Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Harold and Maude
Took me a while to get around to Hal Ashby's Harold and Maude. A film about a guy who attends funerals for fun and fakes his own suicides to torment his domineering mother hasn't seemed all that appealing lately.
I've been stuck for a couple of months, actually. Chalk that up to the grieving process, I guess. My mom's death continues to weigh on me, and I don't want to post some hand-wringing, navel-gazing stuff every day. I just don't feel like watching my movies much, but I'm not quitting. I've just slowed down.
Tonight, though, I put on Harold and Maude, and felt relieved when I watched the scene with the marching band parading by the funeral procession, and I couldn't stop laughing. Maybe I'm gonna be okay after all.
I'd never heard of Harold and Maude before taking that film genres course at Ball State in 1997ish. Although I had heard of Cat Stevens, whose songs comprise the entire soundtrack, I'd never paid much attention to his music.
After watching the film in class, I was a fan of both for life. Within the first 10 minutes, you get three Cat Stevens songs and two of Harold's faked suicides. Talk about a hook.
When Harold finds himself in therapy, he seems to be going along with the process; he's well behaved, soft-spoken — but look at what Harold is wearing on the left, as opposed to the therapist on the right:
This isn't Harold being compliant or active in his own therapy, but more of a "fuck you" to the therapist. Harold seems to make a comment on the superficiality of it all — dressing like a therapist doesn't make one a good therapist. This is what a rebellious young man would do, as he struggles with the adult world and all of those compromises, hypocrisies, and ironies.
Harold's uncle, Victor, "General MacArthur's right-hand man," according to Harold's mother, doesn't actually have a right arm. He salutes a poster of Nathan Hale by pulling on a string in his lapel that brings up his starched right sleeve. Ridiculous.
Of course, for all the commentary on death, there are several moments that take life quite seriously — Maude's concentration camp tattoo, for one. This isn't a film that deals with life and death in a flippant way, but contemplates the meaning we find in both. At one point, Harold and Maude find themselves together, their relationship blossoming like new life, and they're here:
Much has been written about this film over the years. Film scholars love Harold and Maude for the deft contemplation of life and death combined with moments that are still hilarious and disturbing 40 years later. You can read the film in the context of early 1970s American independent cinema, or you can recontextualize the film as a kind of comment on the modern tendency for people to get wrapped up in shit that isn't important at all, so much in fact that they forget how to enjoy life.
However you see the film, just see the film. Harold and Maude is a classic black comedy — the kind of film I don't return to much, but one that reminds me, abundantly, of who we've lost, how much we've lost, and all that's left behind.