Hal Ashby
(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

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Hal Ashby

The Sluggers Wife

Eigh Million Ways to Die

Harold And Maude (1971), written by Colin Higgins, is a double character study, and the couple that is being studied could not be more extreme: an elderly woman full of life and a young boy obsessed with death.

The opening scene is of someone in dark pants walking down the stairs and playing a record. He is a young man, Harold, all dressed up. He clips a piece of paper to his jacket, steps on a stool and hangs himself. Luckily his mother finds him right away. She is amazingly calm as she picks up the phone... to cancel an appointment. Over dinner with a group of snobbish friends, the woman explains that Harold is a spoiled brat obsessed with death and specialized in mock suicide attempts. Later, she finds Harold in the bath-tub: he has painted the whole room red and simulated yet another bloody suicide.
Harold lives in a huge mansion with his wealthy mother. His only hobby is to go to funerals. He drives a Cadillac hearse. His mother is cold and indifferent. By staging suicides, he tries to get his mother's attention.
Since the psychiatrist failed, his mom sends him to his crippled uncle Victor, a war hero, hoping that he can rescue the youth's mind. Harold fakes another suicide in the swimming pool and his mother completely ignores his "dead" body while swimming in it.
At the next funeral Harold meets Maude, a bizarre octogenarian woman who steals the priest's car. While Harold shoots himself in front of her, his mother is filling a form for a dating service, hoping this will help Harold. At the next funeral the old woman steals the hearse itself and offers Harold a ride in it. She drives like a maniac and her house is a messy, eccentric place that was originally a railroad car. Harold has his first date with a girl and, naturally, stages a suicide in front of her setting himself on fire. Harold visits Maude again and Maude gives him a tour of her art collection. Maude also has a glimpse of her friend Glaucus, who is working on a nude sculpture made of ice and the model is... Maude. Maude is a survivor of concentration camps and that experience has somehow granted her an unusual lust for life, that she exercises almost every day. Harold quickly becomes an accomplice in her wild escapades, that almost get them arrested (she even steals a police officer's motorcycle).
In the meantime, Harold's mother replaces Harold's hearse with a brand new car, and, naturally, Harold simply rebuilds the new car to resemble a hearse.
Maude and Harold are becoming close friends, and more than friends. And Harold finally finds somebody who listens to him (a real mother? plus an Oedipus complex?). For the first time, Harold is laughing and crying.
After Harold stages another mock suicide in front of another date, his mother decides to have his uncle draft him in the army, but it is another failure (with some help from Maude). Harold is free again and watches sunset with Maude in a romantic scene.
Harold has to stage yet another suicide to get rid of yet another date, but the girl understands it is a fake and tries to imitate him, except that she really kills herself.
Harold announces to his mother that he intends to marry Maude, who could be his grandmother. Everybody (uncle, psychiatrist, priest) is in disbelief. But when he gives Maude a ring, she throws it away, and then explains to him her quasi-Buddhist philosophy of life.
On her 80th birthday, Harold proposes; but, surprise, she has decided to end her life and set Harold free. She has just committed suicide. For real.
(In the silly and pointless ending, Harold drives his hearse over a promontory but jumps at the last moment. The car crashes on the beach while Harold walks away playing a banjo).
The Last Detail (1973) is a road movie of sorts. Billy (Jack Nicholson), nicknamed "Badass", is drunk as usual. He lives in a base of navy sailors. That day Billy and his African-American friend Mule are ordered to escort escort another sailor, Larry, to prison. Larry is guilty of stealing a small sum from a charity box, but got convicted to eight years in prison. Billy and Mule feel sorry for the meek and kind Larry. On the bus they even remove his handcuffs. Then they board a slow train for their long journey north. Larry is a good kid and he didn't even take the money: he was caught while he was lifting the lid of the box. The kid tries to escape (a rather clumsy attempt). Billy and Mule take pity on him and decide to get off the train in Washington and show him around. In a bar Billy demonstrates why they call him "badass": he pulls out the gun when a bartender refuses to serve a beer to Larry, who is still a minor. They then drink together in a hotel room, where Billy tries in vain to get Larry angry and violent. Larry is just a simple good-natured boy who wouldn't hurt anybody. They get back on the train. Larry talks about his family. His mother lives in Philadelphia, so they decide to get off there and look for her. She is not home, and the home is a mess, and Larry is almost relieved she's not there because he wouldn't know what to tell her. Back on the train, Mule argues with Billy that Billy is making things worse by trying to be nice to the kid. Nonetheless, they get off in New York and, after fighting some some marines in a restroom, they stumble into a Buddhist gathering where Larry learns to chant. They even take him ice-skating. He becomes convinced in the power of Buddhist chanting and keeps chanting while they are at a classy bar. A woman, Donna, overhears him and invites them to a private party where they meet a group of young anti-establishment kids. Donna is puzzled that Larry would not try to escape, and even more puzzled when he tells her that Billy and Mule are his best friends. In Boston they take Larry to a brothel and pick a girl to take his virginity. They finally reach their destination. It is freezing cold, snow on the ground. Larry asks for one final wish: a picnic. They are the only people in the snowy park and their mood is quite somber as they know they will soon part ways. Suddenly Larry stands up and starts running. Billy catches him and beats him up. They deliver him to the prison without a word. But they hide the fact that Larry tried to escape.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da Sara Liotta)

