“Harold and Maude” is a dark comedy that is eccentric and memorable. A wonderful performance, cool soundtrack and a witty and unique story, a few reasons why this film continues to resonate with audiences over 40-years. “Harold and Maude” is highly recommended!
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TITLE: Harold and Maude – The Criterion Collection #608
FILM RELEASE DATE: 1971
DURATION: 91 Minutes
DVD INFORMATION: Color, Monaural, 1:85:1 Aspect Ratio, Subtitles: English SDH
COMPANY: Paramount Pictures/The Criterion Collection
RELEASED: June 12, 2012
Directed by Harold Ashby
Written by Colin Higgins
Produced by Colin Higgins, Charles Mulvehill
Executive Producer: Mildred Lewis
Cinematography by John A. Alonzo
Edited by William A. Sawyer, Edward Warschilka
Casting by Lynn Stalmaster
Production Design by Michael D. Haller
Costume Design by William Ware Theiss
Ruth Gordon as Maude
Bud Cort as Harold
Vivian Pickles as Mrs. Chasen
Cyril Cusack as Glaucus
Charles Tyner as Uncle Victor
Ellen Geer as Sunshine Dore
Eric Christmas as Priest
G. Wood as Psychiatrist
With the idiosyncratic American fable Harold and Maude, countercultural director Hal Ashby fashioned what would become the cult classic of its era. Working from a script by Colin Higgins, Ashby tells the story of the emotional and romantic bond between a death-obsessed young man (Bud Cort) from a wealthy family and a devil-may-care, bohemian octogenarian (Ruth Gordon). Equal parts gallows humor and romantic innocence, Harold and Maude dissolves the line between darkness and light along with the ones that separate people by class, gender, and age, and it features indelible performances and a remarkable soundtrack by Cat Stevens.
The year 1971 featured the winding down of the hippie culture, one last anti-war movement which would lead to the end of the draft and the Vietnam War a few years later.
With so much negative surrounding America in the late 60′s due to the Vietnam war, deaths of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the violence at the Altamont Free Concert in ’69, the Charles Manson murders, bombing of Cambodia and the shootings at Jackson and Kent State University,
Suffice to say, tragic events leading to the early ’70s and no confidence in American leadership or the war in Vietnam, people continued to turn to entertainment, hoping to escape the country’s doldrums.
Disney World opened in Florida, Led Zeppelin would meet amazing success with the release of “Led Zeppelin IV” and in cinema, audiences had the opportunity to experience amazing films.
While there were films such as “The French Connection”, “The Last Picture Show”, “A Clockwork Orange”, “McCabe & Mrs. Muller”, “Dirty Harry”, “Straw Dogs”, “Walkabout”, “Two-Lane Blackstop”, “Murmur of the Heart” and even “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory”, to name a few. There was one film that didn’t do well in the box office, but somehow has achieved a cult following since its release.
That film was “Harold and Maude”, a dark comedy directed by Hal Ashby (“The Landlord”, “Shampoo”, “Coming Home”, “Being There”) and written by Colin Higgins (“Nine to Five”, “Foul Play”, “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”). The film would explore a relationship between a young man named Harold as portrayed by actor Bud Cort (“MASH”, “Brewster McCloud”) and an 80-year-old woman, named Maude, as portrayed by Academy Award winning actress Ruth Gordon (“Rosemary’s Baby”, “Adam’s Rib”, “The Actress”).
For Ashby, “Harold and Maude” would be a film about the doomed outlook of the youth culture of that time because of what had occurred in America for that decade. Youths who felt they had no importance and lived without meaning as exhibited through the main character, Harold.
“Harold and Maude” would later be ranked in various polls as one of the best American comedy films of all time, ranking #45 on the American Film Institute’s “100 Funniest Movies of All Time”, #9 for “Top 10 Romantic Comedy” and was even selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
And now, “Harold and Maude” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of The Criterion Collection in June 2012.
“Harold and Maude” revolves around a young man named Harold Chasen, a young man obsessed with death and even going so far as to stage fake suicides in order to get the attention of his socialite mother Mrs. Chasen (as portrayed by Vivian Pickles).
