Saturday, August 31, 2013

there's a lot of things really wrong with...

To err is human. To point out someone else’s errors is, presumably, extra-human.

So, let’s look at the errors in Groundhog Day. And, I don’t mean Phil’s errors in judgment or anything like that. I mean filmmaking errors. We’ll work off the IMDb goofs page for the movie and go from there.

First category is “Audio/visual unsynchronized”

In the last part of the movie, Phil is seen playing the piano on stage at the party. As he finishes up song before going and talking to Rita, the piano in the soundtrack is playing a glissando (running a finger rapidly down the keyboard) while Phil is still playing as he was before. Finally, at the last run, Phil's hands match the sound.

Don’t have a screencap for this one (as you’ll see, I’ve got screencaps for a lot of the other “goofs” below), but I’m not seeing it—and I had two different screens going for the movie today, two different copies of the film. Aside from a possibly inaccurate use of “glissando” Phil does run his hand across the keys and you do hear the accompanying sound.

As Phil walks off the stage after performing the piano number, two background actors behind him are visibly 'fake clapping', but there is no clapping sound to accompany it. Whilst this is a technique used on set when recording dialogue, so the background actors' clapping does not get recorded by the actors' microphone, for some reason the sound editor missed this or decided not to dub it with 2 people clapping, giving this strange looking result.

Yes, a couple old people are still clapping, lightly, as Phil leaves the stage, and we do not hear them. But, as I said, they are clapping lightly. This isn’t much of a “goof.”

The next, rather silly category is “Character error”

In the Bavarian restaurant, a poster appears on the wall reads "Alles Gute Zum Erdhörnchentag". This is supposed to mean "Happy Groundhog Day", but is, however, a mistranslation because "Erdhörnchen" means "Gopher". The poster should have read "Alles Gute Zum Murmeltiertag".

Apparently correct. Erdhörnchen does mean gophers. And, Murmeltiertag means Groundhog Day. Presumably a set decoration error, so… well, I don’t know how IMDb categories work, but this doesn’t seem like a “character error.”

At the beginning of the scene where Phil and Rita talk in the Bavarian restaurant, a waitress crosses carrying 4 large steins of beer. She sets them on the table behind Phil and Rita. Watch as she walks away from the table. She touches the shoulder of the older gentleman seated at hat table and leaves foam on the top of his jacket sleeve.

This one is interesting, because what is described here is not a “goof” with the film but, yes, the character. There is arguably a continuity error here as well, since on Day 9 she gets foam on the guy’s shoulder but doesn’t do so on Day 10.

Day 9:

Day 10:

The next category is “Continuity”

The outside of the car while Phil is driving with the groundhog.

That is a fragment. I don’t think it’s fair to try to critique continuity without even bothering with a verb. Still, let’s assume whoever wrote this one meant that the outside of the truck changes in some notable way—if I recall correctly, one of the Film Flubs books referred to the broken grill as jumping from broken to unbroken and back again in various shots, but I don’t see it. Plus, no verb.

During the police chase when Phil is being chased down the railroad tracks, the police car has a rotating light bar. In close up shots the police lights flashing behind the vehicle are clearly strobe lights.

While the lights seen from inside the vehicle with Phil and Ralph and Gus are clearly not from a police car (but probably on a set where they had a bit of Gus’ car for the dialogue), they do seem to be rotating just like the police lights, not “strobe lights.”

As Phil is about to drive the truck over the edge, Larry is filming and Rita is watching; her hair is protruding in many places. In the next shot, her hair is neatly pinned in place.
Not a huge problem, as even her “neatly pinned” hair is not all that neat.

Unpinned:

Pinned:

On the first day Phil wakes in the hotel he looks out of the window and sees certain cars moving and turning. The next day he looks out of the window again and sees exactly the same cars etc as though it is exactly the same time, but the time is different which we know because the radio show that we can hear is at a different point.

This is true. On Day 1, Phil sees the following just as the DJs are saying “Groundhog Day!”:

On Day 2, he sees the following when the DJs have moved on to another whole sentence (about 4 seconds have passed):

As Phil is walking toward the town plaza and he rounds the corner and passes by the old beggar, a number of shops can be seen over his shoulder to the right of the screen. This scene is repeated many times in the movie, and sometimes there are flags flying over the shops, while other times there are none.

This one just seems wrong. The flags are not only always there, given the way they filmed stuff like this, it would be somewhat impossible for them to go away—these scenes were likely all filmed on the same day… The way Stephen Tobolowsky—Ned… Ryerson!—describes it in The Tobolowsky Files, they filmed the different versions of the same scene in a row, then would film them again with different weather conditions on different days, so later they could match up all their weather conditions from day to day. What we see on every day except for the day Phil steals the groundhog (because that was only filmed once) is the grey overcast takes, filmed together.

Since every day takes place on the same day there should be the same amount of snow every night. However, there are clearly some nights where there is a lot of snow and others where there is no snow at all.

Given that we don’t often see the same location with snow more than once, I’m not sure what to say to this one. Gobbler’s Knob has a lot of snow every time we see it at night. Cherry Street has a lot of snow on it. The streets around town don’t. The consistency is between locations, not within them, so there’s no real goof here. Plus, you know, butterfly effect; Phil’s different actions could literally (at least in part) “make the weather.”

When Phil waits for Felix to drop coins so he can grab one of the money bags, his coat is open except for one shot where it is neatly closed.

While Phil’s coat does blow somewhat closed as he crosses the street…

… it remains unfastened the entire scene, all the way until after he grabs the bag.

In the scene at the quarry the police car's overhead warning lights alternate between being on or off depending on the shot.

My first thought reading this was, of course blinking police lights would go off and on. But, actually, there are about 8 shots during the chase that include the police car and every time those lights are clearly on. This one is just wrong (though I did not get 8 screencaps).

When the three ladies with the flat tire are rolling to a stop, the pavement and tire are wet. In the wide shot and while changing the tire, the pavement is dry.

Well, yeah, the close up shot on the flat tire is definitely on shinier, presumably wet ground. And, the rest is dry. This one is totally correct.

