You should watch ‘Harold and Maude’: an unconventional romance

Every time I try to explain the concept of Harold and Maude to people, I’m met with skepticism and sometimes, a bit of revulsion. To be fair, it’s not a film which sounds like it should work. When it was originally released in the 70’s, Variety said of the film, “[it] has all the fun and gaiety of a burning orphanage.”

I know, with Valentine’s Day and all that this month, people will be turning to romance. Well, couples will be turning to romance. Single people will be eating a family-size pack of Doritos and wondering where it all went wrong, which is why I think, no matter what your relationship status, Harold and Maude will lift your spirits.

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She kinda looks like little red riding hood.

If you’re unfamiliar, Harold and Maude, made in 1971, follows a young rich teenage boy, Harold (Bud Cort). Though he’s wealthy, he has nothing in common with the Gossip Girl crowd. He’s obsessed with death and has great fun creating upsetting suicide scenes for his mother (Vivian Pickles) to find, though she is unimpressed most of the time. Harold also has another pastime: attending funerals. There, he meets Maude, (Ruth Gordon), a kooky, young at heart seventy-nine year old. Harold is set up on a series of dates by his mother, but he’s disinterested in all of them. Harold’s friendship with Maude grows into love, much to the dismay of literally everyone around them. Drama/BIG LAUGHS ensue obvi…

Here are just a few reasons Harold and Maude should be required viewing this Valentine’s Day:

The Cast

This movie is almost half about the casting. If it had the wrong people in it, the film just wouldn’t work. The part of Harold was written for another young actor/musician, John Rubinstein, a character actor who still guests on shows like Grey’s Anatomy and This is Us. However, Hal Ashby, the film’s director liked Bud Cort, who had recently had a bit part in Robert Altman’s war comedy, M*A*S*H. He was 23 at the time he made Harold and Maude and was already a fantastic actor. His facial expressions ARE EVERYTHING.

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Subtle. Also, am I the only one who thinks he is WAY TOO PALE?

Ruth Gordon was a bit younger than her character was supposed to be, in her mid-60’s during the shoot. She had, just a few years earlier, won an Academy Award for her role in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. She gives life to Maude and makes you understand why Harold is charmed by her. Gordon was a writer early in her career. She actually co-wrote one of Judy Holliday‘s comedies: The Marrying Kind. Her performance as Maude is equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking.

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Maude created #YOLO

Vivien Pickles is also fantastic as Harold’s mother. To me, her shining scene is when she’s filling out Harold’s dating profile.

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Good parenting.

Charles Tyner also has a good turn as Harold’s army uncle, who’s missing an arm. You might recognize Tyner from Cool Hand Luke where he played the sadistic prison guard.

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LOL the Nixon photo…

The Script

Colin Higgins had originally developed the project for his UCLA thesis film. However, after showing the script to his landlady, Mildred Lewis, who was the wife of a Hollywood producer, they formed a production company and began to shop it around to different studios. The script is obviously most often categorized as a dark comedy, which, of course, it is. But, it’s also a drama and a romance and it’s surprising how effective the dramatic moments end up being.

For the time, the way this story is told was so completely original. Since then, I feel like other writers have tried to replicate Higgins style and wit to the point where a current filmgoer might see the film and call it cliched. Higgins was first. The ending will break your heart and uplift you simultaneously.

Higgins went on to direct 9 to 5 and Foul Play and unfortunately died of AIDS in 1988.

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#RealTalk

The Direction

Paramount exec Peter Bart had faith in the story and in Colin, although he didn’t believe Higgins was ready to direct. Bart had seen The Landlord and appreciated the way its director had made the sensitive material funny with satire. Thus, Hal Ashby was brought on to direct Harold and Maude with Higgins blessing. It’s difficult to separate how much was Ashby and how much was Higgins. However, Ashby brought a distinct style to the film. He went on to direct Shampoo, The Last Detail, and Being There.

“In shooting Harold and Maude, Ruth Gordon recalled in her autobiography, Ashby ‘followed the Gertrude Stein theory: chronology has nothing to do with anything. We shot where and when and what Hal said to. Hal is his own man. Do you care about sequence? Not me. We don’t think in sequence, we rarely talk in sequence, we don’t rehearse a play in sequence, so why shoot a script that way?'” – Ruth Gordon, (TCM Article).

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❤ ❤ ❤

The Music

Elton John was originally supposed to provide a score for the film. However, after dropping out, he suggested Cat Stevens. Cat Stevens’ music provides an atmosphere and a perspective from which to see the story from.

