Harold and Maude

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Harold and Maude
Harold and Maude (1971 film) poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Hal Ashby
Produced by Colin Higgins
Charles B. Mulvehill
Written byColin Higgins
Starring Ruth Gordon
Bud Cort
Music by Cat Stevens
Cinematography John Alonzo
Edited byWilliam A. Sawyer
Edward Warschilka
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date
  • December 20, 1971 (1971-12-20)
Running time
91 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$1.2 million [1]

Harold and Maude is a 1971 American romantic black comedy drama directed by Hal Ashby and released by Paramount Pictures. It incorporates elements of dark humor and existentialist drama. The plot revolves around the exploits of a young man named Harold Chasen (Bud Cort) who is intrigued with death. Harold drifts away from the life that his detached mother (Vivian Pickles) prescribes for him, and slowly develops a strong friendship, and eventually a romantic relationship, with a 79-year-old woman named Maude (Ruth Gordon) who teaches Harold about living life to its fullest and that life is the most precious gift of all.

Romance film film genre

Romance films or romance movies are romantic love stories recorded in visual media for broadcast in theaters and on TV that focus on passion, emotion, and the affectionate romantic involvement of the main characters and the journey that their genuinely strong, true and pure romantic love takes them through dating, courtship or marriage. Romance films make the romantic love story or the search for strong and pure love and romance the main plot focus. Occasionally, romance lovers face obstacles such as finances, physical illness, various forms of discrimination, psychological restraints or family that threaten to break their union of love. As in all quite strong, deep, and close romantic relationships, tensions of day-to-day life, temptations, and differences in compatibility enter into the plots of romantic films.

Black comedy Comic work based on subject matter that is generally considered taboo

Black comedy, also known as black humor, dark comedy or gallows humor, is a comic style that makes light of subject matter that is generally considered taboo, particularly subjects that are normally considered serious or painful to discuss. Writers and comedians often use it as a tool for exploring vulgar issues, by provoking discomfort and serious thought as well as amusement in their audience. Popular themes of the genre include death and violence, discrimination, disease, and human sexuality.

Drama Artwork intended for performance, formal type of literature

Drama is the specific mode of fiction represented in performance: a play, opera, mime, ballet, etc, performed in a theatre, or on radio or television. Considered as a genre of poetry in general, the dramatic mode has been contrasted with the epic and the lyrical modes ever since Aristotle's Poetics —the earliest work of dramatic theory.

Contents

The film was based on a screenplay written by Colin Higgins and published as a novel in 1971. Filming locations in the San Francisco Bay Area included both Holy Cross Cemetery and Golden Gate National Cemetery, and the ruins of the Sutro Baths.

Colin Higgins was an Australian-American screenwriter, actor, director, and producer. He was best known for writing the screenplay for the 1971 film Harold and Maude, and for directing the films Foul Play (1978) and 9 to 5 (1980).

San Francisco Bay Area Conurbation in California, United States

The San Francisco Bay Area is a populous region surrounding the San Francisco, San Pablo and Suisun Bay estuaries in the northern part of the U.S. state of California. Although the exact boundaries of the region vary depending on the source, the Bay Area is defined by the Association of Bay Area Governments to include the nine counties that border the aforementioned estuaries: Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, Sonoma, and San Francisco. Other sources may exclude parts of or even entire counties, or expand the definition to include neighboring counties that don't border the bay such as San Benito, San Joaquin, and Santa Cruz.

Holy Cross Cemetery (Colma, California) cemetery in Colma, California

Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery in Colma, California is an American Roman Catholic cemetery operated by the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Established in 1887 on 300 acres (1.2 km2) of a former potato farm, it is the oldest and largest cemetery established in Colma to serve the needs of San Francisco. Several notable historical figures are interred at Holy Cross. Two of the three cemetery sequences in the film Harold and Maude were filmed here.

Critically and commercially unsuccessful when originally released, the film developed a cult following and in 1983 began making a profit. [1] [2] The film is ranked number 45 on the American Film Institute's list of 100 Funniest Movies of all Time and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 1997, for being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant". [3] The Criterion Collection special-edition Blu-ray and DVD were released June 12, 2012. [4]

Cult following Group of fans who are highly dedicated to a specific area of culture

A cult following comprises a group of fans who are highly dedicated to a work of culture, often referred to as a cult classic. A film, book, musical artist, television series or video game, among other things, is said to have a cult following when it has a small but very passionate fanbase. A common component of cult followings is the emotional attachment the fans have to the object of the cult following, often identifying themselves and other fans as members of a community. Cult followings are also commonly associated with niche markets. Cult media are often associated with underground culture, and are considered too eccentric or subversive to be appreciated by the general public or to be commercially successful.