As Phil opens the door to leave the Bed and Breakfast on the second morning he has no gloves on and his scarf is outside his coat. As he exits the Bed and Breakfast he is still holding the coffee but now has gloves on and his scarf is neatly tucked in his coat.

Yes, if dialogue and Phil’s behavior did not clearly indicate the following scenes were still Day 2, I could take this as being a jump from one day to the next—though the film doesn’t do quick cuts like that until later and not on walking through doors because, well, walking through doors is not all that interesting. Still…

Inside:

Outside:

The chocolates on the bedside table are in different positions as are the flowers in the arrangement. They should be exactly the same as they were on the first morning since Phil wakes up every morning (until the last) back on Groundhog Day in his room.
The thing is: they are in the same position every morning. Here are some shots for you:

Day 1:

Day 2:

Day 3 (not a nice closeup on the table like before, but you can still see the chocolates and flowers):

Day 4 (an even harder shot to see, but they are still right there where they always are):

And, we don’t really see the flowers or chocolates again until Day 22:

And a nice clear shot for Day 29:

But, even better than those things not moving is the following from the morning of February 3rd—the next day, they are still there:

During the police chase scene on the railroad tracks, there is a shot where the train's headlights illuminates the tracks in front of the Phil's car. In that shot we can see that there is no break in the tracks. In the next shot they veer off the tracks, via a road without any rail crossings, and escape.

Yep:

When Phil is being chased by a police car and the news van out to the quarry, he drives through a stone railroad underpass that is clearly too small for the news van to fit through. In subsequent shots, the news van still appears right behind the police car as if nothing has happened.

My problem with this one is the use of the word “clearly.” When the underpass is shown directly, the rather large pickup clears it by quite a bit. As the camera moves, though, the space does look smaller, and that antenna array or whatever those things on newsvans are is pretty big. But, since it is possible for the van to have gone around or maybe even fit under, though probably only by slowing down to do so carefully, I don’t like this one.

During the police chase on the railroad tracks, the police car is following closely behind. When the car driven by Phil swerves to miss the train, the police car behind them would be destroyed by the train, but seems to have vanished.

Well, since there is no crash/explosion just out of frame, I assume that police car swerved off the tracks into the gravel. See earlier shots of the cars; there’s plenty of space. Phil just happens to have turned off onto a street.

When the police are chasing Phil in the Cadillac convertible, he wrecks into a row of cars, the first one being a 1983 AMC Eagle wagon. In the next scene, the Cadillac is crashed against a small Chevy, and the Eagle is on the other side of the Chevy.

Somebody clearly wanted to show off his ability to identify cars. Rather than make fun of him, I will commend him and say, save it for something other than IMDb; that site is for movies, not cars. As for the possible mistake, you be the judge (the cars look the same to me):


Early in the film, Phil breaks a pencil in half and we see that it's back on top of the clock radio, intact, in the morning. Later in the film, the pencil is not on top of the clock radio. If everything were resetting the same way every day, then the pencil would always be there.

Nitpick: that pencil is never on top of the clock radio. Even after Phil breaks it, he places it on the table in front of the radio, and the “next” morning he has to find the intact pencil down below the tabletop.

During the final party scene, the engaged couple approaches Phil, and he introduces them as the newly-married "Debbie and Fred Kleiser." However, earlier in the movie in the diner, the indecisive bride-to-be is already introduced as "Debbie Kleiser," prior to the wedding having occurred, presumably prior to her having taken her husband's last name.

While this is weird, I’ve already covered a few possible explanations for this one back in my gender entry. Short version: Debbie and Fred could be related, could just happen to have the last name, or Fred took her name because he’s progressive like that (or his “maiden name” was Zod and Kleiser just seemed more normal).

When Rita identifies Phil after he jumped from the tower, we see that Phil's eyes are closed. In the next shot, as the blanket is moved to cover Phil, his eyes are open.

Yep:

When Phil wakes up with Rita at 6AM on Feb 3, his clock flips to 6:01 and then time stands still as several minutes pass.

First, I must complain. “Several” minutes do not pass. We needn’t exaggerate just to prove ourselves great. However, from the click from 5:59 to 6:00 to the 6:01 getting panned out of the shot, it is longer than that 1 minute, 59 seconds that would make it possible. It’s about 2 minutes, 27 seconds, in fact.

At the beginning of the movie, while the white van is going from Pittsburgh to Punxsutawney, the WPBH signs stuck on the van's sides move from near the back of the van to near the front (see the 4 semicircular holes above each sign).

This is correct but, alas, I didn’t get any screencaps. The logo on the driver’s side of the van is at the midway position as the van drive in Pittsburgh, then is at the forward position when they reach the Pennsylvanian Hotel. The logo on the right moves a couple times, notably in the shot where they pass the big Punxsutawney sign.

On February 3rd, when Phil and Rita are leaving the place Phil has been staying, the shots of the gate in the fence show the gate closed in the shots from near the building, but show the gate open in the shots from the street.

Well, this one is tricky. Consider this shot of the bed and breakfast on the morning of February 2nd:

The gate also looksopen there. But, I think it’s a trick of the angle because the gate is actually slightly forward from that arch. Here it is on the 3rd:

I think the gate is closed and the position makes it look open, but it certainly is not definitively open.

The next category is “Crew or equipment visible”

As Larry films the flaming wreckage of Phil's truck in the quarry, the lights used to create the glow of the fire can be seen reflected in the lens of Larry's camera.

Red lights used to simulate the glow of the flames of the burning pickup truck after it explodes after being driven over the quarry cliff, can be seen in the reflection on the lens filter on Larry's camera.

A) These are both the same “goof” so I will have to take one off the IMDb page for sure. B) Yes, those lights are visible:

The next category is “Errors in geography.” How these aren’t just “factual errors” I don’t know.

Sunrise in early February in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania is not until around 7:25 am, so at 6 am it would still be fully dark.

In fact, the apparent sunrise in Pittsburgh that day, according to NOAA, was 7:28. In Philadelphia, according to timeanddate.com, the sunrise in Philadelphia was 7:08. Punxsutawney would be somewhere in between—closer to Pittsburgh, I believe—but all of that is long after the bright 6:00am we see in the film.

