Can the film Harold & Maude"certainly be a Cult Film?
That was the question I had fashioned in mind as i was doing my research on this definitely peculiar but at the same time also funny film. I sought out indicators that could donate to a cult status of the movie, and came to the conclusion that for me the music in "Harold & Maude" is unquestionably a crucial factor.
But it isn't only the music making this film cult, it is various factors collaborating together. In such a framework it is e. g. the breaking of taboos in the film, the questionable character types, the moral lesson of the film and the various hidden styles the film handles. Each one of these factors just talked about are essential in defining "Harold & Maude" as a cult film, however in my estimation, the music is the main one.
In this newspaper I will concentrate on the aspect of music within the film, I am going to assess the role of the music in Harold and Maude and can try to determine in which respect it is important for the characterization of the key protagonists.
First, I am going to give you a short introduction to the backdrop of the film and will also try to give some information on the introduction of the music.
Then I am going to give attention to the songs, picking out and describing the most crucial ones. This chapter will also include a characterization of the main protagonists, as a result of close relatedness between music and content of the film.
I will conclude the newspaper with a comment regarding the need for the film as a cult movie, that may also compactly sum up the discussed things in the newspaper.
Harold and Maude is a film produced by Hal Ashby and published in the year 1971 by Paramount pictures. What is of special importance in regard to the topic of the paper is, that the music/the soundtrack was especially written for the film; it was written by nobody less than Kitty Stevens, later also known as Yusuf Islam, who composed various tracks known all over the world, as e. g. 'Father and Son". What is also of special interest is, that an standard soundtrack of the film was not released with the film but just a few ages later (cf. Schwartz 1).
As already explained, the tracks were written specifically for the film, so there's a close link with the content of the film. Some of the songs could even be regarded as written for the various characters, but this point will be reviewed down the road in the paper.
In the course of enough time, it was often mentioned, that it was exactly the music which made this film a so-called cult movie. Obviously there are also several other factors which make this film cult, however in my opinion and also according to various experts the music contributes the greatest part to it (cf. Saravia 1).
"Instead of attempt to find the essential element that defines a film as 'cult', the collection begins from the presumption that the 'cult movie' can be an essentially eclectic category. It isn't defined according to some sole, unifying feature distributed by all cult films, but rather through a 'subcultural ideology' in filmmakers, films or audiences have emerged as existing towards the mainstream' [. . . ]. Quite simply, 'cult' is largely a matter of ways in which films are classified in consumption, though it is certainly the truth that filmmakers often distributed the same 'subcultural ideology' as admirers and have set out to make self-consciously 'cult' materials. "(1).
So, out of this passage, one could presume that cult films generally stand in contradiction to typical mainstream Hollywood movies, which is partially right. But generally, there are definitely more points that have to be looked at to be able to declare a film as cult. These essential points do not have to be fulfilled all at the same time, but they should definitely all be considered somehow.
These four factors are: First of all, the anatomy of the film, that are its features, second the intake of the movie, which also means reactions from behalf of the audience and how the audience will get the film. Thirdly it is the economy where the film is produced, so to state the political backdrop and the financial aspect. Last but not least it is also the cultural status of any film, how it will fit its surroundings, specifically time and geographical region, which performs an important role for a movie's cult position (cf. Mathijs and Mendik 1).
In regard to the film Harold and Maude these features are usually fulfilled. Therefore, the best aspect is the anatomy of the film, the way the film is produced, in which environment the film is defined and what sort of individuals are depicted. Concerning the heroes, Harold and Maude are the most important ones, as they are the primary protagonists; but also Harold's mother as well as Harold's uncle, are very interesting characters. The great generation space between Harold and Maude isn't only one of the primary themes of the complete movie, but also one of the characteristics which will make it a cult film. The actual fact, that they have a relationship, although there is an age space of fifty - nine years can evoke different feelings and opinions; but for most of the individuals it can be an absurd part of everyday living.
