Is death the beginning or the end? Who knows? Who cares? Unless, of course, somewhere on the other side there is a home cinema where one could watch Harold and Maude, Hal Ashby’s 1971 morbid comic gem (Paramount, 4 STARS) about death-obsessed 20-year-old Harold (Bud Cort) and his zesty relationship with septuagenarian Maude (the glorious Ruth Gordon). A film this singular and derailed could only have been made by a man as unreliable, drug-hazed and reclusive as Ashby, the director of Bound for Glory (1976), The Last Detail (1973), Coming Home (1978) and Being There (1979). Sadly considered unemployable by the end of his career, Ashby was one of the true mavericks of 70s US cinema, and this was his most personal piece of work. Beautifully packaged, this release is part of a new Paramount Originals series and includes a limited edition reproduction film poster.

John Midnight Cowboy Schlesinger’s much underrated film adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s searing novel The Day of the Locust (Paramount, 4 STARS) gets a long overdue release on DVD this fortnight. This pitch-black portrait of the naïve, abused, simple-minded and hysterical hopefuls of Hollywood in the 1930s is a lovely rediscovery. Though stylistically and tonally a little uneven, this 1974 film features superb performances from Karen Black as the cruel and manipulative aspiring actress Faye, and Donald Sutherland as local man-child Homer Simpson, so now you know where those boys at Fox get all their best jokes from.

Also of note is a new edition of Lindsay Anderson’s awesome 1969 feature debut If . . . (Paramount, 5 STARS) with great extras, Anderson’s Oscar-winning documentary Thursday’s Children and Nicholas Ray’s remarkable steroid frenzy 1956 melodrama Bigger Than Life (BFI, 5 STARS) starring James Mason at the top of his form as a cortisone-fuelled schoolteacher. If that tickles your fancy you may also want to invest in the James Mason Collection (Optimum, 3 STARS), which features, among other lesser films, the remarkable terrorist drama Odd Man Out (1947) and 1952 espionage thriller Five Fingers (pictured).

Volume one of two newly restored Sergei Eisenstein Collections (Tartan, 4 STARS) also rolls down the steps in this period. A must for any student of film, this comprises stellar classics Strike (1925), Battleship Potempkin (1925), October (1927) and some fairly worthy extras about the recording of the new soundtracks for the films. So many good films, so little time.

(Paul Dale)

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