During the opening credits, the news van is shown heading WEST on the Parkway East in Pittsburgh, and taking a ramp headed north on Ft Duquesne Blvd. To be accurate, to be headed to Punxsutawney, the van should have been driving in the other direction (East).

Sounds like someone showing off their knowledge of Pittsburgh. Thing is, unless the van is coming from a good distance farther southeast—and it may have just pulled out from one of those buildings just before it is first seen—the best way out of Pittsburgh to get to Punxsutawney is by the Allegheny Valley Expressway, which is north of that peninsula and right in line with where we see the van turning.

The next category is “Factual errors”

At the beginning of the movie when Phil is giving the weather report he claims that if he had a choice of where he could be, he would choose Elko NV, because that was the location of the nations [sic] high of 79. On February 01, the day before Groundhog's Day, Elko would be very cold. It would not be a place that would have the nations [sic] highest temperature in February. The highest temperature in Elko NV in the last 75 years was 21C (about 69F) and that was late February 1905.

Yeah, usclimatedata.com puts Elko’s average temperature in February to be a high of 43.

The next category—to which I will have to add some of the other “goofs” on the list—is “Incorrectly regarded as goofs”

We never see Phil try to leave first thing in the morning before the highway gets blocked, but that doesn't mean he didn't try, fail, and give up; there could be many things he tried that we don't see before he finally decided to settle down.

Whoever thought this qualified as a goof is an idiot. But, someone should point him to Rubin’s original screenplay. Phil does get past the blizzard; he takes a plane to visit his mother.

The next category is “Revealing mistakes” and I’m not sure what it is, exactly, that they are revealing.

During the police chase with Phil's drinking buddies, no back-up lights are visible on the car tail lights while Phil is backing up the car to elude the police.

This is only a “goof” if, in fact, we know those lights work on that car. Since we don’t see the back of that car while it is backing up any other time, I think we can assume Gus just doesn’t deal with the upkeep too well. Since he fantasizes about crashing his car into things (in Rubin’s original), I wouldn’t expect him to be the best at keeping the car in good shape.

When Phil is driving his car down the quarry ravine in a suicidal attempt, there is clearly no driver visible.

True:

While on his death binge, the pickup truck Bill and Phil uses to drive over the cliff clearly has no engine or drive-train components. The underneath shot is even depicted in slow-motion, and one can see clear through to the radiator.

True:

Phil's room in the Cherry Street bed and breakfast is on the top floor overlooking the street. The sizes and number of windows inside his room do not match any combination of those from the exterior shots, which is due to the fact that the interior shots were not filmed on location.

The room actually fits surprisingly well considering it is a set and they never filmed inside that house. Note this shot:

Phil’s room fits with that third floor, on the right (our right, looking at the house). It’s got those three rounded-top windows… but, the little alcove with the sink in it doesn’t fit too well. And… the shots out the window (scroll up if you want to see them again) are from the angle of what would be the left side (our left, looking at the house) of that third floor, and those are not Phil’s windows.

In the beginning of the movie when Phil is reading the weather forecast. We can clearly see him standing almost against the blue screen which casts a very strong shadow. Yet in the preview window he appears clear on the projected background. In reality Bill Murray's shadow would have cast a terrible blue screen shadow that would have been impossible to remove using the chroma key.

Which is why Phil’s got a clear shadow on the monitor. The small monitor we see on the wall is too small to see “clear” on that projected background, but when it’s shown bigger, I definitely see a shadow… see what I did there?

The north side of the plaza (filmed in Woodstock, Illinois) is shown when the insurance man appears. There is a store with a large "WOODSTOCK" sign, although the town is supposed to be Punxsutawney, PA.

There’s also a Lloyd’s and a Frame’s but we don’t assume we’re suddenly in Lloyd’s, Pennsylvania or Frame’s, Pennsylvania. In the context of fictional Punxsutawney, there is a store called Woodstock Jewelers, perhaps named after the bird from Peanuts.

Today’s reason to repeat a day forever (or at least once, anyway): to go edit the goofs page on IMDb to make it accurate and maybe even credit my blog for the changes and proof.

Friday, August 30, 2013

what did you do today?

This Oscar-winning short film is how I imagine Phil Connors’ mind on Day 33. It’s called Tango.

If you’ve got 8 minutes, watch it before you continue reading. It’s an amazing exercise in… well, it’s live action, it’s animation, it’s trick photography, it’s a lot of complicated things. Anyway, if you haven’t the time, it’s one room filled with the actions of 36 characters, starting with a kid coming in the window after a soccer ball, and gradually introducing the other characters until the room is a mass of perfectly orchestrated and choreographed action. For some of the huge amount of work that went into designing this film, have a look here. 16,000 cell-mattes, several hundred thousand exposures on an optical printer. Seven months of work, sixteen hours a day. (I think Phil Connors could relate.)

Particularly, notice the levels of complexity in this single gif:

Or this graph of where each character (or group of characters) comes in:

In his book, Animation Techniques, Roger Noake describes Tango and the achievement of filmmaker Zbigniew Rybczyński like this:

In Tango, Rybczynski exploits this concept of the single [on]screen space by filling it with a plethora of actions. It soon becomes obvious that such a small space, that of a small room, could not possibly contain all the actions taking place. Rybczynski also makes critical use of off-screen space, exposing it for the artifice it is. Off-screen space is the imaginary area beyond the edge of the screen, and in front of or behind the camera. There are a number of ways through to off-screen space in Tango – a window and a door in the back wall, doors on either side of the room, and cupboard which also has its uses. Rybczynski orchestrates his entrances and exits with great precision.

Now, imaging Phil Connors head near the end of his journey. He’s got all this knowledge about the people of Punxsutawney, and he knows where certain people will be at certain times. There’s even more of this in the original screenplay, in fact. For example, he knows there’s a fire at the pizza place every night. When he’s going to get dinner with Rita, he tells her, “Tony’s pizza’s okay, if we get there before the grease fire—that’s about six thirty, but the place stays smoky all night.” In Rubin’s first revision (which I have not seen; I get this info from Ryan Gilbey), Phil has more “good deeds”:

…pumping the stomach of Janey, a lovesick girl who has attempted suicide; removing an old lady from the path of a truck—but the real ingenuity comes when he devises some short cuts to help maximize his limited hours. He places a rock in the road so that the lorry carrying the fish to the restaurant—the fish that Buster will later choke on—will not make its delivery. He tells Janey that the object of her affection has feelings for her. And he puts chewing gum on the pavement to delay the old woman on her way to the road.