Give a listen:

Harold’s Deaths

Basically, they’re hilarious and horrible and these gifs say it all:

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SO MUCH BLOOD.
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Quite normal…or at least, Harold’s mother thinks it is.
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This is when Harold’s mother is filling out his dating profile.
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Dating can be dangerous…lol

The Romance

Some people can’t watch this film without being grossed out. The idea of a teenage boy and an elderly woman falling in love is societally inappropriate. What I think is most fascinating is that their love affair, although consummated offscreen, is more an emotional love affair than a sexual one. Similarly to my favorite film, Brief Encounter, the romance in Harold and Maude is about their souls, about a connection that is more than just sexual attraction.

Harold doesn’t connect with any girls his age. He finds something in Maude; she understands him and she pushes him to live his life. There’s something truly beautiful about that. To those who are still grossed out, well, all I can say, is, at least the film challenged you, made you look at life from a different point of view. I say love is love. Also, there are plenty of May-December romances with an older man and a younger woman and it seems to be more accepted.

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It’s an existential, hilarious, completely unconventional rom-com.

After the film was panned and subsequently, flopped, something amazing happened. College students fell in love with the film. Colin Higgins had a theory on why they related to it when the older generation did not: “We’re all Harold, and we all want to be Maude. We’re all repressed and trying to be free, to be ourselves, to be vitally interested in living, to be everything we want” (Higgins, TCM Article).

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This SONG and MOMENT are EVERYTHING.

Vintage trailer is below:

Gifs and photos property of Paramount Pictures.

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The #1 Feel Good Movie of Cinema’s First Century

If I’m ever having a bad day, there is one movie that no matter why I’m down, will always cheer me up. I don’t care if you’re not into musicals. Well, actually, that’s a lie. I do care. But, putting that aside, I believe that even if you’re not typically into musicals, you can’t NOT appreciate 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain.

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I can’t remember when I saw this movie for the first time. I’ve seen it so many times at this point, I truly know it by heart. But, that’s one of the things I love most about it: you can be any age and enjoy this movie. Recently, when I saw it at the Aero, I happened to sit next to a 3 year-old girl and her father. The little girl turned to me periodically, exclaiming “This is a funny movie.” She was completely engaged and her enthusiasm made me fall in love with the film all over again.

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If you’ve never seen Singin’ in the Rain, here’s a little synopsis to catch you up. The film takes place in the late 1920’s, right before the film industry was changed forever with the advent of talkies. Gene Kelly and Jean Hagen play Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont, a pair of silent film stars who just completed their latest effort, The Dueling Cavalier. Lockwood meets Kathy Seldon (Debbie Reynolds), an aspiring actress, and falls in love with her. When The Jazz Singer hits the scene, the executives decide to make Dueling Cavalier a talkie.

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That fails altogether when they realize at a test screening that the silent acting techniques don’t work in a sound picture. Kathy has a brilliant idea – make Dueling Cavalier into a musical, The Dancing Cavalier. There’s one problem though; Lina’s voice. Kathy volunteers to dub Lina’s talking and singing, and thus The Dancing Cavalier is a success. But what does this mean for Kathy going forward? DRAAAMA.

I’ve seen the movie many times in a movie theater and it really is just one of those all around entertaining, funny, feel good experiences. While apparently Gene Kelly didn’t regard it as highly as his other musical film, On the Town, Singin’ in the Rain is the film that has taken on a life of its own. It’s just one of those movies where everything came together, from the casting to the musical numbers to the satirical plot.

I was lucky enough to see Debbie Reynolds introduce the film at The TCM Film Festival a few years ago. Little tidbit: my dad routinely brags that when he saw the film in the 1980’s, Gene Kelly walked out after the film, holding an umbrella. It should also be noted that I yell Jerk! every time he mentions this. Not my fault I wasn’t born yet…

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If you’ve never seen the film, here are just a few reasons to put Singin’ in the Rain on your must watch list.

THE MUSIC. 

Can I make this ten reasons? The music in this film is so good, I guarantee it will be playing in your head for weeks. Below is one of my favorite numbers:

THE SATIRE.

This movie is smart, entertaining satire. The way they portray not only the film industry of the 1920s, but the transition from silent pictures to sound, is both hilarious and true. If this clip doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will.

DONALD O’CONNOR.

Donald O’Connor was a true talent and he’s exceedingly charming in this film. Just watch Make ‘Em Laugh. I dare you not to laugh. For seriously.

 

GENE KELLY AND DEBBIE REYNOLDS.

Yeah, he’s a bit older than her. Who cares? Their chemistry in this film is fun and alight with energy. They have all the tropes: the meet-cute, the banter…you’ll swoon. Especially when Gene sings this song:

JEAN HAGEN.