American Film Institute nonprofit educational arts organization devoted to film

The American Film Institute (AFI) is an American film organization that educates filmmakers and honors the heritage of the motion picture arts in the United States. AFI is supported by private funding and public membership fees.

National Film Registry selection of films for preservation in the US Library of Congress

The National Film Registry (NFR) is the United States National Film Preservation Board's (NFPB) selection of films deserving of preservation. The NFPB, established by the National Film Preservation Act of 1988, was reauthorized by acts of Congress in 1992, 1996, 2005, and again in October 2008. The NFPB's mission, to which the NFR contributes, is to ensure the survival, conservation, and increased public availability of America's film heritage. The 1996 law also created the non-profit National Film Preservation Foundation which, although affiliated with the NFPB, raises money from the private sector.

Plot

Harold Chasen is a young man obsessed with death. He stages elaborate fake suicides, attends funerals, and drives a hearse, all to the chagrin of his socialite mother. [5] His mother sets up appointments with a psychoanalyst, but the analyst is befuddled by the case and fails to get Harold to talk about his real emotions.

Hearse large funeral vehicle

A hearse is a vehicle used to carry the dead in a coffin/casket. They range from deliberately anonymous vehicles to very formal heavily decorated vehicles.

At another stranger's funeral service, Harold meets Maude, a 79-year-old woman who shares Harold's hobby of attending funerals. He is entranced by her quirky outlook on life, which is bright and excessively carefree in contrast with his morbidity. The pair form a bond and Maude shows Harold the pleasures of art and music (including how to play banjo), and teaches him how to "[make] the most of his time on earth". [5] Meanwhile, Harold's mother is determined, against Harold's wishes, to find him a wife. One by one, Harold frightens and horrifies each of his appointed dates, by appearing to commit gruesome acts such as self-immolation, self-mutilation and seppuku. She tries enlisting him in the military instead, but he deters his recruiting officer uncle by staging a scene in which Maude poses as a pacifist protester and Harold seemingly murders her out of militaristic fanaticism.

Banjo musical instrument

The banjo is a four-, five-, or six-stringed instrument with a thin membrane stretched over a frame or cavity as a resonator, called the head, which is typically circular. The membrane is typically made of plastic, although animal skin is still occasionally used. Early forms of the instrument were fashioned by Africans in the United States, adapted from African instruments of similar design. The banjo is frequently associated with folk, Irish traditional, and country music. Banjo can also be used in some rock songs. Many rock bands, such as The Eagles, Led Zeppelin, and The Allman Brothers, have used the five-string banjo in some of their songs. Historically, the banjo occupied a central place in African-American traditional music and the folk culture of rural whites before entering the mainstream via the minstrel shows of the 19th century. Along with the fiddle, the banjo is a mainstay of American old-time music. It is also very frequently used in traditional ("trad") jazz.

Self-immolation is the act of killing oneself for political or religious reasons particularly by burning, but also achieved through various means. While usage since the 1960’s has typically referred to the historic self-immolation of Thích Quảng Đức in 1963, the term categorically refers to deaths by burning, originating with the practice of Sati when the Hindu goddess of the same name legendarily set herself on fire after her father insulted her. The Japanese ritual suicide seppuku is another example of "self-immolation". Self-immolation is often used as an extreme form of protest or in acts of martyrdom. It has a centuries-long recognition as the most extreme form of protest achieved by mankind.

<i>Seppuku</i> form of Japanese ritual suicide by disembowelment

Seppuku, sometimes referred to as harakiri, is a form of Japanese ritual suicide by disembowelment. It was originally reserved for samurai, but was also practiced by other Japanese people later on to restore honor for themselves or for their families. A samurai practice, seppuku was used either voluntarily by samurai to die with honor rather than fall into the hands of their enemies, as a form of capital punishment for samurai who had committed serious offenses, or performed because they had brought shame to themselves. The ceremonial disembowelment, which is usually part of a more elaborate ritual and performed in front of spectators, consists of plunging a short blade, traditionally a tantō, into the belly and drawing the blade from left to right, slicing the belly open. If the cut is performed deeply enough it can sever the descending aorta, causing a rapid death by blood loss.

When Harold and Maude are talking at her home he tells her, without prompting, the motive for his fake suicides: When he was at boarding school, he accidentally caused an explosion in his chemistry lab, leading police to assume his death. Harold returned home just in time to witness his mother react to the news of his death with a ludicrously dramatized faint. As he reaches this part of the story, Harold bursts into tears and says, "I decided then I enjoyed being dead."

