Friday, May 3, 2013

Sex, Laughs and Older Women

Got time for a DVD double feature over the weekend?  Here's my tip for two movies and one movie is referenced in the other one.  The first movie is a Hal Ashby comedy that still tickles the heck out of me.  I saw it during my college years when it was new.  It was a film that got a lot of campus buzz and became very popular with the student body.  It's Harold and Maude starring Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort.  A more unlikely romantic couple, you've rarely seen.  This comedy holds up and still feels more original than some modern romantic comedies that Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler gave us.
Harold lives in a huge house with his wealthy widowed mother.  He's a young man with an early Beatles haircut but he's obsessed with death while his mother is trying to arrange dinner parties and such.  She's on the phone trying to make a hair appointment while he's hanging from a rope in the middle of the living room.  "Harold, puh-leeze," she says to his grotesque suicidal activities.  She wants him to quit those and get married.  She fills out his application to a matchmaking service.  Mother also  sends him to a therapist.

The therapist asks Harold, "What gives you that special...satisfaction?"  The rich young man answers, "I go to funerals."  He does.  He attends the funerals of people he doesn't even know.

He's at one such funeral when an older lady in the opposite pew waves and winks at him.

Maude is a 79 year-old car thief.

Well...not just cars.  She can also rip off a motorcycle. A cop's motorcycle.

This lovable, wise and rebellious lady will teach the young man how to save death for later and get obsessed with life.  She's a champion of "Liberty.  Rights.  Justice."  She instructs Harold to "Live!  Otherwise you got nothing to talk about in the locker room."  This was a perfect social comedy for the turbulent Vietnam War years.

Actress/writer Ruth Gordon.  She made her mark on Broadway and in Hollywood.  She was a 3-time Oscar nominee for Best Screenplay (A Double Life, Adam's Rib, Pat and Mike) and a 2-time Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Inside Daisy Clover, Rosemary's Baby).  This lively, golden comedy performance came a couple of years after her Oscar-winning turn as the wicked, nosy neighbor in Rosemary's Baby.  There's  another terrific comedy performance in Harold and Maude.  Britain's Vivian Pickles is a hoot as Harold's mother.  Did you ever see Rosalind Russell as Auntie Mame?  Harold's mother is the kind of character who would've been played by Mame's best friend, stage actress Vera Charles.  This woman would watch Downton Abbey as an instructional video for tips on how to live one's life.  Pickles is perfect. More people should see her in this.  In the category of supporting performances in comedy films of the 1970s, this one shares a place with Madeline Kahn in What's Up, Doc? and Young Frankenstein.

Harold and Maude became a popular couple world-wide.  This was the second film Hal Ashby directed.  The Last Detail, Shampoo, Coming Home and Being There followed.

After Asbhy's comedy, you should watch the smart, erotic road movie from Mexico called Y Tu Mamá También ("And Your Mama Too").  A road movie means that there will be a change of outlook and a self-discovery.  You get that and more in this subtitled movie directed by Alfonso Cuarón.  I picked this as of the 10 Best Films of 2001.  It opens with a naked young couple passionately making love on a big bed.  They are boyfriend and girlfriend moaning in sexual ecstasy under this large foreign movie poster:

The French poster for Harold and Maude.  In the literature of film, that is a brilliant detail in the art decoration of the bedroom because it gives you a hint of the drama to come.

 Gifted Mexican actors Gael Garcia Bernal....
...and Diego Luna (later Sean Penn's co-star in Milk).... two best friends, middle class and educated but slackers nonetheless.  They like to get high.  They boast about sex.  Their girlfriends are away with family for the summer.  They meet an older woman at a wedding party.  She joins them on a road trip in Mexico.

They will discover much about life, love and sex while on the road with this intelligent older woman.  It is a trip that they will never forget.  Neither will you.
That's all I'm telling you about the story.  I'll let you discover the rest for yourself.  I will tell you that, in foreign films like Y Tu Mamá También, sex is not just sex.  It's just a hot skin-on-skin display of desire.  In foreign films, the sexuality can be hot and also be a socio/political statement in the script.  It can be an erotic strike against the confines of a government rule or a religious ban.  The sex can comment on the character's social class and social image.  To me, that makes the sex even more interesting.

OK.  I'll admit.  At my age, any sex would be interesting.

These are two fine films.  I hope you enjoy them.  With someone special.


  1. Great piece on HAROLD & MAUDE, a cult item here in London since it opened in the early 70s. We returned to it several times in that pre-video world, and I now have the dvd filed away- time for a re-look then. Love the soundtrack too by Cat Stevens, and Vivien Pickles is marvellous - such an individual actress - as Harold's mother. Another early Ashby from that time 'The Landlord' is just out on dvd as well, we liked that too a lot .... and its worth discovering, particularly for Lee Grant and Pearl Bailey !

  2. Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN too of course, but I preferred Almodovar's dazzlingly complicated BAD EDUCATION where Bernal plays several roles ...

  3. I love Hal Ashby's THE LANDLORD. It's an under-appreciated 1970s gem. That film holds a special place in my heart. I blogged about it last year and highlighted the luminous performance by Diana Sands. She was taken from us way too soon. A brilliant Broadway/film actress.


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