Harold and Maude (1971) è l'analisi di due personaggi. La coppia studiata non potrebbe essere più estrema: una donna non più giovane piena di vita e un giovane ragazzo ossessionato dalla morte.

La scena si apre con una figura che indossa dei pantaloni scuri che scende le scale e mette della musica. È un ragazzo e si chiama Harold. È vestito come se dovesse uscire. Attacca un pezzo di carta alla sua giacca, sale su uno sgabello e s’impicca. Fortunatamente sua madre lo trova poco dopo. È incredibilmente calma mentre tira su la cornetta del telefono… per disdire un appuntamento. Una cena con un gruppo di amici snob. La donna spiega che Harold è un ragazzo viziato, ossessionato dalla morte e specializzato in finti tentativi di suicidio. Più tardi trova Harold nella vasca da bagno: ha dipinto l’intera stanza di rosso per simulare un altro suicidio violento. Harold vive in un enorme palazzo con la sua ricca madre. Il suo unico divertimento è andare ai funerali. Guida una cadillac che sembra un carro funebre. Sua madre è fredda e indifferente. Inscenando suicidi cerca di catturare la sua attenzione.

Dopo averlo mandato senza successo da uno psicanalista, sua madre lo manda da uno zio disabile di nome Victor, un eroe di guerra, con la speranza che lui riesca a recuperare la mente del ragazzo. Harold mette in scena un altro suicidio nella piscina e sua madre fa il bagno senza accorgersi del "cadavere".

Ad un funerale Harold incontra Maude, una bizzarra donna d’ottanta anni che ruba la macchina del prete. Harold si spara mentre sua madre sta compilando un modulo da spedire ad un’agenzia di appuntamenti nella speranza di aiutarlo. Ad un altro funerale l’anziana signora ruba il carro funebre e invita Harold per un giro; guida come una matta e la sua casa è un posto eccentrico e disordinato che un tempo era un vagone del treno. Harold ha un appuntamento con una ragazza e, naturalmente, inscena un suicidio di fronte a lei dandosi fuoco. Harold fa di nuovo visita a Maude e lei gli mostra la sua collezione di pezzi d’arte. Si ricorda allora di un suo amico di nome Glaucus che sta facendo una scultura nel ghiaccio raffigurante un nudo di donna…e la modella e Maude. Maude è sopravissuta ai campi di concentramento e questa esperienza l’ha portata a godersi ogni momento della sua vita. Presto Harold diventa complice delle sue bravate e arrivano a farsi quasi arrestare (lei aveva rubato la moto di un agente di polizia). Nel frattempo la madre di Harold aveva dato via la vecchia macchina di Harold e ne aveva comprata una nuova. Naturalmente Harold modifica la macchina per farla somigliare a un carro funebre.

Maude e Harold sono diventati grandi amici, forse più che amici. Harold ha finalmente trovato qualcuno che lo ascolti (una vera madre? Oltre al complesso di Edipo?). Per la prima volta nella sua vita Harold ride e piange.

Dopo che Harold inscena un altro suicidio davanti una ragazza, sua madre decide di farlo arruolare nell’esercito da suo zio, ma è un altro fallimento (con un piccolo aiuto da parte di Maude). Harold è di nuovo libero e guarda un romantico tramonto in compagnia di Maude. Harold mette in scena l’ennesimo suicidio per liberarsi di una ragazza con cui aveva appuntamento, ma la ragazza capisce che si tratta di finzione e cerca di imitarlo, ma si uccide davvero.

Harold annuncia a sua madre di essere intenzionato a sposare Maude, che potrebbe essere sua nonna. Tutti (lo zio, lo psichiatra e il prete) sono scettici. Ma quando lui le da l’anello, lei lo getta via e poi gli spiega che la sua filosofia di vita si avvicina molto al buddismo. Per il suo ottantesimo compleanno Harold le chiede di sposarlo; ma, colpo di scena, lei ha deciso di porre fine alla sua vita e dare la libertà ad Harold. Si è appena suicidata. Realmente.

(La fine è banale e scontata e mostra Harold che guida il suo carro funebre verso un promontorio ma salta giù all’ultimo momento. La macchina si sfracella sulla spiaggia mentre Harlod si allontana suonando il banjo).

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