Jean Hagen is severely underrated in this film. She’s a bulk of the comic relief, putting on a hilarious fake voice. In reality, she actually had a lovely singing voice and little trivia: when Debbie Reynolds’ character is supposed to be dubbing Hagen’s voice, you’re actually hearing Hagen’s real voice.

IT’S VERITABLE HAPPINESS.

We desperately need movies that lift our spirits, inspire us, and make us laugh. Singin’ in the Rain surely fits the bill. This is one film that I’ve shown to many friends, many of whom swore to me up and down that they could never love a musical. But, somehow, they ended up liking it anyway. IMHO this movie requires frequent viewings and if you have the chance to see it in a movie theater, please GO! The film is veritable happiness and to prove my point, try not to smile at the Gifs below!

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Vintage trailer below:

 

The Merits of “Gone With the Wind”

Fiddle Dee-dee!

This last weekend, I attended the American Cinematheque’s annual screening of Gone With the Wind. Before the film, James Curtis, the author of William Cameron Menzies: The Shape of Things to Come, congratulated us. Why? He told us that although there’s been a lot of talk about Star Wars: The Force Awakens taking the #1 box office success crown, that is not in any way accurate, when you factor in inflation. With inflation, The Force Awakens is #14 and #1 is still Gone With the Wind. And we who attended the Aero Theatre on Saturday night were the most recent people to contribute to that figure.

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I was so happy to see that Gone With the Wind attracted such a large crowd. The theater was almost completely full and that made the experience so much more enjoyable. Gone with the Wind isn’t just meant to be seen on the big screen; it’s meant to be experienced with a full audience. I first saw the film a few years ago when it was shown at the TCM Film Festival. I remember that I didn’t want to go. It was between Gone with the Wind and something else I can’t recall. My dad and I argued, but he ultimately convinced me that I should give it a chance.

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I saw it in Grauman’s Chinese theater with a completely full audience and had the time of my life. It was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had in a theater. I was genuinely surprised at the depth of the characters and the grey moral area they were treading. And funnily enough, I loved the script. The reason I say it’s funny is that the project went through many writers – so many writers that it’s a miracle the film is coherent. Somehow, despite all the obstacles, everything came together on this film.

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There are many moments in Gone with the Wind that are controversial. Before I even attended this last weekend’s screening, a friend had commented on my Facebook post, calling the film racist. She wasn’t wrong. The portrayals of the slaves in the film are very stereotypical and not very nuanced – they were “happy slaves.” However, I do believe that you need to look at films in the context of when they were made. While the roles for these African American actors could have and should have been better, at least Gone with the Wind was giving them roles. And of course, Hattie McDaniel, who played Mammy, was the first African American woman to win an Academy Award.

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Additionally, there are many moments in the film that are morally ambiguous. Rhett basically raping Scarlett is one of those moments. There are uncomfortable moments in the film and I’m astonished that they got past the censors of the day. However, moral ambiguity makes for interesting characters because people are complex. They don’t just do things for one reason.

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Scarlett, though she’s a horrible person for much of the film, is very complex. I actually find her a very tragic character because she’s so passionate about what she wants and will do anything she can to get it, but she’s ultimately reaching for something that doesn’t exist. When she finally realizes what she does want, which is Rhett, it’s too late. There’s a scene in the film where she tells Rhett all the reasons why she’s going to hell. It makes you see Scarlett in a different light. She understands on some level that she’s done wrong, but not enough to put someone else’s needs in front of her own.

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The cast really makes the movie. Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable and Olivia De Havilland sell the story. Clark Gable did not even want to be in the film though, calling it a “woman’s picture.” It would be very hard to imagine it without him. Vivien Leigh beat out every young actress of the time for this role. She put everything she had into this part and her performance is enough reason to watch the film. Olivia de Havilland is also wonderful in the film, the only character who is completely sympathetic (although Melanie, her character, did marry her cousin. Ew!).

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My dad told me one of the things he thought didn’t work in the film was the casting of Leslie Howard as Ashley. Leslie Howard actually hated the part; he thought he was too old for Ashley. I actually don’t mind him though because I think it makes Scarlett’s wanting of him even more hilarious. She’s so blind to her own feelings and of what would make her most happy.

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Also, the music of the film is pretty incredible. Max Steiner wrote an unbelievably beautiful and sweeping score. It’s intrinsically connected to the film. You can’t have one without the other.

There are so many stories behind this film and I really recommend watching the documentaries included on the Special Edition DVD. Honestly, the making of this film is probably more interesting than the film itself. It was a true epic; the last of its kind made is probably Titanic. It appealed to audiences because it had a little something for everyone. How many films can you say that about today?

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If you have the chance to see this film in a theater, I would urge you to do so! It’s a totally different experience and you can’t fully appreciate the film on a television or god forbid, a computer screen.

75th Anniversary Trailer below…