Friday, February 27, 2009

geriatric therapy

This week we watched Harold and Maude the Hal Ashby film from Colin Higgins screenplay. It's one of the most perfect comedies in my opinion. Usually a comedy this old does not really hold up, you know? Like how everyone talks about how hilarious The Apartment is but when you watch it it's kind of depressing with zero laughs. I mean it's amusing, but come on, straining spaghetti with a tennis racket is not super hilarious. No disrespect to the genius Billy Wilder- it's just that over time what we thought was funny becomes less funny. It's the march of culture. Anyhow, back to Harold and Maude. Here are ten lessons I learned from watching the film this week:
  • Do it with style. Harold is a one of a kind character. Sure he’s a weirdo, but he does it with such panache- we can’t help but admire his resourcefulness. A fake hanging, that crazy wrist cutting- buying a hearse. Where have you ever seen this guy before?
  • Bring into the life of your Protagonist the unlikely instructor. They learn lessons from their opposite- from the person they’d like to be or the person they fear the most. Harold is someone obsessed with death even though he's so young. Maude is near death and yet in love with life.
  • Make a decision about the moment your character falls in love and show it. When does Harold fall in love with Maude? We’ve had lots of reasons why they’re a good match, but what is it that makes him fall for her? In my opinion it's the oderifics moment in her train car. If you look at his face as she "plays" the smell of snow falling on 45th street for him you can see him falling in love. It's further illustrated when he has him reach into her sculpture which is basically a giant wooden vagina.
  • State your philosophy and illustrate it. At the 38:00 minute mark Maude says, “I feel that much of the world’s sorrow comes from people who are this (indicating a single daisy), and yet allow themselves to be treated as that." (indicating a field of daisies)
  • What your main character wants and what your main character needs can be opposite of each other. Harold wants to die (attention from his mom) and yet he needs to live (independence from his mother’s world).
  • Actions speak louder than words. At the 60:00 minute mark we get more about Harold from what he does than what he says. This is the moment where his mom brings over yet another prospective "date" for Harold. As the date is talking about her job Harold proceeds to fake cutting off his hand in front of her. He has not a line of dialog and yet he has said so much.
  • Your hero’s unhealthy talents should be used in a new way; in the service of good. In the scene where Harold meets with his uncle in advance of being shipped off to the Army he and Maude stage an elaborate "murder" to paint Harold as a liability and unsuitable for enlisting. Here everything he's good at comes to play to quite literally save his life.
  • Your antagonist (Harold's mom) is all the more formidable when they have the institutions of society on their side. Your hero isn’t just battling their situation, they’re righting a larger wrong. Harold's mom is at the pinnacle of society. She's rich and proper and everything you're supposed to want to be- and yet, we'd rather be with Harold.
  • Take us to unexpected places. But it’s all the better when we go there willingly. By the time Harold and Maude consummate their relationship we're on board. It's a bit of a shock but we're kind of okay with the fact that a 20-something and a 70-something just had sex.
  • Pain and the scars of life define us… and your characters. Often your main character is on the verge of drowning in life’s grief. This is their struggle for liberation and in some cases maturity. This moment will define them for the rest of their days- choose wisely. No trivial moments will do. This essentially represents the point in Harold's life where if change does not happen he will die. It's true. If Maude had not come into his life it's a pretty good bet that in ten years or so he would have killed himself for real.

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