The first time I watched Hal Ashby’s cult classic Harold and Maude I was with a middle-aged L.A. couple who judged how deprived my childhood was based on the films I had or hadn’t seen. I can only describe their reaction as horrified disbelief when I admitted to never having heard of this old seventies film with a boring title. They immediately sat me down and put it on and I, with a degree of reluctance, started watching. My eyes didn’t leave the screen for the next 96 minutes and by the end I was bawling like the world was ending, rocked by the intensity of emotion the film had created in me. This continued for some time. I think the Californians thought they’d broken me.
Young, rich and obsessed with death, Harold (Bud Cort) finds himself changed forever when he meets aging eccentric, Maude (Ruth Gordon) – a woman who, like Harold, enjoys attending funerals of people she doesn’t know. They are kindred spirits and their relationship forms one of the most beautiful and unique love stories ever told on screen. Jack and Rose can sink with the ship.
Genre-wise ‘Harold and Maude’ is usually classed as a black comedy, but has elements of drama, romance – even horror. The central characters are kooky without you wanting to slap them (take note, Zooey Deschanel) and when they’re together it’s the rest of the world that’s off balance. Ruth Gordon gives a career-best performance as Maude, effortlessly slipping between almost-slapstick humour and heart-breaking vulnerability. It is a nuanced portrayal of a woman who is forever joyful at the simple fact of her existence and firmly believes life is there to be lived, pain and all.
The script is consistently sharp and insightful but what lifts ‘Harold and Maude’ from a great film to one of my all time favourites is the incredible music by Cat Stevens. He adds a subtle poignancy which suggests a deeper truth within the scenes; it’s melancholic but not depressing, concerned with pain yet hopeful and his warm, gravelly voice envelops and comforts. And at times we need to be comforted.
Give yourself a treat and watch a beautiful, funny, life-affirming classic. You will not be disappointed.
‘A lot of people enjoy being dead. But they are not dead, really. They’re just backing away from life. Reach out. Take a chance. Get hurt even. But play as well as you can. Go team, go! Give me an L. Give me an I. Give me a V. Give me an E. L-I-V-E. LIVE! Otherwise, you got nothing to talk about in the locker room.’