Another strange aspect of the film is Harold's pretended suicides. In the film he simulates to commit suicide several times, and he would it very realistically. The motifs for this strange behavior aren't clear for the audience. Either he is carrying it out because he needs to shock his mom, or because it is funny for him. But definitely one could dispute that what he is doing is quite weird. The suicides could also be a comment on the approach to life of his mom. For him the life of his mother probably seems to be that of a dead person. Life on her behalf had hardly ever really begun and will hardly ever really unfold. But if he commits the faked suicides and then shock his mother, than it could be seen as kind of a revenge because his mom
implicitly wants to search him a sweetheart, which he totally rejects. First, because he does not want any lover and after because he is in love with the seventy-nine year old Maude.
Maude too, is kind of your strange persona. The old sweetheart lives by themselves and her favorite free time leisure is going to funerals of totally mysterious people and hanging out at cemeteries, taking trees and shrubs from the avenues and getting them back again to their first home, the forest.
This short advantages to both main heroes should give us just a little insight and lead us to the major issue of this film, particularly the music regarding the the individuals.
Music performs an important role, not saying a significant role in the film. Many moments, but mainly the main scenes are always surrounded by music, in this type of case by tracks by Feline Stevens, who especially wrote these tracks for the film. In the course of the film there are several tracks, a few of them are also recurrent ones.
The music is of such great importance because the lyrics of the melodies stand in strong regards to the content of the film. There are plenty of songs, however in order to give a good evaluation, I made a decision to take out only three of the tunes, which in my opinion are the main ones.
The first music, which surrounds the first picture in the movie, is Don't be shy and will now be reviewed in detail. In order to have a much better knowledge of the three songtexts being reviewed, they will continually be quoted.
"You shouldn't be shy just let your emotions spin on by
Don't wear fear or nobody will know you're there
Just lift your mind, and let your thoughts out instead
And do not be shy, just let your feeling spin on by
You know love is preferable to a tune
Love is where most of us belong
So don't be shy just let your thoughts spin on by
Don't wear dread or nobody will know you're there
Don't be timid just let your emotions rotate on by
Don't wear dread or nobody will know you're there
Just lift your mind, and let your thoughts out instead
And do not be timid, just let your feeling move on by
On by, on by, etc. "(Sullivan).
This song already introduces the audience perfectly into the subject matter of the film. The affirmation "Avoid being timid, just let your sense move on by" (Sullivan) communicates the note, that love is free, which again means that there are no boundaries for love; that anyone could stop love, if it's real love.
The song starts off right at the beginning when Harold comes down the stairs and starts to prepare something, signals candles, etc. Only after, the audience reaches know that he's preparing for one of his several fraudulent suicides.
The scene only -without the track- does not mediate any indications for love, it is extremely a gloomy atmosphere, there seems to have happened something sad. Also the actual fact that Harold is only in this frigid, dark room makes the scenery rather unemotional.
Furthermore, the songs expresses the wish that you need to not wear fear. If the person would radiate dread no-one would observe that person, he or she would you need to be normal and unobtrusive; no one would look at and speak to that person; just like that person would not be there. On the other hand this sentence could also be interpreted normally; that one should not be afraid of expressing his emotions in public, also if his/her much loved is a person who does not fit into the norm and who's not typical, just as the exemplory case of Harold and Maude.
Without having any foreknowledge on the movie when watching it for the very first time, one would not realize the significance of that music, or more specifically the significance of the written text of that songs, but definitely afterwards. The love between Harold and Maude - if one desires to- has already been adumbrated right at the beginning and is manufactured clear then throughout the film; in the storyline as well as in the audiovisual.
The love between Harold and Maude evolves slowly, after they meet at a funeral of your person both do not know. They only meet there, because they both have the odd hobby, namely heading to funerals of to them totally unfamiliar people. Initially both characters are totally different, opposite to each other, except the hobby they promote. But with the time they approach one another.
Having partly launched the two characters, in my judgment there are two songs, which due to their qualities can be ascribed to them.
"I used to trust no one, trusting even less their words,
until I came across somebody, there was nobody I preferred,
my heart was manufactured from stone, my sight found only misty gray,
Until you arrived to my life young lady, I noticed everyone like that.
Until I found the main one I needed at my side,
I think I'd have been a sad man all my entire life.
