Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Harold and Maude



USA 1971 : Hal Ashby : 90mins

A bona-fide cult classic, Harold and Maude has lost none of its power to entertain, charm and surprise three decades on. The unlikely romance between 20-year-old, moon-faced, proto-goth Harold (Bud Cort) and uber-sprightly 80-year-old Maude (Ruth Gordon) remains one of the cinemas most memorable love affairs and the films idiosyncratic character and atmosphere make it one of the least-dated counter-culture titles churned out by Hollywood in the aftermath of Easy Rider.

Though far from perfect (Paramount got cold feet and, according to Cort, cut much vital material) Harold and Maude remains a special film, with many great scenes and lines. Its influence has been enormous, from Annie Hall onwards. Wes Anderson must have had it in mind when putting together Rushmore, though Ashby makes even more copious use of Cat Stevens tunes for his intergenerational romance than Anderson – the virtually wall-to-wall Stevens music is the aspect of the film that seems the most dated.

The humour, however, remains strong – the skilful comic timing of director Ashby and editors William Sawyer and Edward Warschilka milk every laugh out of Colin Higgins sly, economic script. Then the last five minutes feature a plot development which, though signalled all the way through, is unexpectedly poignant a triumph for Gordon, who copes brilliantly with the thankless task of embodying a very hippie-ish form of the life-force. Cort, meanwhile, is even more striking in whats arguably an even tougher role magnetic even in his many still moments, its very much his movie: a unique performance in a unique film.

2nd December, 2002
(seen 1st December, CineSide, Newcastle)

by Neil Young