Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Tell Him About the Twinkie

Harold Ramis as Dr. Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters (1984)
     Harold Ramis (1944 - 2014) was directly responsible for the corruption of my youth. I mean that in the most sincere and appreciative way. The films that he wrote, directed and starred in had such a lasting effect on me that it's almost impossible to imagine what the world was like before they existed. In that idyllic time - parents, teachers, bosses and even weather men were merely authoritarians or benign automatons, no reason to not be trusted. Ramis taught me that they were just regular people too. Fucked up like the rest of us.

Of the seminal films Ramis wrote or co-wrote: National Lampoon's Animal House (1978), Meatballs (1979), Caddyshack (1980), Stripes (1981), Ghostbusters (1984), Back to School (1986) and Groundhog Day (1993), most are considered modern American classics. Animal House and Ghostbusters being iconoclastic works of art. Groundhog Day, perhaps his greatest singular film as writer/director, could have belonged to the repertoire of Frank Capra, or Ernst Lubitsch. It could be argued that this run of raunchy comedy hits was the last great wave of comedy film to emerge since the Screwball Era.

And of course there was National Lampoon's Vacation (1979), which Ramis directed (adding his own dialog) from a script by the late, great John Hughes. I still quote the scenes with his fellow SCTV veteran and colleague John Candy nearly every other day: "Rusty, may I call you Rusty? I had a bad experience on this ride once." In fact, what Ramis film isn't habitually quotable? Quoting Ghostbusters is akin to a rite of passage with most people from my generation. I must admit, I even find myself quoting lesser Ramis efforts on occasion: Club Paradise (1986), Multiplicity (1996) and even Analyze This (1999).


I guess most of us just took him for granted, not really acknowledging his presence behind so many of these great movies. It's sad to think of the world now without him. I know that sounds a bit melodramatic. I mean, it's not like I knew the man personally, but his work had such a profound effect in shaping my psyche. The sardonic heroes of his films always seemed to me adults who refused to grow up or take orders. What is Bill Murray's Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters if he isn't Peter Pan crossed with James Dean or Jack Kerouac? Even Clark Griswold, haplessly battling his own delusions.

These were my movie idols growing up. Though some of them may seem less like scientists and more like game show hosts to me now, I can't help but see a little bit of each of them whenever I look in the mirror: Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz, Egon Spengler, Clark Griswold, Bluto Blutarsky, Otter, Boone, Pinto, Flounder, D-Day, Ty Webb, Carl Spackler, Al Czervik, Danny Noonan, Tripper Harrison, John Winger, Sergeant Hulka, Phil Connors and Thornton Melon. Now I know why I'm the poster boy for therapy.

I think often about Groundhog Day. How Murray's character Phil spends literally hundreds of years reliving the same day before he finally gets just 15 or so hours right. I think of what Ramis was trying to tell us, beneath all the funny stuff. How fortunate we are to have just one lifetime to work it all out. Thanks for all the role models, Mr. Ramis. And thanks for telling us about the Twinkie too.

1 comment: