Harold and Maude. Cult Cinema
I suppose it's easy to see why the film has been raised to cult status, it opens on the main character, Harold (Bud Cort), walking through the study, making himself a little name tag, lighting a candle, and then hanging himself. His nonchalant mother responds by asking him if he thinks it's funny. A tiny smile from the apparent suicide victim show us that he certainly thinks so.
The morbid opening begins our journey through the human experience, from different ends of the spectrum. For Harold, the thanatomaniac 20 year old from a wealthy family, his life changes incredibly when he meets Maude, an ebullient septugenarian for whom the word "eccentric" is far too mild a description. The two have a common bond that attracts them instantly.
In Maude, Harold discovers something the complete opposite from his dysphoric world of social parties and scaring his mother elaborate scenes of suicide. He finds total liberation in the company of a kindred spirit. In Harold, Maude finds an very willing cohort in her quest to save the world, one small piece at a time. Armed with a Buddhist philosophy and a total lack of "sensibility," she does whatever she pleases, when she pleases, and doesn't give a damn about what society thinks of her. Watch out for her dalliances with the police man (Tom Skerrit), hilarious.
The brilliance of Colin Higgins' script and Hal Ashby's direction is that the film's tone shifts as Harold comes around to a brighter point of view. It starts out as a black satire, however, as soon as the two characters meet, it starts to become a romantic comedy with a tinge of the revolutionary.
You may recognise Maud (Ruth Gordon) from her oscar winning role in Rosemary's Baby however Maude was the role she was born for, at 75 she delivers more energy and fizz than the rest of the cast. Cort is more subdued and this makes the characters fuse together well and make for enjoyable viewing.
The supporting cast is equally excellent. Vivian Pickles plays Harold's mother, a worldly socialite who doesn't understand her son but tolerates him. Pickles is an absolute delight as she tries to mold her son into her definition of normality. Harold's Uncle Victor (Charles Tyner), also contributes some humour. Funniest of all, though, is the small part of the priest, in the scene where he tries to tell Harold not to do something frightfully abnormal - the homoerotic urges just seep through his religious exterior, and the director, Ashby, knows just how to show off those latent desires.
The visual style here is far beyond the typical mundane direction of most comedies. We have some beautiful shots, and wonderfully edited moments of comic genius. The best sequences, speaking in purely visual terms, take place in Maude's little converted freight car of a home. The tiny, crowded space provides for a lot of captivatingly framed bits to add to an already exquisite picture.
The very best part of Harold and Maude, though, is the message and I'm going to make you watch the film to get it, but for being a romantic comedy, it has an awful lot to say about human nature.
The Cat Stevens soundtrack creates a beautiful evocative backdrop to the film.