Love, Death, and 70s Film

Harold and Maude, by Colin Higgins, (Chicago Review Press), 144 pages, release date 1 May, 2015

I’m going to begin by assuming that anyone reading this blog has seen the film Harold and Maude, the happy-tragic story of love between a disaffected teenager and an elderly Holocaust survivor. Really that one-sentence summary doesn’t begin to do the film justice. It’s a tour de force of the unexpected. Just go watch it.

The script for Harold and Maude began began as author Colin Higgins’ MA thesis at UCLA Film School. It wasn’t a hit when the film was first released, but has now become the quintessential “cult classic,” a film that fans will travel hours to see and will watch again and again. This novelization of the script first appeared after the film’s release and is now being reissued by Chicago Review Press.

The novel Harold and Maude is a fast, entertaining read, well worth the time invested. Nonetheless, I think this is one of those rare (to my way of thinking) instances when the film is better than the book. In many ways, the novel is primarily a transcription of the film. The dialogue comes from the film. The minimal descriptive material hints at, but can’t capture the visual impact of the film. Higgins doesn’t make use of this new medium to add to the story in ways only possible in a novel.

That isn’t to say that the novel Harold and Maude isn’t worth reading, just that it’s going to be most enjoyable to those already committed to the film. It won’t add much new, but it does give one time to ponder the bones of dialogue without the distraction of the on-screen images. If you love the film, think about getting this book. If you’ve never seen the film, watch it—and then decide whether you want to think about getting this book.

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