Harold and Maude
Hal Ashby is, perhaps, the most underrated of all American directors. With his films, he created a portrait of the 70s that is still unmatched - the political disappointment in the heart of "Shampoo," the anti-establishment rage seething beneath "The Last Detail," the class and racial tension that drives "The Landlord," or the Vietnam-era angst that pulsates through "Coming Home." But never did he create anything as perfect as his second film, "Harold and Maude," a lyrical tale (scored to Cat Stevens!) of love, loss, and the pointlessness of regret.
Harold is obsessed with death. Constantly staging his own suicides (the gags are implausible to the point of being poetic,) he drives his mother - who, even in 1971, was hoping to get him interested in computer-based-dating - insane. Maude is 80, with a secret or two of her own, and loves life every bit as much as Harold is intrigued by its demise. After a chance meeting - where else - at a funeral, the two begin their relationship in earnest - going out for picnics, getting Harold out of military duty, and even getting a little romantic. Some may scoff at the age difference here, but Ashby has much more on his mind than sexual politics. He wanted nothing less than to influence the way youths look at the world.
And this Criterion release is a marvel, bringing every color and shadow of the film to life - if you've only seen it on the shoddy previously released DVD, you haven't really seen "Harold and Maude" at all. And that's to say nothing of the excellent special features: interviews with Cat Stevens, the late Ashby, and writer Collin Higgins, as well as commentary and essays by Ashby enthusiasts. Once again, Criterion has taken a film we've seen many times before, and restored it to the point that it feels like a new discovery. And few discoveries have the primal, poetic power of "Harold and Maude."
"Harold and Maude"