I think I start to see the light coming if you ask me,
arriving through me offering me a second sight.
So shine, glow, shine,
shine, shine, shine,
shine, shine, sparkle.
I used to walk by themselves, every step felt the same.
This world had not been my home, so there was nothing much to get.
Look up and see the clouds, look down and start to see the cool floor.
Until you came into my life woman, I saw nothing, nothing at all more.
Until I found the one I needed at my side,
I think I would have been a unhappy man all my entire life.
I think I see the light coming if you ask me,
arriving through me supplying me a second sight.
So shine, shine, shine,
shine, shine, glow,
shine, shine, glow. "(Sullivan).
This songs, which recurs double, simply tells the storyplot of Harold and how he develops in the course of the film. In the beginning Harold likes to be alone, he trusts no one; especially his mother is not dependable for him. Additionally, he does not feel like he suits this world, he does not feel comfortable nowadays. He will not see any sense in life plus some of the claims in the tune is seen as hints for his suicides as e. g. "This world had not been my home, so there is nothing much to get" (Sullivan). He simply desires to escape lifespan he is living.
But one day everything changes, when a "gal" comes into his life who changes everything in him. Now he is able to love someone, to trust an individual which is not sad ever again. The arrival of the new person in his life can be considered a synonym for the light, pointed out in the melody. This anon is seen as a synonym for Maude, so that Maude is the mentioned young lady. One could argue given that he desires this young lady or this woman, namely Maude, in which to stay his life; forever and ever. A lttle bit strange and also controversial here's, that he calls the nearly eighty season old Maude a girl. Probably, he wishes to dismiss her age because for him she is perfect, for him it creates no difference whether she actually is eighty or twenty; it simply will not matter.
The two moments, where this tune appears are quite significant. Inside the first arena is shown the sad, grey world he describes in the track; he walks alone via a deserted place, no movements and no enjoyment around. Then he recognizes Maude and his face gets friendly, he expresses joy. When he's with Maude he can break free his normal life and can simply be himself without having to be criticized on a regular basis.
The second field is of even greater importance and the melody has a larger significance there. After having been on a great park, they stay by the sea and Harold gives Maude a present-day, on which the term "Harold loves Maude" (Ashby) is written. Maude instructs him that she enjoys him too, and then throws today's in to the sea while expressing "So were always nowhere" (Ashby). Following this picture there
is a big change of place - but always accompanied by the tune- and the depicted landscapes is at Maude's home, in the morning. Harold and Maude are lying down in the foundation and Maude continues to be sleeping. Harold is just laying next to her, smiling all the time. It is obvious that they recently had sexual activity and that Harold still looks forward to the thoughts than it and the thoughts of Maude.
These two scenes perfectly reflect the text of the tune and depict how the heroes - especially Harold - have transformed in the course of the film, how the view of the world in Harold's sight has changed. Now that he got to know the beautiful things in life, he can enjoy living.
The second songs, which is often considered as Maude's songs is If you want to sing out, sing out.
"Well, if you want to sing out, sing out
And if you need to be free, be free
'Cause there are a million what to be
You know that we now have
And if you need to live a life high, live high
And if you would like to reside in low, live low
'Cause which million ways to travel
You know that we now have
You are able to do what you would like
The opportunity's on
And when you can find a new way
You can do it today
You may make it all true
And you can make it undo
the thing is that ah ah ah
its easy ah ah ah
You only need to find out
Well if you would like to say yes, say yes
And if you need to state no, say no
'Cause there's a million ways going
You know that there are
And if you would like to be me, be me
And if you want to be you, be you
'Cause there are a million things to do
You know that we now have
Well, if you want to sing out, sing out
And if you want to be free, be free
'Cause which million things to be
You know that we now have (5x)"(Sullivan).
This songs is often reported to be Maude's song, because it best expresses the attitude Maude has towards life and also towards fatality.
In the first part of the music it is somehow referred to how Harold is imprisoned in his own life, but mainly how he is imprisoned in his dominating mother's life, because she does not value him, but wishes to choose everything for him; she even would like to opt for lover for him via a computer dating system (cf. Ashby).
