Harold and Maude

Next up in the movies that are way too old to be talking about, yet I am doing so anyway because it’s my damn website, category is Harold and Maude.

This is a movie that came out before I was born, so not something that I had ever really heard of prior to meeting my wife. Her mother, Michelle, made references to this movie fairly frequently, or at least frequently enough that I remember it even though said references were made during that decade of my life when I spent more time drunk than sober. Unfortunately Michelle passed away several years ago, so I couldn’t be certain if this movie held a particular meaning for her or if she just thought it was a good movie. At any rate, once I saw it available through Netflix, I figured I may as well watch it to see what it was all about.

As is the case with pretty much every movie that finds its way into type here, I knew nothing about the movie going in. In this one I knew nothing more than what can be gleaned from viewing the cover to the left. …Which is very little… Harold is played by Bud Cort and Maude is played by Ruth Gordon, both of whom have impressive lists of credits after this movie -although a quick scroll through the list shows that aside from a couple of cameo appearances, I have only seen a few of the tv episodes that they were in -which explains why I didn’t recognize either of them by sight. According to IMDB, this movie was actually nominated for a number of awards when it came out, but again, well before my birth.

The first thing that I have to say about the movie is that I found it difficult to watch for the soundtrack alone. The soundtrack is done by Cat Stevens, and includes about a dozen songs (full listing here). There is nothing bad about the songs, and I don’t dislike them in any way; they are just your typical, early-70s, pop music, but in this movie they are just so loud it is almost unbearable. Perhaps this is just a result of watching it without surround sound? I dunno, but I found myself getting all gameboy with my remote to try to adjust the volume down when the songs were playing and up when the dialogue was happening. A petty bitch to be sure, especially so since if you have been to a movie theater in the last decade you know that you pretty much need to wear ear plugs to get the audio to a reasonable volume.

Now to my spoiler-ridden plot breakdown.

Harold is a well-to-do, 20-ish kid, at least his mother would like him to be, but he doesn’t take the well-to-do lifestyle well. His mother (according to Harold) has never really showed any real emotion towards him. Partly to try to get his mother to show some emotion for him, but also, I think, partly just to irritate her, he likes to stage ever more elaborate suicides. The first such suicide caught me completely by surprise and made me wonder what I was getting myself into. But when he got up and walked away it left me with a big smile on my face wondering why I hadn’t done that when I was a kid. Be it a further attempt to irriatate his mother, or a fascination with death, Harold is using an old hearse as his daily driver at the start of the movie, and he also likes to go to funerals for people he doesn’t know (easy to pull off if you are driving a hearse, I expect).

Harold meets Maude (a woman who must be 79, according to later events) at one such funeral. Maude is the exact opposite of Harold’s mother; she is a free spirit, seemingly unfettered by rules. Harold and Maude start up a friendship that we see grow into a love affair. The movie was released in 1971, and I would be curious to see just how well this relationship was received back then. The late 60s was all about free love, but I’m sure there were still a lot of the parents of those free lovers that were none too happy about a movie depicting such a relationship. There were several times when I started to think that perhaps I had read too much into it and they weren’t having a sexual relationship, but then it showed them in bed together, and not even a fast-talking, cologne-drenched used car salesman can talk his way out of that.

I’ll not go into any more detail about the plot, since I actually intend to recommend that you watch this one if you haven’t already (perhaps a first for me), but I simply must share the image to the right. When Harold’s mother gets rid of his hearse and replaces it with a car that is “more suitable for a man of his stature”. Harold takes the Jaguar into the garage and creates what has got to be in the top 10 of coolest movie cars ever.

All in all this was a really good movie. It is theoretically a comedy (perhaps a cross between a dark comedy and a romantic comedy?), but the characters have a lot of depth to them that you simply don’t see in most comedy films that are released today. The acting is quite good, which is why I was surprised to not recognize either of the primary actors or any of their characters from subsequent films. Aside from the overwhelming loud soundtrack, I don’t really have anything negative to say about it.

As I said going in, I watched this one just because my mother-in-law had mentioned it a few times. Having now seen it, I can say that her sense of humor must have been fairly similar to mine. Which further leads me to think that our parents’ generation is really just us +20 years. The only difference is that now I am the one that makes references to the movie (which no one I know has ever heard of), and every time I do I can’t help but think of her.