(I don’t know how well that Janey thing would work, really. Unless he has fanned the flames of that “object of affection” for her, like he did with Debbie for Fred, then this sounds like lying just to keep this girl from killing herself, which isn’t really a great strategy.)

(And, minor change: Buster chokes on steak in the movie, not fish.)

(Phil has a notable short cut in the original screenplay that I’ve never found time to mention, so I might as well bring it up here. In voiceover, Phil mentions that he “learned every short cut in Punxsutawney” as at the YMCA pool, to clear a lane for himself he swims completely naked.)

The movie doesn’t show us how Phil learns of, say, the old women and their flat tire, but I suppose it could have been anytime (it’s a bit late at night, but it would have been awesome if their car had still been sitting in the street with a flat during the big car chase with Ralph and Gus, or more realistically, sitting out there during the car chase that ends with Phil exploding). Phil has seen (as have we) Felix before he fixes his back offscreen—he’s the armored truck guard who gives Doris a roll of quarters (or tries to at least) and Felix does noticeably groan as he leans over as the quarters spill. And, though many of you probably haven’t noticed it, the kid who falls from the tree is at the hospital when Phil has taken the Old Man in. Discovering Buster has choked, presumably to death, could have come up anytime, as Phil probably visited the Banquet pretty early on in his repetition—curiosity getting the better of his cynicism—and the mood would have been pretty somber, I bet, with the apparent leader of the Inner Circle dead.

(Note: I didn’t call him the mayor. So many people assume he’s the mayor, but the movies never tells us as much. What he is, is part of the Inner Circle, the board of directors for the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club… which is an interesting group. They have titles like Rainmaker and Iceman, Thunder Conductor and Big Chill, Sky Painter, Coal Front, Stump Warden, Shingle Shaker, the Big Windmaker. And, there’s the President and His Protector of course. Buster seems to be the President of the Inner Circle, not (necessarily) the mayor of Punxsutawney, though he could be both.)

Anyway, Phil’s last (and really, his only) Groundhog Day includes all of the following:

  • his report from Gobbler’s Knob (after presumably picking up pastries and coffee again for Rita and Larry)
  • spending some time at the Tip Top Café (remember, it’s Doris who gets him up on stage for the bachelor auction)
  • buying a whole bunch of insurance—“whole life, term, uniflex, fire, theft, auto, dental, health with the optional death and dismemberment plan, water damage”—from Ned
  • a piano lesson with Mary
  • fanning the flames of Debbie’s passion for Fred
  • finding Wrestlemania tickets somewhere in town
  • fixing Felix’s back
  • saving the kid falling out of the tree

    (The editing makes this seem like it’s right after Phil’s report, but the kid is at the hospital… well, maybe it isn’t too late. Sunrise in the fictional Punxsutawney was well before 6 a.m. (around 7:30 in the actual Punxsutawney on Groundhog Day that year), so sunset could be before 6 p.m. so getting the Old Man to the hospital, seeing the kid there, wouldn’t have to be too long after that. Of course, then saving the kid and changing the tire happen before sunset, dealing with Debbie and Felix and Mary—that could be anytime during the day (though my list here I’m trying to put some logical order to events). Is Buster maybe choking at lunch, not dinner? I mean, why would he go out for dinner before the big Groundhog Day banquet? Could we—or I, at least—assume Phil still spends some time with Old Man on that last day? Once it’s dark in Punxsutawney in this film (and keep in mind there is no dusk in movies unless it’s integral to the plot; the light goes from day to night), the streets are never seen crowded, so the Old Man could be dying not long after sunset… maybe, despite the downbeat ending of my recent entry, the Old Man did not end up dying alone while townsfolk danced the night away.) [Edit: he dies at 8:02.]
  • changing the old ladies’ tire
  • saving Buster from choking
  • playing at the banquet
  • sculpting Rita’s face in ice/snow

    And, maybe he took part in the ice sculpting competition again, or maybe he won it that day Larry and Rita saw him sculpting and never went back. Maybe he stopped for pizza at Tony’s (but before 6:30). But I’m not sure he hung out with Ralph and Gus.

    Today’s reason to repeat a day forever: just to say I’d changed a tire, saved a life (or two) and played piano publically all in the same day. Sometimes you just need shallow bragging rights.

  • Thursday, August 29, 2013

    there's nothing i can do about it

    We see the clock turn from 5:59 to 6:00 numerous times in Groundhog Day, but if you believe a complaint—I’m having trouble figuring out if they ever actually sued or just threatened to—from back in 1993, the film owes a great deal to the time 12:01.

    “12:01 P.M.” was a short story by Richard Lupoff, published in 1973. Then, in 1990 there was an Oscar-nominated short film made from it, and in 1993—the same year as Groundhog Day--there was a TV film made from it as well. At the time, I think, this was my first time noticing how TV films seemed so conveniently timed with similar theatrical releases, something that happens all the time now; for example, when Battle Los Angeles from Columbia Pictures was coming out a couple years back, we got Battle of Los Angeles from The Asylum premiering on television. Call them knockoffs or knockbusters or mockbusters or what have you, they capitalize on similarity in name recognition and at least a vague similarity (generally) in plot. The Los Angeles Times cited the term “drafting opportunity” for what these films do, piggybacking (to mix metaphors a bit) on the success of bigger films. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with it—though there are certainly cases of specific and unique ideas (or expression of ideas) being stolen and used without permission. The thing is, it can be hard to prove. And, it’s not like we don’t value opportunism. The LA Times piece quotes “Sam Toles, vice president of content and acquisitions for Gaiam Entertainment, distributor of the ‘Happy Feet’ knockoff ‘Tappy Toes.’ ‘We're not trying to confuse people. We're trying to take advantage of a level of interest in a concept that exists thanks to the major studio release.’ In an era when so many big budget movies are remakes and sequels, one can hardly fault the idea of taking advantage of audience interest to make money. Hell, arguably, even an entirely original idea is trying to do just that.

