(In French, On TV, December 2018) As much as I respect and understand the forces that led to the New Hollywood of 1967–1977, I cannot and most likely will never be able to muster any kind of enthusiasm or affection for it. Films of that era and sensibilities remain almost uniformly grim, pointless and unpleasant. Case in point: Harold and Maude, which details the growing affection between a death-obsessed teenager and a much older woman. Affected with the typical disaffection of an early-1970s protagonist, Harold drives his parents crazy, can’t relate to the world and is intrigued by the idea of suicide. Meanwhile, Maude is an elderly free-spirit living life to the fullest but with the intention of checking out on her own terms at 80 years of age. It’s a strange, off-beat, morbid movie, but calling it a comedy feels like a stretch, especially when there’s very little joy to be found in its exasperating execution. Helmed by Hal Ashby (whom I’m increasingly recognizing as a director who does nothing for me), it’s clearly a reflection of the increased freedom that filmmakers enjoyed at the time. I can’t help, however, than to think that whatever Harold and Maude brought to the film world has been fully integrated in the corpus and doesn’t have much left to say if you don’t enjoy it on its own terms. The Cat Stevens music is as dated as the film itself, and if Harold and Maude is worth a look for a pure undiluted shot of New Hollywood, nobody is forcing anyone to enjoy it.
(On Cable TV, November 2018) Despite suspecting better, I half-expected to like Shampoo. I’m usually receptive to critiques of the 1960s or Warren Beatty’s projects, and I like the concept of examining an era’s social more through the lenses of a specific day (here the election of Richard Nixon in November 1968). Shampoo, alas, proved to be a far more sombre experience than I expected. Beatty deservedly stars as an in-demand hairdresser able to use his job to meet women and maintain simultaneous affairs at once. Of course, such a character must not be allowed to profit, and much of the film details the ways in which his life implodes over the course of slightly more than a day. The playboy lifestyle is not played for laughs or wish-fulfillment, with the so-called comedy of the film being tinged with a substantial amount of humiliation, self-recrimination and missed opportunities. It’s not a whole lot of fun and if I had paid more attention to director Hal Ashby’s name or the 1975 year of release of the film I could have predicted that for myself. (For various reasons, my reactions to Ashby’s movies ranges from tepid liking to outright loathing—but then again that’s my reaction to most of the New Hollywood era in general.) Considering the downer plot and restrained laughs, I best reconciled myself with Shampoo as a period study, taking a look at the excesses of 1968 from the decade-long hangover of the 1970s. It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing.