Harold and Maude, in its whimsical sentiment and barbed satire, is the ideal memento mori for this venerable repertory cinema that closes its doors tonight after three decades. Hal Ashby's film (drawn from Colin Higgins' clever screenplay) was a failure on its 1971 release but won a second life in theaters such as this across the country. Nineteen-year-old neurotic Harold (a wispy Bud Cort) mocks his conservative upbringing through a series of faked suicides and self-mutilations. But 79-year-old, life-loving eccentric Maude (a wizened Ruth Gordon) teaches him to appreciate each moment. A key scene comes when Harold gives her a coin stamped "Harold loves Maude." "This is the nicest gift I've received in years," she says, and promptly throws it far out into the bay. Harold is aghast, but Maude smiles and tells him that now, "I'll always know where it is." So it is with this theater, known for its funky ambience, homemade popcorn, handmade commercials, and trademark couch seating. It has represented a sense of community through the we're-all-in-this-together spirit of its collective programming: the cult movies, the political documentaries, the lingering spirit of San Francisco's Bohemian days. As Maude's action teaches, everything is temporal, but we should enjoy it while we have it. And as this venue sinks into the deep waters of our memories, we'll always know where it is.
Screenings continue through Monday, July 25, at the Red Vic Movie House