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Film Review: “Harold and Maude”

“Harold and Maude” is a screenplay by Colin Higgins, released by Paramount Pictures in 1971. The film was directed by Hal Ashby, known for such films as “In the Heat of the Night” (1967), “Coming Home” (1978), “Being there” (1979) and many others. The film was produced by Mildred Lewis (executive producer), Charles Mulvehill and Collin Higgins himself. The director of photography is John Alonzo. Film editing was conducted by William Sawyer and Edward Warschilka. William Randall, James Richard and Frank Warner are the sound editors. Joe Marquette Jr. is a camera operator. Cat Stevens is a composer and music editing was delivered by Ken Johnson.

So next I will try to prevent myself from retelling the plot and will proceed nearly to the main issues. Bud Cort (Harold) and Ruth Gordon (Maude) starred as the main characters. The story is about the relationship between two people belonging to different generations. Harold Chasen, tender and touching young man, repulsed by his counterparts, neglected by his near and dear ones (Harold’s indifferent, selfish, unfeeling mother and his uncle, who sent him to boarding school). As a result – he became extravagant and  he developed a passionate desire for death. Maude (Dame Marjorie ‘Maude’ Chardine) is an eccentric old lady, who, after all those hardships, reverses and pain, brims with vital power. She is the one, who is the life itself: at once free-swinging and seasoned, fair and wise.

Such effect of agility is achieved by means of the cut and the rapid change in setting the frame, which is rather stunning. Cine-pattern of the season of the year and Cat Stevens’ music complement each other and create a fascinating atmosphere. A spectator is so much absorbed by the sceneries and the general mood, that one does not mind all those things that are weird and bizarre, if not to say irremissible and unperceivable.

The plot is to deal with the notion of satiety. The author states, that misunderstanding of all things unconventional and things that are beyond the understanding of the rank and file, negligence and people’s disregard to each other are among the greatest sorrows of our times. In their original manner, the creators claim that life is more important and harder than death. That is why in my opinion the drop-scene is ought to be handled as it is. Being an individual does not mean you are to conform to others, and others are not to conform you neither. Understanding and deep respect, the way people care and treat each other is more important. Before Harold met Maude, there was no friend beside him. She was the one who could give him a chance to express himself – she taught him to dance and to play the banjo. The moment they start to trust each other, Maude says that she would love to be back to life next time as a sunflower. Harold says that he would like to be a daisy, just because they are both the same. Not for once Maude says “LIVE!”. This is her word to Harold. It sounds almost like a benediction or blessing.

The story is unique. I cannot remember of any other movie or a story telling about the relationship of that kind. A story of such an influence of people one upon another and drastic changes of character does not come into mind neither. The characters are remarkable by themselves.

The story was adapted and staged on Broadway. The performance was closed after the fourth representation. In 1978 French adaptation and translation were conducted by Jean-Claude Carrière. This version was performed on a stage of Québec. From that moment the theatrical adaptations of the original screenplay are staged all over the world. In 1997 the film was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. Just the last lines of the lyrics of Cat Stevens’ song come into my mind:

…Well, if you want to sing out, sing out

And if you want to be free, be free

’cause there’s a million things to be

You know that there are…

By all means the story told about Harold and Maude is reassuring. One may hold by one’s own opinion – there are things that shock, things that are thought-provoking and they make us laugh or cry. But the point is that none of us should ever remain indifferent to what is going on. That is the real essence of art.