‘Harold and Maude’: A Treat of a Tribute at the Academy

Harold and Maude.” What a movie. A feel-good picture if there ever was one.

Tonight’s tribute to director Hal Ashby at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, co-hosted by Variety‘s Peter Bart and Cameron Crowe, was a treat from start to finish. And the bar was pretty high, given that the evening started with a three-song set by Yusuf Islam (known in the “Harold and Maude” era as Cat Stevens).

There was panelizing with hot contempo talents (Judd Apatow, Diablo Cody, Seth Rogen) from the generation that grew up watching the movie 200 times on cable, and there was panelizing from those who worked with Ashby (Jon Voight, Haskell Wexler and Yusuf). And Bart of course in his previous life was the Paramount exec who said “yes” all those years ago to a decidedly offbeat script, and then snuck it past the bosses at Gulf + Western.

(Apatow seemed tamer than he usually is when pressed into panel service. It seemed like he was trying to mind his manners, though he did note that he has a daughter named Maude and was hoping to impregnate wife Leslie Mann with a son to complete his own tribute to the pic.)

Bud Cort came out after the screening and charmed the packed house with about 15 minutes of memories. But as entertaining as all of the live yakking was, the real star of the evening was the movie. They just don’t make ’em that good anymore. Apatow said so himself. We can all be thankful for Ruth Gordon, and to Ashby (who died in 1988) and screenwriter Colin Higgins for giving her the role of anyone’s lifetime.

I picked up so many details in the movie this time around, thanks to the luxury of seeing “Harold and Maude” on the beautiful bigscreen and for the first time in many years.

If you want to, sing out! Play the banjo. Drive fast. Steal cars. Steal a cop’s motorcycle. Crash funerals. And go watch “Harold and Maude”!