While Harold has tried to get his mother’s attention by hanging himself (his mother barely noticing or caring), faking his death with a fake scene of him slashing his throat and wrists with blood all over or even Harold swimming face down as he has drowned, but his mother continues to swim her laps near him.
Despite his mother objecting to his fake suicides, she is more preoccupied with her lifestyle and Harold’s image than of Harold as person and a son. So, she sends him to a therapist to deal with him.
While seeing a therapist, for Harold, he feels no one understands him. So, he literally finds solace attending funerals and driving a hearse.
At one funeral, he sees a 79-year-old woman named Maude and he continues to see her at other funerals. Maude makes the first move by introducing her to his life. At the age of 79, she steals cars, poses nude for an ice sculptor and eventually, she gets Harold to open up and both begin to share a unique bond.
Maude would share her love of art and music and even teaching him how to play a banjo and most importantly, making the most time he has with his life on Earth.
But when Harold’s mother wants him to get married and arranging for him to meet several women, Harold makes a surprising announcement that he will be getting married, and that woman will be his true love, Maude.
VIDEO & AUDIO:
“Harold and Maude” is presented in widescreen 1:85:1 and is a new digital transfer. According to Spike Jonze, this Criterion Collection release “matches what our original print looked like and how we were never able to get that when we put out the DVD before”.
With that being said, its important to note that if you want the best video and audio quality of “Harold and Maude”, it’s recommended that one purchases the Blu-ray release. Having owned the original DVD release of “Harold and Maude”, the quality of the film is definitely an upgrade for this Criterion Collection DVD. There is a bit more clarity and detail but I’m confident that the Blu-ray version will probably feature even better detail and clarity.
As for the picture quality, according to the Criterion Collection, “Harold and Maude” features a new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a SCANITY film scanner from a 35mm interpositive, which had to be wetgated from the original negative since it was severely scratched and not suitable for scanning. Coloris Sheri Eisenberg, who worked on a previous transfer of the film with the lade director of photography John Alonzo, referenced Alonzo’s original notes and the previous telecine to generate this version. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices and warps were manually removed using MTI’s DRS and Image Systems’ Phoenix, while jitter and flicker were fixed using Pixel Farm’s PFClean.
As for the audio, the audio is presented in monaural. For this dark comedy, the film is dialogue driven and featuring a Cat Stevens musical soundtrack that was appropriate and works for this film. Once again, for better audio quality, I recommend going for the Blu-ray version for even better audio clarity and dynamic range on its lossless audio track. Otherwise, the DVD sounds very good.
According to the Criterion Collection, “Harold and Maude” was remastered at 24-bit from the 35 mm D/M/E magnetic track. The optional stereo mix was created at POP sound in Santa Monica, California, by engineer Ted Hall, under the supervision of Paramount Pictures’ Laura Thornburg, from the 35 mm D/M/E magnetic track and the original stereo soundtrack. Additional restoration was done at Criterion, where clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.
English subtitles are presented in English SDH.
“Harold and Maude – The Criterion Collection #608” comes with the following special features:
- Audio Commentary - Featuring audio commentary by Hal Ashby biographer Nick Dawson and producer Charles B. Mulvehill.
- Hal Ashby – (13:17) Featuring an illustrated audio excerpt from a seminar in January 1972 by filmmaker Hal Ashby.
- Colin Higgins – (13:08) Featuring an illustrated audio excerpt from a seminar from January 1979 featuring writer-producer Colin Higgins.
- Yusuf/Cat Stevens – (11:04) Featuring a 2011 interview with Yusuf/Cat Stevens, who discusses his involvement in creating the soundtrack for “Harold and Maude”.
- 38-Page booklet – “Harold and Maude” comes with a 38-page booklet with the following essays: “Life and How to Live It” by Matt Zoller Seitz, “A Boy of Twenty and a Woman of Eighty” by Leticia Kent, a condensed conversation featuring Bud Cort, cinematographer John Alonzo and James Rogers of the Colin Higgins Trust on Feb. 1997 and “Meeting Colin Higgins”, a condensed interview with Harold and Maude executive producer Mildred Lewis, her husband, producer Edward Lewis and daughter Susan in regards to screenwriter and producer Colin Higgins. Conducted by James Rogers of the Colin Higgins Trust on June 2001.
