August 9th: The Odder Couple


167. Harold and Maude (Hal Ashby, 1971)

When I watched this, and for most of this year, Harold and Maude has been on the outer reaches of the IMDB top 250. I come to look at it today and it has managed to drop out! As annoying as that is I can’t say that I’m disappointed to have watched it because it really is a special bit of work.

Harold is a wealthy young man with a fixation on repeatedly faking his own suicide, mainly to be found by his mother. Bored and adrift from life he attends the funerals of strangers. It is at one of these funerals that he meets Maude, a woman on the cusp of her 70s with a penchant for car theft and the occasional bit of nude modelling. Harold becomes closer and closer to Maude and an unlikely romance blooms.

I’ve never seen a Hal Ashby film before, but on this evidence he may have been the natural precursor to the likes of Wes Anderson. Harold and Maude has that whimsical air about it. I found this to be more emotionally affecting than Anderson’s work though, which isn’t to dismiss the likes of Rushmore and Bottle Rocket, it’s just that Ashby’s film has within it a moment of brilliance that I haven’t seen the like of in some time.

*** The following could be construed as a spoiler – I don’t think it is but it does reveal a tiny plot point. ***

It’s such a minor moment, literally no more than a second or two on the screen but it demonstrated excellently the power of cinema to relay information in an emotionally loaded way. After an excellent day together, they sit together on a bench and Harold furtively explains that he thinks he loves Maude. At that moment he holds her hand and notices for one fleeting moment that Maude has a tattoo on the inside of her left forearm, a tattoo of numbers. There’s only one place where you would get a tattoo like that. Nothing is said, nothing needs to be. It’s perfect and brilliant, storytelling on an economical scale that made me sit up and pay attention.

*** Right, slight spoiler bit over. ***

I greatly enjoyed the film, to nearly coin a cliché I laughed and I nearly cried. The soundtrack is exclusively Cat Stevens songs that are perfectly attuned to the mood of the piece and the performances are strong and believable throughout. Watch Harold and Maude, it really is rather good.

Oh, before I forget – this has one hell of a cool car, Harold’s Jaguar XKE which is re-fashioned to look like a hearse. Trivia websites suggests the only version was indeed that one and that it really did meet its end in the film.

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