Shockingly I was having a hard time finding a subject for my post this week but then yesterday the Universe handed me something that immediately sent me to my keyboard.
And for that, I say to the Universe:
Screw you. Screw you right in your black matter, you cold, meaningless, eternally-expanding son of a bitch.
Screw. You. I hate you so much right now.
It’s been a rough couple of months for film fans. Yesterday, February 24th, 2014, was an especially hard day for those of us whose formative years fell during the Reagan administration. A comedy giant has left us and he will never be forgotten. I truly believe that the world is a better place because of his time upon it.
Because laughter is beautiful. Laughter is important. Whenever my baby daughter laughs I think “How is this happening? Why? How does she know what’s funny? What is the biological imperative that provides her with this reaction?” Why is this noise, with its infinite variations, from bubbly giggling to overpowering, annoying har-dee-har guffaws, the universal, species-wide indicator of joy? It is a reflex, like pulling your hand away from a hot stove or that thing with the hammer in your knee that I’m not sure a doctor has ever actually done to me.
Why do we laugh? At what evolutionary step did it become part of us?
(I’m sure there are answers to some of this. I’m just pondering out loud. I’m not going to read any scientific papers about this.)
Laughter is a vital part of human survival.
Harold Ramis made me laugh a lot. He probably did the same for you.
So all sort of owe the man our lives.
This won’t be an obit or eulogy. I don’t do that. You know what the man did, who he was. I just want to offer up comments on two of his movies and share two brief personal anecdotes.
Not much to say there, right? A perfect film comedy from start to finish. A top-five “movies you can’t turn off when you stumble upon it on TV” type of film. Words can’t do it justice. Superlatives are inadequate. It’s simply… Ghostbusters.
What is notable about Harold Ramis and Ghosbusters is his presence in front of and behind the camera. He co-wrote the screenplay (a nearly flawless one I may add) and, of course, played the role of Egon Spengler, the Alpha of movie nerds. It is Egon that will forever keep Harold in our hearts. Most people don’t really care about writers and directors; movie are the people on screen. The image of him in that jumpsuit, proton pack strapped to his back, particle wand in hand, is what will first come to mind when we hear his name in the future. For a man who was more a writer and director than an actor, to have such an iconic character that will last for eternity, well, only a few lucky ones get that.
What’s hitting people hard right now is that Egon is dead. Not the director of Caddyshack. Not the writer of Animal House.
Egon. Egon, who thought print was dead. Egon, who collected spores, molds, and fungus. Egon, who taught us to never cross the streams.
Egon, who explained the movie’s silly science to us in a way we’d understand…
That’s really the loss we’re feeling right now. The heartache. The wonderful piece of pop culture that has been ripped from us.
They’ve been trying to make a Ghostbusters 3 for years now. People have been both clamoring for it and dreading it. Now, it can’t happen. There is no Ghostbusters without Dr. Spengler. There can’t be.
There just can’t.
I have nothing new to add to the chorus of praise this film receives. Yes, it is one of American’s great all-time comedies. All-time great films period. Yes, it is filled with so many quotable lines it’s ridiculous. Yes, it’s the only film that used Andie Macdowell’s innate blankness to its advantage.
Ramis directed this classic comedy, but he didn’t write it. What’s amazing about his work in it is that it is a film about things repeating over and over and over and over again and yet it never gets boring. Never gets stale. He handles the odd and (for a comedy) heady script with a light and confident touch. It’s remarkable and infinitely re-watchable.
It is also a massively effective religious film. It manages to do this without being Kirk Cameron preachy treacle or Mel Gibson torture porn. It is simply an elegant presentation of the core tenants of Buddhism. Not that you have to know that to enjoy the film. I certainly didn’t when I was younger. But now when Phil escapes his personal samsara that is February 2nd, I find myself moved and uplifted.
That movie is going to be remembered forever.
And so is its director.
Two personal notes about Harold Ramis (and if you follow me on Twitter or are a Facebook friend I apologize for regurgitating these):
1) I worked with Harold Ramis on Jake Kasdan’s forgettable film Orange County years ago and he was super nice but I was young and too scared to tell him what his work meant to me. I regret that.
2) Years later John Humber was working with Harold and asked him for filmmaking advice. He said “Go home and make a movie.” He did, brought some friends with him, and we went to Phoenix and made Dakota Skye. That’s why he’s thanked in the end credits.
Celebrity deaths are a weird thing. Society often overreacts to them. Okay, always does. I know I do. People mourn actors and musicians like they’re family members. Which is understandable. Paul Newman was in our lives for a long time, even though we didn’t know him. Kurt Cobain lit a fire under the ass of rock music and he meant something to us. It happens. It’s okay.
But when you work in film and television, it’s a little different. Because you meet a lot of celebrities. In the decade plus that I worked in, on, and around movies, I met a lot of famous people. One funny thing that happens is that you realize that they’re just flesh and blood human beings. I know everyone knows that, intellectually, but until you’ve shared a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with Luke Wilson, it doesn’t quite sink in.
Inevitably, some of these people die, just like everyone else. And if you’ve met them, talked to them, worked with them, you feel it a little more. Not because they were your best friends. Not because they were a true part of your lives. But because you’ve seen them in the flesh. Shaken their hands. Confirmed that they are real people and not just 2 dimensional illusions on celluloid.
Heath Ledger. David Carradine. Roger Ebert. Sally Menke. Robert Altman. Just a handful of folks I’ve had brief encounters with over the years whose deaths struck me a little more than they should have. Now add Harold Ramis to that list.
I say again: Screw You, Universe!
I don’t have any more to say. I’m just bummed. Plus you shouldn’t be sitting here reading this anyway. You should be watching Ghostbusters or Caddyshack or Animal House or Vacation or Stripes or Groundhog Day.
Go watch those movies and laugh. It’s good for you. I still don’t know why, but it is.
(I would like to mention that a very dear friend of mine suffered a devastating familial loss on the same day we lost Mr. Ramis. In my world, my real world, this is, of course, far more important. But that’s not what this place, this blog, this internet is for. But I just wanted her to know I was thinking about her when I wrote this.)