When it comes to eccentric films and satire, this is where filmmaker Hal Ashby showcases his efficacy.
A filmmaker who literally grew up in a tumultuous household, like other filmmakers who had a similar background, for Ashby, cinema was a way to escape reality and doing something you love. From his earlier career as an editor (in which he won an Academy Award for editing the 1967 “In the Heat of the Night”. Ashby was a hippie filmmaker was known for his eccentric satires from his 1970 film “The Landlord” to his 1975 film “Shampoo”, it wasn’t until Ashby would show a change in his style of films, with his award winning 1978 film “Coming Home” which Ashby collaborated with Jane Fonda.
But there is one film in his oeuvre that stands out and that is “Harold and Maude”. A film that did poorly in the box office but yet of the many films he had directed and those that won awards, “Harold and Maude” is one that stands out for its awkwardness, it’s sophistication and wit.
One of the reasons why you are drawn to this film is because of how unexpected the characters are. From Harold’s attempts of fake suicide, just looking at his wide-eyed face and someone who looks gentle, but yet he enjoys going to funerals and driving a hearse. There is no doubt that Harold is affected by his dysfunctional relationship with his mother and often at times, I have wondered if Harold’s life included that tension that filmmaker Hal Ashby had experienced while he was a child.
And while Harold’s fake suicide attempts are humorous, because you know he’s not going to pull it off and is often trying to get the attention of his mother, we are then introduced to Maude.
A 79-year-old woman who is close to turning 80, but where Harold is more reserved, Maude is like a troublemaking teenager. Ready to break some rules and laws and is not afraid of police. If Harold is that product of the ’60s and ’70s, it is Maude, the older woman who has more enthusiasm about life and having fun. You typically don’t use the word “rambunctious” when describing the elderly, but this is one woman that that is full of life, lived a great life and hopes that she can show this troubled young man that life is good, as long as you live it. And I do agree with the many references to Maude as a “magical pixy dream girl” because the story is so unusual, but yet she brings life to this young man.
Harold is not satisfied with life and during one emotional scene, he tells Maude a story of how he saw his mom’s reaction to when the police showed up to her door telling her that her son has been killed in a lab accident and how she cried hysterically. It was the first major emotion he has seen of his mother towards him and thus, he wishes he was dead. Because she sure doesn’t give a care that he’s alive. But yet, this one older woman cares deeply about him and is willing to show him what is out there in life to be enjoyed. May it be dancing, singing, music or just taking risks and having fun.
Performances are a major key in “Harold and Maude” and both Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort are fantastic and while we have seen elements of “Harold & Maude” in other films, there is really not a film that can compare to it. It’s originality and wit may have been a product of its time, a response to how people have felt about America in war, America’s moral towards its politicians and youth being seen as not important. Afterall, teenagers were being drafted in the military or were being arrested or killed when protesting the war. It was a tumultuous era in American history and for filmmakers like Hal Ashby, a hippie himself, this was a film that had a message about youth, about war, but a film that is not about youth or war.
“Harold and Maude” is a dark comedy that is eccentric and memorable. A wonderful performance, cool soundtrack and a witty and unique story, a few reasons why this film continues to resonate with audiences over 40-years. I also love the cinematography, especially its use of long distance camerawork.
As for the DVD release, as mentioned earlier, if you want the best video and audio quality, you definitely want to go for the Blu-ray release! Otherwise, compared to the older DVD release, “Harold and Maude” looks fantastic with its new transfer. The Criterion Collection did an amazing job of not just taking what existed earlier but getting some better, something new in bringing this film to a generation of movie fans but also those who love and are passionate about this film and want to see it in the best video and audio quality that is possible.
Overall, “Harold and Maude” is a film that I have been wishing for nearly a decade that it would receive The Criterion Collection treatment. And now that it has happened, I’m absolutely thrilled that this wonderful film has received a brand new transfer and is now being released on Blu-ray and DVD.
“Harold and Maude – The Criterion Collection #608″ is highly recommended!