I Saw A Film!

Bud Cort’s finest moment until The Life Aquatic (probably not fair to Bud, but these are two faves with him). This is a comic fantasy with some dark and some very light elements. It features a powerful but, determined Ruth Gordon as a kind of life coach for a floundering / at odds with his overbearing mother, young man, who enjoys spoiling–in hilarious and terrifying manner–all his mother’s mate choices for him. Some of these sequences, which you can Youtube, are some of the most fun in film history, and many probably never get past the first suicide sequence.

It’s a unique set-up, and will appeal to the inner anarchist-rebel in all of us as Harold finds his way to Maude’s home / antique shop, after meeting her at a funeral (a hobby of his) also equipped with failed inventions. The film is a awash in memorable quotes mostly arriving from Maude. Some of her coaching is steeped in period pop-psychology, and thick with self-discovery tidbits that no one grows tired of (today it’s all about Identity as though we were all shelf products). When Harold points out that he likes a field of daisies because they’re all the same, Maude quickly points out that they really aren’t, each one is unique, and it’s a sadness in life that we are too, but we allow ourselves to be treated as identical. One can feel that sort of power of “snowflake” identity burgeoning at the seams. Later when Harold gives Maude a trinket, she seems to love it, then hurls it into the sea. A kind of lesson of love not being about the things, but about the feelings, and being able to enjoy and let go . . . ah, I didn’t say they were all gems. Maude can be somewhat over-wrought. She also misses kings, not kingdoms or oppression or feudalism, just the kings.

In another enjoyable sequence the pair, by this time lovers, though we’re not expected to watch actual love-making, and instead are treated to some very funny reactions to it, liberate a sidewalk tree. Maude has decided it needs to be free and that it’s being choked in the city restrictions. They are obstructed temporarily by a cop, played by Tom Skerritt. We are reminded that the film is a fantasy as the officer–much like today’s–pulls is firearm in frustration, to shoot at them as they flee with the tree. He fires his weapon but, it’s a gag weapon and only drops a flag saying “bang”. A military uncle takes Harold out for a walk and talk about joining the military, and Maude role-plays a dissenter for Harold to beat up in front of his stiff, one-armed, uniformed officer. Of course, the sequence winds up actually making the officer uncomfortable, which, in today’s seemingly even less nuanced social setting seems a bit unrealistic. Harold and Maude’s play-acting to torture the military man winds up revealing some amount of uncertain integrity, despite the fact that his uniform sleeve has been rigged so he can make it salute.

I saw this movie originally in the early 80s and at the time I’d never seen anything remotely like it. Now, of course, with much more exposure to the period’s (and Director Hal Ashby’s) political and satirical outlook it looks a bit less remarkable, but there’s still a notable unique film, and due for a remake. Ashby would also make Being There a few years later, and that too has a certain irreverence and message of there being slightly veiled idiocy lurking close in all things.

This will cost you a few bucks on Prime (usa). and, by the way, if you’re not a Cat Stevens fan you probably will either realize you’ve been missing the best thing ever your whole life, or become tremendously annoyed with his Sesame Street emotive style rapidly. I had been unaware of Stevens, having been a British invasion psychedelic and punk kid, but Stevens grew on me over the decades. Despite his eventual capitulation to Islam.

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