Soylent Green

With Netflix making so many movies available to download instantly, I have taken to watching a lot of movies that I wouldn’t rent at a video store. Most of these are older movies, or movies that I remember having heard about but not having had a particular desire to watch. In some cases they are classics, in some cases they are movies that were recommended or talked about by friends or family members. I figured since I am taking the time to watch them, I may as well take the time to write down what I think. The first up on that list is one that I have been hearing about my entire life: Soylent Green.

Soylent Green was made in 1973, and stars Charlton Heston and a bunch of other people that are way out of my generation, but that my mother will probably flay me for not mentioning here. I have been hearing references made to this movie my entire life, and as such decided I had better go ahead and watch it. This one was not available on Netflix when I watched it though; I happened to see it in a 3/$10 bargain movie bin, and I dropped 3 large (and 33 1/3 small) to buy it. I knew literally nothing about the movie going in except that it was often used in references to cannibalism. I didn’t know who was in it or what it was about, but I mistakenly thought that Soylent Green was a chemical similar to the Agent Orange that was put to use during the Vietnam War. Which didn’t turn out to be the case.

For being shot in 1973, I was surprised that the video quality held up as well as it did. Aside from the fact that everyone in the film was dressed in late 60s fashion and all the decorations were also clearly contemporary to that era -which doesn’t make sense when you think about it, since it is supposedly happening in 2022- it wasn’t too painful to watch. The acting, on the other hand, was fairly godawful. This isn’t a criticism of this particular movie though, just the way acting was done back then; it seems fairly clear that prior to around 1980 if you wanted to be in the movie business you had to overact. William Shatner takes a lot of flak for his overacting in the Star Trek series, but if you watch any movies from that era overacting was the status quo. Today we take for granted that a good actor should appear to be actually experiencing the plot as it unfolds, while for actors a few decades ago it seems more that they were trying to convey a more if-this-was-really-happening-and-I-were-to-recount-it-later-in-overly-dramatic-fashion-this-is-what-it-would-look-like approach. Heston delivers that approach with brilliance in this one.

The story in Soylent Green is actually fairly topical, even today, and seems more and more so with every passing day. The basic gist is that in the future over-population and all forms of pollution have led to the few remaining citizens living in a police state where real food is such a luxury that many have never actually tasted “real” food and subsist solely on Soylent food wafers -government provided, dog biscuit like patties, of which the most popular (and theoretically tasty) is the green wafer. This applies to the general populace, of course; the tremendously rich have seemingly bought off the government and police, living in luxury while the average Joe lives in poverty. The dead are collected in an a garbage truck and taken outside the city walls for disposal. This all seems pretty plausible.

The plot, as far as I could tell, was about one of these police trying to solve the murder of someone wealthy and therefore powerful. As his investigation unfolds, he uncovers a huge government conspiracy that ultimately leads to the revelation that Soylent Green is made from … wait for it … wait for it … people!

The part I don’t get about the movie is why that matters. In this future police state no other animals exist, there are only (extremely rare) books with photos of them. But there doesn’t appear to be any farming going on either, since things like trees are in the same books and looked on with the same wonder and astonishment. So, hypothetically, if there aren’t any animals and there isn’t any farming, what are we supposed to be eating?

For me, I think that the reason that this movie is held in such high regard by those who were old enough to watch it when it was released had more to do with that era than with the film itself. With the Vietnam war on everyone’s mind, and the threat of communism -perceived by most at the time as a police state similar to that of the movie- the possibility that the government would herd people up like cattle and force them to live like this probably struck a nerve. They probably saw this, at least subconsciously, as something that might happen not as an eventuality due to lack of agriculture or overpopulation, but what might happen if Communism got a foothold in America. With all that so fresh in their minds, and then with the Arab oil embargo forcing the national consciousness to rethink the overuse of finite resources, it gets a bit easier to understand why this film might have a bit more meaning to my parents than I am able to glean from it.

Plus it makes me think twice before using the term “overacting” to describe any actor’s performance in a modern film.