What can I tell you about ‘Harold and Maude’, the tremendous 1971 ‘odd couple’ comedy directed by counter-culture genius Hal Ashby from a darkly hilarious but also exuberantly joyful screenplay by Colin Higgins which stars an alarmingly baby-faced Bud Cort as a gloomy suicide-obsessed twenty year old who falls in love with octogenarian firecracker Ruth Gordon, almost-fresh from receiving her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 1968’s ‘Rosemary’s Baby’?

And how can I tell you it without using any more ridiculously long you’ll-run-out-of-breath-before-you-reach-the-end-of-this-but-somehow-I’m-too-excited-to-use-full-stops paragraphs?

Well, to be honest I’m not sure I can.

‘Harold and Maude’ has always been my go-to film whenever the dark clouds gather and the world feels a little too heavy to cope with. Since I first saw it on TV more years ago than I’d even admit under torture I’ve considered it to be a beautiful, brilliant, quirkily heart-warming and orgiastically life-affirming masterpiece. (Yep, I said ‘orgiastically’, as in (according to Webster’s College Dictionary 2010) “tending to arouse or excite unrestrained emotion.”) Okay, so the very first time I watched the film it did kind of blindside me – I can remember that, at first glance and despite Ruth Gordon’s awesomeness, the burgeoning romance between Maude and her young suitor did make me feel a little queasy (Bud Cort’s pale-faced Buster Keaton expressions didn’t help) and some of the blackest comedy (specifically a couple of Harold’s messiest mock suicide attempts) is so black that light wouldn’t shine through the celluloid even if you held those frames up to the sun – but despite my reservations I still knew it was a film unlike any I’d seen before, edgy and smart and incredibly special, and luckily I’d recorded it on our clunky top-loading VCR (remember those? Add wheels and pedals and it would double as a go-kart) so the next day I sat down to watch ‘Harold and Maude’ again, this time prepared for the jarring shifts in tone and the often schizophrenic interplay of outrageous comedy, scalpel-sharp satire and sneaks-up-on-you emotion that was to come, and I fell completely and forever in love.

The only reason I’m boring you with that anecdote is because, over the years, I’ve met one or two people who had a similar original reaction to the movie but for whatever reason never went back to it again and that’s their loss. Please don’t make it yours. If you’re new to ‘Harold and Maude’ and aren’t entirely sure about it on first viewing (which is a very rare occurrence, honest) give it a second chance and you’ll be hooked. If you’re not hooked, check your pulse because you’re probably dead. If you’re dead, watch ‘Harold and Maude’ again and let its unashamed joyousness bring you back to life.

And now, just incase you think I’ve put my foot down a little too hard on the ‘this movie’s too incredible to be believed’ accelerator, rush out and take a look at Eureka’s revelatory new blu-ray of the film and you’ll understand why orgiastic unrestrained emotion is what I’m feeling (as well as unrestrained lack of full-stops and over-reliance upon commas, hyphens and brackets). ‘Harold and Maude’, which has always been a wickedly enjoyable diamond in the drab Hollywood rough, has never been given the respect it deserves on home video.

Thanks to Eureka, that’s all changed. Finally we can appreciate and rejoice in what a gorgeous-to-look-at-and-listen-to celebration-of-being-alive ‘Harold and Maude’ really is. Eureka has polished this diamond to a high shine, revealing colours and details I’ve never noticed before, highlighting some achingly perfect cinematography and rendering the film as fresh and vibrant as the daisy Maude refers to during one of the film’s most famous scenes:

“You see Harold, I feel that much of the world’s sorrow comes from people who are ‘this’ [indicating the perfect white flower she holds in her hand] yet allow themselves to be treated as ‘that’… [as we pull back to reveal that the field of daisies has disappeared and Harold and Maude are now sitting among row upon row of white gravestones in a military cemetery]

The print looks and sounds sensational. This is the first time I have ever truly been able to appreciate the beauty of Hal Ashby’s work on this film – moments like the sunlight on the surface of the swimming pool (as Harold’s mother calmly begins her morning laps while Harold performs another faux-suicide, floating face down and fully-clothed in the sparkling blue water) the ‘Monet-like’ shot of Harold and Maude’s reflections in a lake, the golden light that peeps between their silhouettes as they watch the descending sun… Eureka’s presentation is wonderful. The soundtrack – which is offered in both original mono or as a stereo mix – is equally fabulous whichever incarnation you choose.

Personally I prefer the original mono because… well, it’s the original mono and I’m one of those tightly-sphinctered film anoraks who doesn’t like the director’s original vision being messed with… (yeah, I know, I really need to get out more)… but, whichever version you select, the audio is clear and pin-drop faultless.

Cat Stevens’ iconic score (although with the exception of a couple of songs, most of it was patchworked together from his earlier albums) has never sounded this good. If you’re not humming ‘If you want to sing out…’ by the end of the film, that’s yet another indicator that you might be dead.

In addition, the disc contains a hugely informative commentary track featuring Hal Ashby’s biographer Nick Dawson and ‘Harold and Maude’ producer Charles B. Mulvehill which is packed with fascinating and sometimes alarming trivia (apparently Elton John was briefly considered for the part of Harold… I’ve had nightmares ever since I heard that, Harold wearing funky glasses singing ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ is a bullet the filmmakers were lucky to miss) and also includes an exclusive video discussion of the film by critic David Cairns who gives us another unique perspective on the movie, its initial reception, and its subsequent critical rediscovery.

The good folks at Eureka have also included a richly illustrated 40 page booklet with new writing on the film and many other treasures including rare stills, an archival interview with Hal Ashby and a hugely enjoyable 1971 profile of Ruth Gordon. They absolutely don’t make actresses like her anymore.

All I missed was the addition of a trailer, especially since it is referred to during the commentary and apparently includes a moment that was cut from the finished film, but that’s really just unnecessary nit-picking and I’m embarrassed I even mentioned it so let’s forget I said anything. In my opinion, Eureka’s ‘Masters of Cinema’ is the most consistently reliable showcase for classic films in the UK and yet again they have raised the bar – ‘Harold and Maude’ is a high-definition triumph and thanks to this blu-ray I now have a bigger crush on Ruth Gordon than ever.
That’s what I can tell you about ‘Harold and Maude’. Which in retrospect is far more than anyone, even me, needed to know.

Don’t miss Eureka’s outstanding new blu-ray presentation.
If you need me, I’ll be sitting on the cliff practicing my banjo…

About The Author

Ian White is an author, screenwriter and journalist. His book ‘Witchcraft and Black Magic in British Cult Cinema’ was recently published by Hemlock and he is a regular contributor to ‘Paranormal Underground’ and ‘Starburst’ magazines. He’s currently writing a new book and screenplay and his embarrassingly out-of-date website can be found at http://ianwhitelondon.wix.com/ian-white