Harold and Maude. The label “cult film” is commonly used today as a marketing stunt for quasi-independent or mainstream films flirting with various subcultures. Harold and Maude, however, is the genuine thing, combining the directorial talents of former editor Hal Ashby with the oddball personas of main actors Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon. Cort, age twenty-one, had just done his first leading part as a flight-obsessed kid in Robert Altman’s Brewster McCloud (1970). Ex-screenwriter Gordon, age seventy-six, had a string of memorable supporting roles behind her in the 1960s, the most well known being her Manhattan witch in Rosemary’s Baby (1968), for which she won an Academy Award. In Harold and Maude, their peculiar chemistry made them an engaging, unforgettable romantic couple, challenging most taboos of youth, aging, sex, death, and happiness.
Most interesting, perhaps, is that this challenge not only is a run-of-the-mill counterculture pose against traditional patriarchal society, but is even more aggressively directed against the contemporary youth-quake. This is primarily made by reversing the 1960s concept of youth as the vital, mold-breaking counterforce to the inevitable physical and spiritual deadness affecting everybody over age thirty. Here the young and rich Harold is a living corpse because of his inability to break free from an oedipal fixation with his cold mother (Vivian Pickles), whose attention he tries to get in vain through a series of hilarious fake suicide attempts. It is only when he meets the old but vital and anarchic Maude that he comes to life.