both the doomed and optimistic outlooks rather than portraying the world as Us vs. Them. This is a love story of two people, Harold and Maude.
Meaning threads through the film as does choice mostly seen through the changes in Harold. He is part of a society in which he is of no importance; existentially, he is without meaning. Maude lives a life of deliberate choice and rich with meaning. It is in this crisis, shown against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, that we see the differences between experiencing a meaningless war and experiencing and living beyond a war of great meaning. He is part of a generation and she an individual. He no longer believes in anything while she lives the ideals of the era's youth culture. He plays with death, she accepts death as a fact of life and decides her own time to die.
Because he is forced to accept that deliberate choice Harold gains the strength to make his own. He won't react to a society that sees him only as a position he fills or the background of a meaningless world. He, too will be an individual, he will live a life with meaning.
When Harold and Maude are talking candidly at her home he tells her that he has "died a few times". He describes how, when he was at boarding school, he set his chemistry lab on fire and escaped through a hole in the floor, going home believing his school career was at an end and he was free. When the police came to his house, Harold watched as they told his mother that he had died in the fire and saw her collapse into the policemen's arms. As he reaches this part of the story, Harold bursts into tears and declares, "I decided then I enjoyed being dead".
Throughout the movie, Harold "dies" seven to eight times. He tells his psychologist at one early juncture that he has made similar attempts in all fifteen times now, which he calls a rough estimate.
Harold and Maude is #45 on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Years... 100 Laughs, the list of the top 100 films in American comedy. The list was released in 2000. Two years later, AFI released the list AFI's 100 Years... 100 Passions honoring the most romantic films for the past 100 years, Harold and Maude ranked #69. In September 2008, Empire listed Harold and Maude as #65 in Empire's 500 Greatest Movies of All Time. Entertainment Weekly ranked the film #4 on their list of “The Top 50 Cult Films.”
In June 2008, AFI revealed its "Ten Top Ten"—the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Harold and Maude was acknowledged as the ninth best film in the romantic comedy genre.
Harold and Maude received mixed reviews, with several critics being offended by the film's dark humor. Roger Ebert, in a review dated January 1, 1972, did not care for the film. He wrote, "And so what we get, finally, is a movie of attitudes. Harold is death, Maude life, and they manage to make the two seem so similar that life's hardly worth the extra bother. The visual style makes everyone look fresh from the Wax Museum, and all the movie lacks is a lot of day-old gardenias and lilies and roses in the lobby, filling the place with a cloying sweet smell. Nothing more to report today. Harold doesn't even make pallbearer." Vincent Canby also panned the film, stating that the actors "are so aggressive, so creepy and off-putting, that Harold and Maude are obviously made for each other, a point the movie itself refuses to recognize with a twist ending that betrays, I think, its life-affirming pretensions."
The reputation of the film has increased; Rotten Tomatoes, which labeled the film as "Certified Fresh", gave it a score of 86% based on 42 reviews, with an average score of 7.6/10. A consensus on the site read, "Hal Ashby's comedy is too dark and twisted for some, and occasionally oversteps its bounds, but there's no denying the film's warm humor and big heart." In 2005, the Writers Guild of America ranked the screenplay #86 on its list of 101 Greatest Screenplays ever written. Sight & Sound magazine conducts a poll every ten years of the world's finest film directors, to find out the Ten Greatest Films of All Time. This poll has been going since 1992 and has become the most recognised poll of its kind in the world. In 2012, Niki Caro, Wanuri Kahiu and Cyrus Frisch voted for "Harold and Maude". Frisch commented: "An encouragement to think beyond the obvious!"
|Harold and Maude|
|Soundtrack album by Cat Stevens|
|Released||December 28, 2007|
The music in Harold and Maude was composed and performed by Cat Stevens. He had been suggested by Elton John to do the music after John had dropped out of the project. Stevens composed two original songs for the film, "Don't Be Shy" and "If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out" and performed instrumental and alternate versions of the songs "On the Road to Find Out", "I Wish, I Wish", "Miles from Nowhere", "Tea for the Tillerman", "I Think I See the Light", "Where Do the Children Play?" and "Trouble" which were either on the album Mona Bone Jakon or Tea for the Tillerman. Those albums had been released before the film. "Don't Be Shy" and "If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out" were not released on an album, until his 1984 compilation Footsteps in the Dark: Greatest Hits, Vol. 2.
There is some additional non-Cat Stevens music in the film. "Greensleeves" is played on the harp during dinner. During the scene where Harold is floating face-down in the swimming pool, the opening bars of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 are heard. A marching band is also heard playing a John Philip Sousa march outside the church following a funeral.
The first soundtrack was released in Japan in 1972 on vinyl and cassette, (A&M Records GP-216). It omitted the two original songs and all instrumental and alternate versions of songs and was generally composed of re-released material that was in the film, along with five songs that are not in the film.
The second soundtrack was released in December 2007, by Vinyl Films Records, as a vinyl-only limited edition release of 2,500 copies. It contained a 30-page oral history of the making of the film, the most extensive series of interviews yet conducted on Harold and Maude.
Colin Higgins later adapted the story into a stage play. The original Broadway production, starring Janet Gaynor as Maude and Keith McDermott as Harold, closed after four performances in February 1980.
Higgins expressed interest in 1978 about both a sequel and prequel to Harold and Maude. The sequel, Harold's Story, would have Cort portray Harold's life after Maude. Higgins also imagined a prequel showing Maude's life before Harold, Grover and Maude had Maude learning how to steal cars from Grover Muldoon, the character portrayed by Richard Pryor in Higgins' 1976 film Silver Streak. Higgins wanted Gordon and Pryor to reprise their roles.
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