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HAROLD AND MAUDE
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Ruth Gordon, Bud Cort
Director: Hal Ashby
Audio: Dolby Digital Stereo, PCM Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Criterion
Features: See Review
Length: 91 Minutes
Release Date: June 12, 2012

You sure have a way with people.”

Well, they’re my species.”

Film ***

When discussing films that were a product of their time, there is perhaps no greater example than Hal Ashby’s forever cherished cult classic, Harold and Maude. A film like this could only be made in the early 70s, and it wouldn’t dare be remade today. And the reason for that is simply this: audiences today more than likely wouldn’t embrace such an offbeat romance like it was when released more than 40 years ago.

In other words, the film is truly one of a kind. Originally given a lukewarm response at the time of its release (I recently discovered that Roger Ebert gave it only one and a half star), it nonetheless garnered enormous amounts of admiration in the years that followed. And nowadays, if one is to list or discuss the defining films of the 1970s, you’d be hard pressed to see or hear this film not get mentioned.

It goes without saying that this film truly took some chances, certainly more so than any film to come before it. The idea of finding humor in suicide attempts was definitely unheard of, as was the notion of finding a romantic connection as a result of frequenting funerals. But perhaps the biggest chance this film took, and the main reason it is so heavily admired today, was having a romance blossom between a man in his early 20s and a woman on the verge of turning 80.

But this love story was never meant to shock, but rather illustrate that such a connection could exist no matter how big the difference in age was. At the very heart of the film is the idea of one helping other to appreciate life. In this case, it’s the sunny spirit of elderly Maude (Ruth Gordon) that helps young and sorely depressed Harold (Bud Cort) to embrace life and live everyday to the fullest.

The two meet at a random funeral. Harold is extremely fascinated with just about every aspect of death, and even more so in the realm of staging fake suicide attempts, which explains his love for funeral hopping. The very last thing he would expect to find at a funeral is someone with such a vast appreciation of everything life has to offer, but that’s exactly what he finds upon first meeting Maude.

Of course, the standout element in this film, possibly even more so than Colin Higgins’ one of a kind screenplay, is the wonderful soundtrack provided by Cat Stevens. Such classic songs as “If You Want to Sing Out” and “Trouble” perfectly accompany the various themes of this film. There were only a handful of films prior to the soundtrack explosion set by Saturday Night Fever in 1977, and this was definitely one of them.

More than 40 years later, Harold and Maude remains a true delight. It helped establish Hal Ashby as a one of a kind filmmaker, broke barriers with its age defining romance, and was an all around defining film of its time. Re-discovering the film is something everyone should do at some point.

Video ***1/2

Never known to be a visually distinctive movie, the film nevertheless looks as great as it ever has thanks to this superb offering from Crtierion. With all the age the film has attained, the overall image is terrifically clean even with instances of slightly faded colors. Grain is preserved in all the right spots and is not once distracting!

Audio ***

Again, being that this is a 40 year old film made up mostly of dialogue, one shouldn’t be expecting to be blown away by the sound mix. However, Criterion has provided two sound mixes, a Mono track and a remastered Stereo mix, to choose from. I went for the latter, which provides the absolute best sound you’ll ever get for this film, not to mention the music from Cat Stevens!

Features ***

This Criterion Blu-ray exudes quality over quantity in the best possible way (would there be any other?). To start with, there’s a commentary with Hal Ashby, biographer Nick Dawson and producer Charles B. Mulvehill, as well as illustrated audio excerpts from seminars by Ashby and writer/producer Colin Higgins and a new and most fascinating interview with songwriter Yusuf/Cat Stevens.

To cap it all off, in true Criterion fashion, there’s a wonderful booklet featuring an essay by film critic Matt Zoller Seitz.

Summary:

Criterion once again delivers a true Blu-ray treat with their long-awaited release of Harold and Maude. Now is a better time than ever to discover or re-discover this cherish classic of 70s cinema!

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