    Anyway, Lupoff’s original short story, “12:01 P.M.” is about Myron Castleman, the kind of guy who’s office job (at the inappropriately Tolkien-referencing Glamdring and Glamdring) means his days are always the same already. He’s the kind of guy who would hear Ralph say, “That about sums it up for me”—which he just did, as I’m watching Groundhog Day today—and nod in agreement and maybe wish he was there at that bowling alley bar so he could have a drink and maybe experience something new for a change. Myron Castleman, like Phil Connors, is stuck in a time loop—though Lupoff’s term is a “time bounce.” This bounce has been predicted by some scientists—

    (I haven’t read the short story yet, but I watched the short film and the TV film last night, so I won’t get into the science fiction nitty gritty. Long story short, there is a specific explanation for the bounce, but it isn’t supposed to matter because no one is supposed to be able to realize it’s happening… and let’s get out of the parenthesis for this next part.)

    Myron Castleman is the only person who is consciously experiencing this bounce. In the short film, 12:01 P.M., Castleman, played by Kurtwood Smith, is a dour character, put upon by years at a job he says outright, he doesn’t know why he works there. There’s a bit more of the satirical angle here, everyday life in the modern urban landscape being the same thing. Hell, the only intrusion from nature here—and one of the only details played for a laugh in the short—is a bird pooping on a guy in the park. 12:01 P.M. is not a “fun” film, it doesn’t have time to be playful with its subject except for a second or two here and there. The most fun Smith’s Castleman has is probably in the opening scene when he finally (after 40 tries getting up the nerve) talks to a woman in the park. Absent the premise we know is coming, this scene already shows a guy who’s used to life being the same thing day in, day out, and this conversation is a welcome exception. But, then he tells her what’s going on, that he’s stuck in the same hour—yes, he’s only repeating a single hour, which is part of why there’s no room for much fun—and then the bounce happens and he’s just leaving for the park on his lunch break. There are some nice repetitions, and brief attempts to change things (like warning a guy his grocery bag is about to rip) but the film is only 27 minutes long and it’s almost singlehandedly determined to maintain a bleak tone.

    Anyway, find a copy of the film if you like—or find me sometime since I’ve got a copy—or read on for the horrible SPOILERS: the even more bleak implication is that the time bounce will happen forever (which makes the film even more depressing if you think about too much, because the rest of the world has essentially ceased to go on). And, for Castleman, he finally makes his way to the scientist who knows what’s going on and convinces the guy that he’s consciously experiencing the bounce because “consciousness is an independent variable” and learns the horrible truth—there is nothing he can do to stop it.

    The TV film, 12:01 is far less bleak and far less limited in its scope. Rather than covering the hour after noon, the TV film alters the frame to midnight to midnight. And, the film, running around 1 hour 35 minutes, only covers about six repetitions—

    (As I said on “TV time loop day” this is the Groundhog Day Project and, in this case, not the 12:01 Project so I didn’t make an effort to log exactly how many repetitions were covered… in fact, now that I think about it, there were a couple quick deaths in the film that probably make it 8 or 9 days involved, but the film spends so much time exploring the one day (especially the first time) that it doesn’t have much time for a lot of repetition. One of the amusing bits in the movie, in fact, is that this version’s protagonist, Barry Thomas, played by Jonathan Silverman, doesn’t even realize it’s the same day for a while, because all of his days are virtually the same anyway.)

    The TV film plays more events for amusement if not outright laughs. But, it doesn’t come across as a comedy. Instead, the whole thing is structured more like a thriller or, as the DVD cover says, a “sci-fi adventure.”

    Now is as good a time as any to point out this amazing fake trailer for Groundhog Day that plays it like it’s a thriller:

    Anyway, back to 12:01 as Phil and Rita dance in the gazebo on my iPad screen. Like Groundhog Day, 12:01 also has a romance at its center. Barry Thomas has just fallen for a scientist at the… well, it’s a weird place he works. There’s a generic office environment but then there are scientists around running a “collider” in the building when the government has shut down that program. So, while Thomas is supposed to be an everyman, put upon office worker, he works for some awesome, possibly government-involved company that deals in experimental science that can bounce time. Anyway, on day 1, he’s just “met” scientist Lisa, but she gets gunned down that afternoon and stuff gets more interesting. By the third day, he’s saved her life and they end up in bed (well, actually, I think they were on the floor) together just in time for him to specifically ask her for her favorite things to shorthand his way into her believing him the next time—Phil should have tried this rather than taking days to A/B test Rita; it is far more efficient. So, day 4 he tells her that she likes oysters and the color green (not that unique) and her favorite number is 37.1 (which is just quirky enough to be cute), and she likes the Carpenters, but he thinks she could do better.

    (Why the cheapshot at the Carpenters?)

    So, then together they’ve got to figure out who is firing the collider despite the program being shut down and why they killed Lisa for figuring it out, and there’s explanation aplenty and a villain (or two) and, notably, a way out. There isn’t time for bleakness here; the movie is trying hard to be fun. Weirdly, there isn’t much of the “adolescent” phase here—for example, a fellow office worker gets coffee spilled on him every day and Thomas never makes an effort to save him from this (unless I missed it).

    The TV film holds up pretty well for a TV film that’s 20 years old, but I wouldn’t call it a great film by far. And, it lacks the hints at deeper philosophical ideas that Groundhog Day gets at, or even the nothingness of being implicit in the short film. Still, the time loop concept was thought unique enough that Lupoff said in 1995:

    The story was also adapted—actually plagiarized—into a major theatrical film in 1993. Jonathan Heap and I were outraged and tried very hard to go after the rascals who had robbed us, but alas, the Hollywood establishment closed ranks… After half a year of lawyers' conferences and emotional stress, we agreed to put the matter behind us and get on with our lives.