The chorus then explains the appearance of Maude in Harold's life, how she changes his view of the world. She actually is the one who shows him how to reside his life and how beautiful life can be. Maude is presented as a rebel, as the one who is in love with life. She needs herself and also Harold to escape the cage of the world, she will not desire to be imprisoned, and she wants to live her life in a different way. She is of the view that we now have always a million ways to see things, to do things, and a million things which have to be done before dying; because life is too brief to waste it. And, she is also of the view that there surely is a time aloof to live and a certain the perfect time to perish, which in her thoughts and opinions is on her eightieth birthday (cf. Ashby).
The last area of the song describes very well, what Harold must do in order to change his life significantly. He must only free his brain and see how beautiful life is; only then he can live his life just how she is doing it. Maude too did not always
have a fairly easy life; she experienced crisis, as e. g. when she was at a KZ- camp. She never mentions it towards Harold, but she has a obvious tattoo by means of a number from the times in the camp on her arm.
This song appears trice in the film and all three moments are of great importance. The first scene depicts the problem, when Harold is at Maude's home for the first time. She shows him how she is living and they talk about favorite pastimes and tracks. When Harold says that he doesn't have a favorite melody she goes to the piano and commences to sing her favorite songs, namely If you want to sing out. She first sings it only and then needs Harold to join. This may have a specific significance: Maude already resided her life, she already freed her nature but Harold has still to learn it and the performing the song along is actually a start, a new beginning. One could argue that is rather a free interpretation, but in my opinion it seems sensible, but may not be demonstrated (cf. Sullivan). For Maude singing is ways to free her head, to experience life and she also desires that Harold activities it in this way, she simply desires the world to become better for him and that he can free himself from the petticoat government of his mom.
The second time the songs is performed is when Harold and Maude make a trip into mother nature. They have a great time and revel in their time together; their trip ends at the sea, where Harold says Maude that this was the most wonderful day he put in and exactly how beautiful she is. Then Maude all of a sudden begins to discuss the birds, which is there, at the sea; she says him how free and glorious they are really. Through that, she probably desires to communicate how beautiful life could be if he'd free himself from everything and would just live for himself. The birds may be regarded as a synonym for herself, that she needs expressing that she actually is totally free and independent and this one day she'll soar away, like the birds do. With this context soaring away might well have the denotation of dying. Because for her dying is another way to free one's mind.
The third scene where the song is played out is at once the last picture of the film. After Maude has passed away because of the overdose she's taken on her eightieth birthday, Harold drives up a deserted road very fast, showing confused. Out of the blue, the scene is interrupted and one only sees the car falling down the
cliffs. Third, world, Harold is standing on the cliffs with the Banjo Maude provided him, which is playing the music If you want to sing out. On the main one hand this world could be interpreted in the way, that Harold now finally freed his brain, that he is able to live and enjoy his life by itself now, without his strict mother, simply without any constraints. On the other hand one could argue that this last scene is merely a different one of Harold's artificial suicides; that he wants to shock everyone once more.
Having analyzed these three songs now thoroughly, I would argue, that the music is definitely an important part of the film. It is not only that the music are strongly related to this content of the film, but also that the music is to a great deal supporting the knowledge of the film. The thing the audience must do is pay attention carefully and attract their own relationships between the visible and the audiovisual; because then everyone could generate his own interpretation.
In my view the music is the most crucial factor that the film has become a cult film. As the music was especially written for the film it properly suits the articles.
But also the vocalist Feline Stevens, who wrote the music for the film, was a key point for the film in becoming cult. At the time the film was printed Pet cat Stevens was very famous, almost at the elevation of his profession. He had a big fan base, which also added to the fact that more and more people watched the film.
Harold and Maude until today did not lose eminence, still today enthusiast bases with different homepages, talk message boards etc. exist; all of them are of the thoughts and opinions that "Harold and Maude" is one of the very most important, if not the best cult film of most times.
At enough time the film was publicized people thought of it as something excessive and sometimes also farfetched and disgusting. But probably this truth also added to the development to being truly a cult film; that Harold and Maude had not been one of these mainstream love stories.
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