Friday, October 21, 2011

Friday Dance Party: "Reach Out. Take A Chance."

A maudlin, disturbed young man enacts elaborate suicide scenarios to attract his mother's attention, and attends funerals for amusement.  A  septuagenarian Holocaust survivor with a zest for hookahs, player pianos, and swiping cars, sweeps into his life.  She teaches him how to  begin to live, even as she says goodbye. 

It's Harold and Maude, and it's one of my favorite films.  It was a failure at the box office in its initial release in 1971, but has since been revered as one of the masterpieces of American film.  AFI includes it in its list of top comedies, and it is preserved at the Library of Congress.

The film made a cult favorite of milque-toast young actor Bud Cort, and the hilarious performance by Vivian Pickles, as the oblivious, self-centered Mrs. Chasen, is worth the price of admission. 

But the heart and soul of the movie rests
with two people.  The first is Ruth Gordon, who was in the later stages of a remarkable career as an actress and writer.  Her contributions to two Hepburn and Tracy films earned her Oscar nods for her screenwriting, and she holds the distinction of creating the role of Dolly Levi in the original production of The Matchmaker.  By 1971, Gordon was enjoying a renaissance in her acting career, having won the Oscar only a few years earlier, playing a satanic neighbor in Rosemary's Baby.  But her luminous performance as an unlikely object of romance in Harold and Maude is, in my opinion, her career cap.

The above trailer is one of those remixes, and does not include the contributions of the second person whose superb work elevated H&M to masterpiece status.  That person is Cat Stevens, who provided one of the most evocative film scores of the 70s, including several songs which can stand alone, but also reflect the film's tone and theme.  This week's Dance Party is a great illustration; the number perfectly encapsulates the theme of Harold and Maude, and has spoken to me at several critical times in my  own life. 

So this is another Dance Party which is also about me.  To my detriment, I am often satisfied with the status quo;  Change (note the capitol C) is not something I usually seek, so it sometimes takes a reminder, such as this song, to push me in a new direction.  I've written about the changes coming in my life, and I will undoubtedly write much more; reminding myself of this great Cat Stevens tune helps me remember all the possibilities of my life.  I feel a bit like Harold Chasen, standing on the top of that cliff, playing the banjo and heading into new directions.