    So, does the concept of the time loop belong to Lupoff? Not really. In fact, Leon Arden, author of The Devil’s Trill (retitled One Fine Day did sue Columbia Pictures for $15 million, saying they plagiarized instead, his book. Arden’s book includes a lot of the obvious details, including figuring out details about a female character to get closer to her, but to win in court, he would have had to prove that more than just a few vague details were the same. Groundhog Day on its surface is a light comedy. “12:01 P.M.”, 12:01 P.M., 12:01, and One Fine Day are not. The Detroit News pointed out, for example, that One Fine Day includes “witchcraft, an encounter with God… and aeroplane explostion that kills 192 people, a rape, and a woman’s suicide.”

    When it comes to science fiction premises, like a time loop, a lot of authors tackle the same thing. See my “TV time loop day” entry, for examples. Though Peter Krapp argues in Déjà Vu: Aberrations of Cultural Memory that Groundhog Day “borrows heavily from the Oscar-winning short film 12:01 P.M. and its made-for-tv remake,” I think it’s a difficult argument to win. There are limited “ideas” out there. The uniqueness comes in the details.

    An aside before I go: user geoffhart1962 makes an interesting point about fictional characters over at Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine’s website:

    On the other hand, it occurred to me that any fictional character is effectively trapped in a rut: no matter how many times you and others read the story they’re living in, it never changes. If you’re the kind of author who always feels a bit guilty abusing your characters for literary ends, and if you’ve read any of the stories in which fictional characters understand that they’re fictional and being forced to endure repeated relivings of their adventures (I’m thinking Jasper Fforde’s books, for instance), one can see “12:02 P.M.” as a metaphor for the lives of these pour [sic] souls stranded in the world of story. In that sense, it’s kind of nice of Lupoff to return to his story world of 37 years ago and finally free Myron.

    (Note: Lupoff’s written two sequels in recent years, “12:02 P.M.” and “12:03 P.M.” and I may revisit these stories after I’ve had the chance to read all three.)

    Today’s reason to repeat a day forever: to imprison Phil Connors and Myron Castleman and Barry Thomas and any other fictional character I can get my hands on forever by watching them or reading about them again and again.

    Wednesday, August 28, 2013

    are you making some kind of list or something?

    So, why does Rita slap Phil? And, I don’t mean the first time, when he asks her to do so on Day 2 at Gobbler’s Knob.

    What we see in the “seduction” sequence is Phil doing what’s called A/B testing. In short, an A/B test involves two slightly different versions of, well, anything, and some people are exposed to one, some to the other, and the success of A is tested against the success of B. In modern, internet terms, for example, you could test two different versions of a webpage, and see which one garners more clicks or reduces the bounce rate or what have you. For Phil Connors, he A/B tests Rita a few times. Order any drink the first time, just to hear what she’ll order. Then, the next time order her drink, forge a connection in her mind. Toast to the groundhog the first time, learn she toasts to world peace, not only toast to world peace the next time but say a prayer as well and you have endeared yourself to her on at least one level. He tests and retests, finding the better option for every choice… in reality there aren’t just two options for everything, but all Phil needs to know is one of them.

    A. Drink sweet vermouth
    B. Drink anything else

    A. Toast to world peace
    B. Toast to anything else

    A. Call small town people “more real, more down-to-earth”
    B. Call them anything else (perhaps “hicks”)

    A. Eat fudge*
    B. Eat white chocolate

    A. Say we should live “in the mountains, at high altitudes”
    B. Say… well who knows what Phil said before he got to this?

    A. Laugh when she says she studied 19th-century French poetry
    B. Recite some French poetry

    A. Make a snowman and just happen to have supplies in your pocket for its face
    B. Well… you get the idea

    * of course, fudge is still an issue, since Rita claims later, “I hate fudge.” Could the fudge thing be the one issue standing between Phil and Rita? If the chocolate shop had something Rita liked more, would Phil and Rita have gotten together that night in his room rather than her slapping him? Or, is that exactly what probably happened the very next night, leading to the next slap?

    The thing is, as programmer Jeff Atwood suggests in his Coding Horror blog, this may be “the purest form of A/B testing imaginable. Given two choices, pick the one that ‘wins’, and keep repeating this ad infinitum until you arrive at the ultimate, most scientifically desirable choice.” But, Phil isn’t comfortable enough in his own skin to approach any of this honestly. It’s all a ruse, a ploy toward a single outcome. He’s not looking for what’s best. He’s just looking for another conquest at this point.

    (Keep in mind, this sequence wasn’t about Rita in the original but another local woman, Tess, one of the sixty-three eligible women in Punxsutawney…

    (It’s interesting that even in Rubin’s original, which is darker than what we get on screen, Phil differentiates between “eligible” women and all women… and in the film, he lays a kiss on Mrs. Lancaster. I wonder if she qualifies for this eligible list.)

    …Tess is one of “the last few [who] are proving more of a challenge” after he’s found forty-nine “accessible.”)

    Phil may actually be in love with Rita—and his monologue later as she sleeps beside him certainly is meant to imply as much—but he’s too used to operating on the shallower level. And, the A/B testing method was too clinical, too “technically perfect” as Atwood points out. It doesn’t “ring true” to Rita. Hell, maybe it doesn’t ring true in advertising or web design either. Maybe a website is better off with some flaws, some mistakes. Maybe advertising shouldn’t be too perfectly geared to each and every potential customer.

    (Flapjacks, for example, usually sold as a breakfast item, but that doesn’t mean Ralph shouldn’t be able to order some after a night out drinking… that’s where the movie is right now as I’m watching it today. Sometimes the writing is so disconnected from the viewing, it could probably be assumed I’m not watching, but I am. The movie now is on to Day 4.)

    Anyway, the problem is that Phil’s date with Rita is getting more technically perfect but less, well, natural. The “seduction” sequence starts with Phil “trying to talk like normal people talk.” Therein lies the problem. He isn’t actually talking like normal people talk. He’s just putting up a front, a “normal people” front. But underneath he’s still Phil Connors, jerk.

    Ray Charles, whose “You Don’t Know Me” features nicely in Groundhog Day, once said, “You better live every day like your last because one day you're going to be right.” Phil Connors gets that. I think the big problem with his A/B testing phase was that he wasn’t ever assuming today was the last day. This phase had to happen; it’s only natural. But, it wasn’t until he learned that growing was on ongoing process and tomorrow really might never come that Phil was that better man who deserved to get out of the loop.