As they become closer, their friendship soon blossoms into a romance and Harold announces that he will marry Maude, resulting in disgusted outbursts from his family, analyst, and priest. Maude's 80th birthday arrives, and Harold throws a surprise party for her. As the couple dance, Maude tells Harold that she "couldn't imagine a lovelier farewell." Confused, he questions Maude as to her meaning and she reveals that she has taken an overdose of sleeping pills and will be dead by morning. She restates her firm belief that eighty is the proper age to die.

Romance (love) Type of love that focuses on feelings

Romance is an emotional feeling of love for, or a strong attraction towards another person, and the courtship behaviors undertaken by an individual to express those overall feelings and resultant emotions.

Hypnotic class of medications

Hypnotic or soporific drugs, commonly known as sleeping pills, are a class of psychoactive drugs whose primary function is to induce sleep and to be used in the treatment of insomnia (sleeplessness), or for surgical anesthesia.

Harold rushes Maude to the hospital, where she is treated unsuccessfully and dies. In the final sequence, Harold's car is seen going off a seaside cliff but after the crash, the final shot reveals Harold standing calmly atop the cliff, holding his banjo. After gazing down at the wreckage, he dances away, picking out on his banjo Cat Stevens' song "If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out".

Cast

Director Hal Ashby appears in an uncredited cameo, watching a model train at an amusement park. The amusement park is Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk (California USA) / Penny Arcade.

Production

UCLA student Colin Higgins wrote Harold and Maude as his master's thesis. While working as producer Edward Lewis's pool boy, Higgins showed the script to Lewis's wife, Mildred. Mildred was so impressed that she got Edward to give it to Stanley Jaffe at Paramount. Higgins sold the script with the understanding that he would direct the film but he was told he wasn't ready, after tests he shot proved unsatisfactory to the studio heads. Ashby would only commit to directing the film after getting Higgins' blessing and then, so Higgins could watch and learn from him on the set, Ashby made Higgins a co-producer. [7] Higgins says he originally thought of the story as a play. It then became a 20-minute thesis while at film school. After the film came out, the script was turned into a novel then a play, which ran for several years in Paris. [8]

Ashby felt that Maude should ideally be European and his list of possible actresses included dames Peggy Ashcroft, Edith Evans, Gladys Cooper and Celia Johnson as well as Lotte Lenya, Luise Rainer, Pola Negri, Minta Durfee, and Agatha Christie. [9] Ruth Gordon indicated that in addition she heard that Edwige Feuillère, Elisabeth Bergner, Mildred Natwick, Mildred Dunnock, and Dorothy Stickney had been considered. [10]

For Harold, in addition to Bud Cort, Ashby considered all promising unknowns, Richard Dreyfuss, Bob Balaban, and John Savage. Also on his list were John Rubinstein, for whom Higgins had written the part, and then-up-and-coming British pop star Elton John, whom Ashby had seen live and hoped would also do the music. [11]

Anne Brebner, the casting director, was almost cast as Harold's mother, when Vivian Pickles was briefly unable to do the role. [12]

Release

Critical response

Harold and Maude received mixed reviews, with several critics being offended by the film's dark humor. Roger Ebert, in a review dated January 1, 1972, gave the film one-and-a-half out of four stars. He wrote, "And so what we get, finally, is a movie of attitudes. Harold is death, Maude life, and they manage to make the two seem so similar that life's hardly worth the extra bother. The visual style makes everyone look fresh from the Wax Museum, and all the movie lacks is a lot of day-old gardenias and lilies and roses in the lobby, filling the place with a cloying sweet smell. Nothing more to report today. Harold doesn't even make pallbearer." [13] Vincent Canby also panned the film, stating that the actors "are so aggressive, so creepy and off-putting, that Harold and Maude are obviously made for each other, a point the movie itself refuses to recognize with a twist ending that betrays, I think, its life-affirming pretensions." [14]

The reputation of the film has increased greatly; Rotten Tomatoes, which labeled the film as "Certified Fresh", gave it a score of 84% based on 45 reviews, with an average score of 7.7/10. A consensus on the site read, "Hal Ashby's comedy is too dark and twisted for some, and occasionally oversteps its bounds, but there's no denying the film's warm humor and big heart." [15] In 2005, the Writers Guild of America ranked the screenplay #86 on its list of 101 Greatest Screenplays ever written. [16] Sight & Sound magazine conducts a poll every ten years of the world's finest film directors, to find out the Ten Greatest Films of All Time. This poll has been going since 1992 and has become the most recognized poll of its kind in the world. In 2012, Niki Caro, Wanuri Kahiu, and Cyrus Frisch voted for "Harold and Maude". Frisch commented: "An encouragement to think beyond the obvious!" [17] In 2017, Chicago Tribune critic Mark Caro wrote a belated appreciation, "I'm sorry, Harold and Maude, for denying you for so long. You're my favorite movie once again." [18]

