Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Masters of Cinema - IF... and HAROLD & MAUDE On Blu-ray ""

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Masters of Cinema - IF... and HAROLD & MAUDE On Blu-ray

HAROLD & MAUDE (1971; Hal Ashby)
Of all the films that can be considered "cult classics", HAROLD & MAUDE is one of the most well loved and well known. It's right up there with THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW in some respects with regards to its notoriety. It's not as obligatorily adored as something like STAR WARS, but I really do believe that its popularity has grown now to the point of started to be a much larger part of popular culture than a lot of cult films from the same period. That is a testament not only to the film, the acting and directing (& editing) and the music but also to the fact that this is one of the great love stories in all if movies. I really do believe that that love story and the characters and the ideas they stand for (especially Maude) are truly timeless and optimistic and life-affirming in this simply glorious way.  It's a really remarkable thing that a sort of "hippie" film like this could have the staying power that it has had. I don't mean "hippie film" as a derogatory comment, I more mean that it is a movie that embodies a specific spirit and mindset from the 1960s in this lovely, non-self righteous way. The message(s) it puts forth are so universal if you allow yourself to connect with it that the film remains to this day the kind that many people will still declare their favorite of all-time. There are only certain films that can be declared to be one's favorite that don't draw some sort of immediate malicious judgment from hardcore cinephiles. HAROLD & MAUDE is one that few movie fans could find much fault in. It is a lovely, poetic mediation on life and love and individualism that is so beautiful and so resonant as to earn it the much deserved label of a classic.
I remember one incident early in my video store years where I was asked to help a customer find a specific film . They didn't know the whole title, but they knew that it was someone "& MAUDE". At the time, I hadn't seen the film (this was 20 years ago) so it never occured to me that it might be HAROLD AND MAUDE that this woman was looking for. Sadly, the only film I could find that for that description was the Dudley Moore comedy MICKI & MAUDE, so I sent the woman home with that instead. I'll never forgive myself for that faux pas. It was unforgivable. I used to imagine that woman trying to explain to whoever recommended the movie to her that she was underwhelmed by it and couldn't understand the appeal. I really do hope she found her way to HAROLD & MAUDE on her own eventually.

Special Features:
This Blu-ray includes the same commentary track by Hal Ashby biographer Nick Dawson & producer Charles Mulvehill that can be found on the Criterion disc. It's a really solid track which gives much in the way of background (for both Ashby the man and the film itself), real-life production anecdotes and insights as well as some thematic observations which make it a great listen for fans of the movie.

The supplement that is exclusive to this release is a 25 minute interview with film scholar David Cairns. This is a very pleasant, educational bit of business that functions as a lean little academic analysis of the film. It's a short lecture in the form of a relaxed Q&A and I rather enjoyed it.

IF... (1968; Lindsay Anderson)
IF... is one of those movies that has fascinated me for a long time. As with most young cinephiles, I had a heavy Kubrick phase early on and was of course obsessed with A CLOCKWORK ORANGE for a time. That film had a big impact on me when I first saw it and as a result, Malcolm McDowell became an actor that I liked quite a bit. When I first came across IF... it was at the local independent video store on my college campus. It was a pretty rare Paramount VHS tape at the time and I'd never heard of it. Seeing McDowell on the cover with a submachine gun certainly caught my eye. 
Another reason I've become a bigger fan of IF... over the years is that it has a direct connection to one of my favorite films - ROCK N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL. Allan Arkush has talked about it being a big influence on the film and I've always loved that. It was, for me, an early example of one completely tonally different movie affecting another. Once I heard Arkush start talking about it (and his affection for Lindsay Anderson in general) it totally made sense, but I'd never have linked the two movies otherwise. 
Check out Arkush talking about Lindsay Anderson and IF...'s follow up film O LUCKY MAN over at Trailers From Hell:
IF... is one of those films though that you can hardly believe was ever made at the time or ever by a major studio. The irreverence and darkness it carries with its portrayal of English public school life was certainly pretty shocking to say the least. It was the first film for the great Malcolm McDowell and what an auspicious debut it is indeed. IF... was also the debut of the Mick Travis character that McDowell would go on to play two more times (in O LUCKY MAN and BRITTANIA HOSPITAL) under the direction of Lindsay Anderson. It's a film that once you've watched it, you'll see why it is quite a remarkable piece of cinema and why it made quite an impact (especially the ending) at the time of its release. The anti-establishment message underlying the story seems appropriate for the time considering that this film came out in the late 1960s and that that sentiment was then a big part the popular zeitgeist. Not sure if it's just me or if we all have some streak of anti-authoritarianism in us, but I always find myself getting pretty caught up in stories like this somehow. The fact that Malcom McDowell is at the center and that he is fantastically charismatic in that specifically McDowell way certainly helps draw me into this particular tale. Like many budding cinephiles, I first saw McDowell in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and it wasn't until years later that I finally got into the films of Lindsay Anderson (beginning with this one). It reminded me of a much more intelligent and ballsy DEAD POET'S SOCIETY or something and I have never forgotten it. I highly recommend watching this film and O LUCKY MAN as close together as you can. Both are excellent and compliment each other while being quite different from one another and yet sharing odd touches of poetic surrealism throughout.

Special Features:

-Audio Commentary - A commentary with Malcolm McDowell and Film critic/historian David Robinson. A good track, very informative and educational. Robinson has much in the way of historical data and McDowell has a lot to say about his collaboration with Lindsay Anderson in this film (and some of the others they made together). This being McDowell's first feature film role, he has a lot of memories of it and seems able to deliver a lot of detail regarding the whole production.
(previously included on the Criterion release)

-Interviews - these were conducted in 2014 and are exclusive to this disc. They include interviews with Michael Medwin (producer)(4 mins), David Sherwin (writer)(5 mins), John Howlett (writer)(16 mins), David Gladwell (editor)(14 mins), Gavrik Losey (production mgr)(6 mins), Brian Harris (camera operator)(3 mins) and actors David Wood(46 mins), Hugh Thomas(5 mins), Geoffrey Chater (8 mins), Philip Bagenal (9 mins) and Sean Bury (4 mins). With about 2 hours worth of interviews here, there's a lot of interesting ground covered both in front of and behind the camera. Good stuff.

-Lindsay Anderson short films
--THREE INSTALLATIONS (1952) - an industrial documentary short.
--THURSDAY'S CHILDREN (1954) - academy award winning documentary short about children at the Royal School for the Deaf in Margate, Kent.
--HENRY (1955) - short about a boy dealing with his parents having a difficult time by running away to the city.

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