    If you know the day will repeat, if you can operate under the assumption that this day will go on and on forever, you can plan to learn the piano or to learn French (and I still contend that Phil didn’t, of course), or learn to ice sculpt, read all the books in the local library, do some A/B testing on the sixty-three eligible women…

    (And maybe some of those ineligible ones, maybe some of the men… I mean, can’t Phil hook up with Bill the waiter if he wanted to? If Groundhog Day will indeed repeat ad infinitum, then is it offensive for Phil to try a bit of everything with everyone? Or is he just subscribing to the Vulcan notion of infinite diversity in infinite combinations? Given the same circumstance, I’d want to try everything there was available, get to know every person in town, learn every skill they have to teach me, and, yes, maybe try some of that A/B testing seduction of each and every one of them… or, really, I’d want to be more honest in my approach, but given infinity as the timeframe, I don’t know if I could put all my energy into just Rita (though I’m not sure the movie even tells us that this is what Phil has been doing). I think, if nothing else, her (Rita’s or any other specific option) experience of that one day and only one day would make actual monogamy virtually impossible. You’d have to branch out to more options.

    (For that matter, I think it’s worth noting that Rubin’s original 63 is probably a very low estimate of how many eligible women would be in Punxsutawney on Groundhog Day anyway.)

    Just like you’d have to take up new hobbies all the time (you couldn’t play games, could you?), you’d have to take on new relationships also. You would have to get to know everyone in town or you would run out of things to do and, well, it’s easy to understand how the suicide option could come into play if you’re not creative enough to keep finding new and interesting things to do. Including some of the horrible stuff that we don’t get to see Phil do.)

    You could do that “awful lot of work” to plan the perfect day with each of those sixty-three (plus) women and, well, everyone else. And, you’d still have time on your hands.

    Today’s reason to repeat a day forever: to discover every person within a day’s journey of here, get to know them and understand them as real, individual people.

    Tuesday, August 27, 2013

    strike up the music

    The opening track on the Groundhog Day soundtrack is “Weatherman” written by Harold Ramis and George Fenton. It’s “a cheesy pop number” just like Ryan Gilbey calls it in his critique of the film. Its lyrics are so on the nose, it kinda loops back around to being awesome. Lyrics like this:

    Predictions show a steady low
    You're feeling just the same
    But seasons come and seasons go
    I'll make you smile again
    If you don't believe take me by the hand
    Can't you feel you're warming up, yeah, I'm your weatherman

    The best line, and perhaps most indicative of Phil Connors being a god, is this one: “For you I'd turn it into spring.”

    Of course, the film starts with track 2, “Clouds,” a rather unassuming bit of music that dares you to get distracted away from the film. Then, of course, Bill Murray gets on screen and your attention is back.

    Next comes the obvious, “I Got You Babe” followed by “Quartet No. 1 in D – The Ground Hog” which is the nice pleasant music playing in the bed and breakfast dining room (right now, as I type this, in fact).

    In the movie, we move on to track 7 at this point with the “Pennsylvania Polka” but for some reason—I’ve never designed a soundtrack album so I don’t know the ins and outs of why you might put some tracks out of order—the soundtrack gives us “Take Me Round Again” and “Drunks” first.

    You probably never even notice “Take Me Round Again” as it’s just playing in the background during the bowling alley scene. (Had to pause the movie for a moment to listen to the song for these lyrics—cannot find them online, which is weird.) Anyway, it’s got lines like this: “First you made me love you / I didn’t want to love you.” Easily applied to Phil Connors, but also like a lot of country songs, easily applicable to just about anyone. But, the titular phrasing in the song implies a cyclical nature to coupling, and (I hope) was chosen for the film because of that. It’s all about repetition:

    Round and round and round we go
    Even though my heart is breaking
    Down and down and down I go
    Until you take me round again

    “Drunks” is the music playing while Phil’s in the car with Gus and Ralph.

    There’s music playing at the bar on that first February 2nd, but it doesn’t appear to be on the soundtrack. Not sure what it is. There’s also some incidental music—like the stuff when Phil is panicking on the third morning—that isn’t on the soundtrack.

    So, anyway, the soundtrack gets to “Pennsylvania Polka” after the stuff from Day 3 (“Take Me Round Again” and “Drunks”) even though we’ve heard it three times by then. “Pennsylvania Polka” was written by “America’s Polka King” Frankie Yankovic. The opening lines could be taken as a metaphor for the entire plot of Groundhog Day:

    Strike up the music the band has begun
    The Pennsylvania polka
    Pick out your partner and join in the fun
    The Pennsylvania polka

    And, I think the song tells us all about those “hicks” Phil refers to.

    While they're dancing
    Everybody's cares are quickly gone
    Sweet romancing
    This goes on and on until the dawn
    They're so carefree
    Gay with laughter happy as can be
    They stop to have a beer
    Then the crowd begins to cheer
    They kiss and then they start to dance again

    Track 8 gets on with “You Like Boats but Not the Ocean,” music from the end of the “god” scene and right after. Then things go pretty much in order. “Phil Gets the Girl” plays when Phil is with Nancy [and when Rita comes to his room on "date night"]. And, “Phil Steals the Money” follows. We don’t get the Spaghetti Western bit…

    (I should try to pull some of the incidental stuff off the movie and insert it for a more complete soundtrack.)

    …or the background music from the restaurant scenes.

    We get a track, “You Don’t Know Me” but not Ray Charles’ song—to repair this egregious absence, I added it (and fixed the order of other tracks) by making a Groundhog Day playlist on my iPod.

    (And, that’s where I must stick that incidental music if I can grab it.)

    Anyway, “You Don’t Know Me,” aside from pre-echoing a line we’ll get from Rita not long after, has some great lyrics, from the beginning (with some nice romantic lines)—

    You give your hand to me
    And then you say, "Hello"
    And I can hardly speak
    My heart is beating so

    And, some indicative of Phil’s attempt to “know” Rita. As much as he works at knowing every little thing about Rita and still doesn’t know her. To be fair, the lyrics imply the singer is the potential pursuer but he’s “just a friend.” Not quite Phil and Rita territory, but still, Rita certainly doesn’t know the depth of Phil’s efforts to get with her.