Home media

On June 12, 2012, The Criterion Collection released Harold and Maude for Region 1 on DVD and Blu-ray, both of which includes a collection of audio excerpts of director Hal Ashby from January 11, 1972 and of screenwriter Colin Higgins from January 10, 1979, a new video interview with Yusuf/Cat Stevens, a new audio commentary by Ashby biographer Nick Dawson and producer Charles B. Mulvehill, and a booklet which includes a new film essay by film and television critic Matt Zoller Seitz. Exclusive to the Blu-ray edition are a new digital restoration of the film with uncompressed monaural soundtrack and an optional remastered uncompressed stereo soundtrack. Other exclusives are a New York Times profile of actress Ruth Gordon from 1971, an interview from 1997 with actor Bud Cort and cinematographer John Alonzo, and an interview from 2001 with executive producer Mildred Lewis. [19] [20] [21]

Accolades

Harold and Maude is #45 on the American Film Institute's list of 100 Years... 100 Laughs, the list of the top 100 films in American comedy. The list was released in 2000. Two years later, AFI released the list AFI's 100 Years... 100 Passions honoring the most romantic films for the past 100 years, Harold and Maude ranked #69. [22] In September 2008, Empire listed Harold and Maude as #65 in Empire's 500 Greatest Movies of All Time. [23] Entertainment Weekly ranked the film #4 on their list of "The Top 50 Cult Films." [24]

In June 2008, AFI revealed its "Ten Top Ten"—the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Harold and Maude was acknowledged as the ninth-best film in the romantic comedy genre. [25]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

At the 29th Golden Globe Awards, Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon received a nomination for Best Actor and Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy film, respectively. [30]

Music

Harold and Maude [31] [32]
Soundtrack album by
ReleasedDecember 28, 2007 (2007-12-28)
Label Vinyl Films
Producer Cat Stevens
Paul Samwell-Smith

The music in Harold and Maude was composed and performed by Cat Stevens. He had been suggested by Elton John to do the music after John had dropped out of the project. [33] Stevens composed two original songs for the film, "Don't Be Shy" and "If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out" and performed instrumental and alternative versions of the songs "On the Road to Find Out", "I Wish, I Wish", "Miles from Nowhere", "Tea for the Tillerman", "I Think I See the Light", "Where Do the Children Play?" and "Trouble" which were either on the album Mona Bone Jakon or Tea for the Tillerman . Those albums had been released before the film. "Don't Be Shy" and "If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out" were not released on an album, until his 1984 compilation Footsteps in the Dark: Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 .

There is some additional non–Cat Stevens music in the film. "Greensleeves" is played on the harp during dinner. During the scene where Harold is floating face-down in the swimming pool, the opening bars of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 are heard. A marching band is also heard playing a march titled "The Klaxon" by Henry Fillmore outside the church following a funeral.[ citation needed ]

1972 soundtrack

The first soundtrack was released in Japan in 1972 on vinyl and cassette (A&M Records GP-216). It omitted the two original songs and all instrumental and alternative versions of songs and was generally composed of re-released material that was in the film, along with five songs that were not in the film. [34]

Track listing

2007 soundtrack

The second soundtrack was released in December 2007, by Vinyl Films Records, as a vinyl-only limited-edition release of 2,500 copies. It contained a 30-page oral history of the making of the film, comprising the most extensive series of interviews yet conducted on Harold and Maude. [31]

Track listing

Adaptations

Colin Higgins later adapted the story into a stage play. The original Broadway production, starring Janet Gaynor as Maude and Keith McDermott as Harold, closed after four performances in February 1980. [35]

A French adaptation for television, translated and written by Jean-Claude Carrière, appeared in 1978. It was also adapted for the stage by the Compagnie Viola Léger in Moncton, New Brunswick, [36] starring Roy Dupuis. [37]

Unproduced sequel and prequel

Higgins expressed interest in 1978 about both a sequel and prequel to Harold and Maude. [38] The sequel, Harold's Story, would have Cort portray Harold's life after Maude. Higgins also imagined a prequel showing Maude's life before Harold, Grover and Maude had Maude learning how to steal cars from Grover Muldoon, the character portrayed by Richard Pryor in Higgins' 1976 film Silver Streak . Higgins wanted Gordon and Pryor to reprise their respective roles.

See also

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