April 26, 2008

Harold and Maude

Harold and Maude
directed by Hal Ashby, 1971

Well this was a thoroughly enjoyable movie, with a wicked sense of humor and that particular late-60s/early-70s aura of Significance, tempered with a light touch.

I suppose the big surprise in the film for me is its warm humanism. Judging from what I'd heard about it in the past, I was expecting a lot more heavy-handed morality and a soundtrack of axes being ground. To be sure, there's plenty of that going on, but at its heart this is a story of two idiosyncratic individuals, and it's no small feat that it finds ways to undercut the potential for grandiosity most of the time. Makes sense that the title of the movie is the names of the two characters.

The San Francisco and Bay Area locations are a huge attraction for me as well, of course. In fact, the more I think back on it, the more I think that the setting plays an important role (I can imagine a New York-based version, but it would require a more somber tone, to the detriment of the drama). The director spends a lot of time on the settings, letting the surroundings sink in and inform the scenes: the cold ornateness of the mansion, the artificially sculpted cemetery grounds, the crashing power of the pacific ocean, the cozy warmth of Maude's trailer, etc.

And the all Cat Stevens soundtrack? Well, it kind of reminded me of the zither music in the Third Man, to tell you the truth: sometimes beautifully fitting, sometimes very distracting, all the time energetic and amateurish. Oddly memorable, just like the rest of the movie.

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