February 11, 2008
If there is a god in heaven, you weren’t even a zygote in 1971, otherwise you’re one of those hags or geezers who are dragging the Chronicle’s demos north … as in up I-35 toward Sun City. As far as the publishing business goes, that’s a death march – certainly for the alternative press, whose advertisers like to think they’re tapping into an age range where “MySpace” means a web page and not a burial plot. Apparently the older and looser you get, the more your purse strings tighten (unless, of course, you want to buck the trend and blow a lot of money on vaginal reconstruction). Really, the alternative press should be nothing but thankful for the enthusiastic support of the “me” generation. They brought us into this world and they will very likely take us out of it. With any luck however, their children will get hooked on us like Starbucks or trailer-trash crank and we can blather on for a few more years – at least until the rapture. If you were actually alive and sentient in 1971, you probably don’t need to be told why Harold and Maude is perhaps the second most important American movie made that year, holding down the silver between gold medalist Billyjack and bronze medalist Shaft. Yes, there were other noteworthy contenders that year like Academy Award winner The French Connection (aka the un-American Connection), and runners up A Clockwork Orange (too British), Fiddler on the Roof (too Russian), Nicholas and Alexander (ditto) and The Last Picture Show (too Texan). Billyjack wins, of course, because like America, Billyjack wants to be perceived as peaceful, but he pretty much spends all his time kicking ass, not to mention the movie itself is a fist-pumping, peyote-dropping, hippie-loving martial arts flick done up in a Southwestern motif. Fiddler on the What? Harold and Maude, on the other hand is a touching primer on cougaring (Google it) with wicked sick cinematography by John A. Alonzo (who like Gary Oldman and the Oscars, has been inexplicably snubbed for posthumous induction into the Texas Film Hall of Fame) and a whimsical soundtrack by Cat Stevens before he started sucking up to the muslims. Harold and Maude wasn’t the first film to deal with cougaring. 1967’s The Graduate certainly got that ball rolling in fine style, but Harold and Maude unquestionably took cougaring to a freakish extreme by pairing a baby-faced, death obsessed 19-year-old Bud Cort with the grizzled/wizened/hoary but perky 79-year-old Ruth Gordon. To his credit, director Hal Ashby managed to keep from turning art house theatres into vomitoriums by crafting Harold and Maude into a touching seize-the-day parable instead of depraved wallow in granny porn. It’s a feat that may never be so skillfully duplicated again, though many have tried. In fact, right here in Austin a plucky young director named Steve Bilich is bringing Harold and Maude to the stage at Mercury Hall with his mother Sue Bilich playing the role of Maude, just in time for Valentine’s Day. Not even Freud on a coke binge could dream up a scenario this bizarre (i.e., a 16-year-old even faking getting it on with a woman in her 70s), so you’ll surely want to be on hand to take in the spectacle. Maybe you’ll meet a cougar yourself, or maybe by reading the Chronicle you already have.