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Harold and Maude(1971)
Harold is a death-obsessed teenager who hangs around in cemeteries and drives a hearse. When he attends a funeral and meets his polar opposite Maude, a life-loving 79-year-old, a strange love affair ensues. However, the offbeat nature of their pairing, and their defiance of social convention, causes upset all around.
For more about Harold and Maude and the Harold and Maude Blu-ray release, see Harold and Maude Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on May 26, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Ruth Gordon, Bud Cort, Vivian Pickles, Cyril Cusack, Charles Tyner, Ellen Geer
Director: Hal Ashby
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Harold and Maude Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, May 26, 2012
Hal Ashby's "Harold and Maude" (1971) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. The supplemental features on the disc include a collection of audio excerpts from a master seminar with director Hal Ashby; collection of audio excerpts from a master seminar with writer and producer Colin Higgins; exclusive new video interview with singer-songwriter Yusuf/Cat Stevens; and audio commentary with writer Nick Dawson and producer Charles B. Mulvehill. The disc also arrives with an illustrated booklet featuring an essay by film critic Matt Zoller Seitz; a 1971 New York Times profile of star Ruth Gordon; and two excerpted interviews, one from 1997 with star Bud Cort and cinematographer John Alonzo and one from 2001 with executive producer Mildred Lewis. In English, with optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature. Region-A "locked".
He is Harold (Bud Cort, Brewster McCloud), a 20-year-old rich and spoiled young man who constantly stages mock suicides - possibly to entertain himself, possibly to annoy his pretentious mother (Vivian Pickles, Britannia Hospital). She is Maude (Ruth Gordon, Rosemary's Baby), a 79-year-old lonely woman who loves life but senses that probably has little of it left to live. The two meet at a funeral and immediately discover that they have something in common – both are fascinated by death.
After the funeral, Harold and Maude begin spending time together and learning about each other. The discoveries they make eventually convince them that together they could be a great couple. But the age gap keeps them apart – at least for a while.
In the meantime, Harold's mother decides that the right time for her son to be in a serious relationship has finally come. Naturally, she fills out a questionnaire with a local dating agency and quickly selects three single women that have the potential to be perfect for Harold. However, much to her disappointment Harold quickly proves that he does not have the potential to be perfect for them.
After a series of exciting adventures, Harold finally reveals to his mother that he has found the woman with whom he wishes to spend the rest of his life. He does not wait for her blessing and goes straight back to Maude, who is getting ready to celebrate her 80th birthday.
Hal Ashby's Harold and Maude is a film with two completely different identities. On one hand, it is a light, energetic and often irresistibly funny film about two people who despite their age difference connect and fall in love. More than anything else the attraction between them is mental, not physical, which is why their love isn't intimidating.
On the other hand, Harold and Maude is a genuinely sad film. Harold looks alive only when he plays with Death, the rest of the time he is a walking shadow surrounded by fake people who simply exist. They see him as an eccentric character but he is in fact a lonely young man who constantly reminds himself that he isn't like them, existing rather than living. Maude acts as she does because she is alive but no one seems to notice her presence. In a way, like Harold, most of the time she is also a walking shadow.
The funny and the sad constantly overlap, leaving one slightly uncertain whether everything that takes place in the film should be taken seriously. But this is what makes the film so charming – it is unpredictable, wild, and a bit too edgy to be easily dismissed as being simply too strange. Then there is also the soundtrack by Cat Stevens, pulling the film in an entirely different direction, forcing one to very seriously ponder why Harold and Maude have become so close.
The acting is excellent. The majority of the time Cort looks pale and appropriately disconnected from the world those around him cherish. As the film progresses, it is easy to understand why a disillusioned young man like him would want to constantly flirt with Death. Gordon is the exact opposite, energetic and enthusiastic, with a wonderful sense of humor.
Harold and Maude is beautifully lensed by cinematographer John A. Alonzo, who also collaborated with Roman Polanski on Chinatown and Brian De Palma on the classic gangster saga Scarface.
Harold and Maude Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Hal Ashby's Harold and Maude arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
The following text appears inside the booklet provided with this Blu-ray disc:
"This new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a SCANITY film scanner from a 35mm interpositive, which had to be wetgated from the original negative since it was severely scratched and not suitable for scanning. Colorist Sheri Eisenberg, who worked on a previous transfer of the film with the late director of photography John Alonzo, referenced Alonzo's original notes and the previous telecine to generate this version. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI's DRS and Image Systems' Phoenix, while jitter and flicker were fixed using Pixel Farm's PFClean.
Telecine supervisor: Maria Palazzola.
Colorist: Sheri Eisenberg/Colorworks, Los Angeles."
The high-definition transfer has wonderful organic qualities. Detail and clarity are consistently pleasing, while contrast levels remain stable. Naturally, both the close-ups and panoramic scenes convey very good depth. The film's color scheme favors soft and earthy colors that look notably healthier than they do on the old R1 DVD release Paramount Pictures issued quite some time ago. There are absolutely no traces of post-production sharpening. Problematic degraining corrections have not been performed either. Unsurprisingly, a layer of light and well resolved grain has been retained. When projected, the film looks tight and stable around the edges. Lastly, there are no artifacts or serious banding issues to report in this review. All in all, Criterion's Blu-ray release represents a strong upgrade in terms of visual quality over the old R1 DVD release. (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
Harold and Maude Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are two audio tracks on this Blu-ray disc: English LPCM 1.0 and English LPCM 2.0 (Stereo). For the record, Criterion have provided optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature.
I had a difficult time choosing between the original Mono and Stereo tracks Criterion have included. I lean towards the Stereo track, but only because I really enjoyed listening to Cat Stevens' songs, and in particular "If You Want To Sing Out". In terms of dynamic progression, the two lossless tracks are quite similar, with the Stereo track possibly opening up the film in selected areas slightly better. The Mono track adds a stronger period feel to the film. The dialog is equally stable, clean, and easy to follow on both tracks. For the record, there are no distortions or audio dropouts to report in this review.
Harold and Maude Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Harold and Maude Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Hal Ashby's Harold and Maude has not lost much of its charm. I hadn't seen it in years and thought that its message is still relevant today - which is rather unfortunate. Clearly, the film will resonate differently with different viewers, but I am convinced that even those who will dismiss it because of its 'weirdness' will agree that it is perfectly realized. As expected, Criterion's presentation of the film is enormously satisfying. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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