    And anyone can tell
    You think you know me well

    No you don't know the one
    Who dreams of you at night
    And longs to kiss your lips
    And longs to hold you tight

    I’m not sure the “You Don’t Know Me” that’s on the soundtrack is even in the movie, though it is pretty good, an acoustic version of the song with a guitar center.

    And, wow, I just noticed as the movie has caught up to my rambling. “Phil Gets the Girl” plays over both the scene with Nancy and when Phil gets Rita into his room. Aside from the fact I must now repeat the track on my playlist—

    (But, then, don’t I have to repeat “I Got You Babe” as well? That could get annoying. I mean, who wants to hear that song over and over and over?)

    —I find it interesting that, musically, these scenes are given the same treatment. This supports the notion that Phil’s attempt to get Rita—however much more complicated it may be than his seduction of Nancy—is still just Phil being Phil (the same guy who had already seduced 49 locals in the original screenplay).

    The next track on the soundtrack is “The Kidnap and the Quarry.” It should be obvious where this fits. The big chase scene. The music itself certainly has some energy to it, just like “Drunks” does. Interestingly (and apparently just by chance if we believe Stephen Tobolowsky’s telling of it), this is the brightest sequence in the film, done on a sunny day, while “Drunks” is at night, so the most energetic the film gets, musically is at its visually darkest but thematically fun, and it’s visually brightest but arguably thematically darkest. And, that sentence got away from me.

    Incidental music as Phil kills himself—not on the soundtrack. Not even the nice bit as he dives off the Pennsylvanian Hotel.

    And, then should be “You Like Boats but Not the Ocean” but the soundtrack already had that, so it’s on to “Sometimes People Just Die.” A much softer bit that actually flows pretty well right out of “You Like Boats but Not the Ocean.” The film showcases “You Like Boats but Not the Ocean” again as Rita lies sleeping beside Phil.

    Then the soundtrack gives us “Eighteenth Variation from ‘Rapsodie on a Theme of Paganini.’” Not Phil’s version. That comes after, with the rest of his piano bit at the banquet.

    (“18th Variation from ‘Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini’” deserves an entire entry in this blog and should probably get one soon, so let’s move on.)

    Then, the soundtrack gives us a couple more tracks—“The Ice Sculpture” and “A New Day” before the big Nat King Cole finish: “Almost Like Being in Love.” I think I’ve already commented on the lyrics to this song, a la Claire Bacha, but it’s worth mentioning again. The “almost” here is a sure sign—especially coupled with Phil’s line “We’ll rent to start”—that we’re not entirely ending on a non-cynical note. Sure, it’s a happy ending. But, it is (deliberately) not perfect.

    Or, we could take these lyrics to refer not to whatever may be forming between Phil and Rita—for this film does its best to not be a simple romantic comedy anyway—but to what has formed between Phil and the whole world around him. Certainly, we wouldn’t call that “being in love” but it’s close:

    What a day this has been
    What a rare mood I'm in
    Why, it's almost like being in love

    There's a smile on my face
    For the whole human race
    Why, it's almost like being in love

    All the music of life seems to be
    Like a bell that is ringing for me
    And from the way that I feel
    When that bell starts to peal
    I would swear I was falling
    I could swear I was falling
    It's almost like being in love

    Today’s reason to repeat a day forever: I know it’s cheesy, but I’d like to hear that bell also.

    Monday, August 26, 2013

    it's like yesterday never happened

    Groundhog Day wasn’t the first exploration of the day-on-repeat phenomena, or its technical term per Star Trek: a temporal causality loop. Though, we shouldn’t confuse this with the causality loop of a “predestination paradox.”

    And, now that we’ve lost the non sci-fi fans, let’s discuss these loops as represented in a handful of relatively recent (one of these actually predates the release of, though not the writing of, Groundhog Day) television shows. And, they are all genre shows.

    And, I watched all seven of these yesterday, declaring on Twitter that it was time loop day. Just to get the list out of the way (and there are more episodes like this left from other shows (and movies) so I may have to do this again sometime), the seven episodes are:

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer - “Life Serial”
  • Angel - “Time Bomb”
  • Stargate SG-1 - “Window of Opportunity”
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation - “Cause and Effect”
  • The X-Files - “Monday”
  • Supernatural - “Mystery Spot”
  • Fringe - “White Tulip”

    Let’s start from the beginning. “Life Serial” only involves a time loop in one segment of the episode. Buffy is being tested by the nerd Trio bent on becoming supervillains, and Jonathan’s test is a time loop. Simply put, Buffy is trying to get herself a day job, and in this segment she’s working at the Magic Box. She’s got to deal with Giles rambling about how he deals with customers and two customers, one a guy who wants a scented candle, the other a woman who wants a mummy hand. Thing is, that mummy hand is alive and that makes getting it from the basement storage rather difficult. She inevitably kills the hand or just can’t get it. Finally—SPOILERS, not that I should have to warn you about an episode that aired in 2001—she manages to get out of the loop by special ordering the woman a mummy hand instead of going for the one in the basement.

    What’s remarkable about this segment (only one piece of this episode, mind you) is that in a very short time we get a good montage of the kind of stuff we see in Groundhog Day. Buffy lashes out at Giles for his rambling at one point, smashing his glasses on the floor. She learns from day to day to speed things up—tossing a candle to the first customer before he even asks for one, for example—and she cries over all this repetition. There’s no time for the “adolescent” phase or any serious depression, but you get the idea in a brief series of cuts that Buffy’s stuck for a while (I didn’t count the cuts because this is not the Buffy the Vampire Slayer “Life Serial” Project).

    Also of note: Andrew mentions the Star Trek episode I’ll get to below and Warren mentions the X-Files one.

    Angel’s “Time Bomb” episode doesn’t necessarily revolve around a time loop. In fact, for most of the episode we don’t follow the loop. While Illyria is experiencing one, we are following events in mostly sequential order for a while, until the big climax in which Illyria proceeds to kill most of our usual main players—again, if I can’t SPOIL a show from 2004, what can I spoil?—but the time loop yanks her back. See, one of Illyria’s powers is that she can slow down time and, well, that and all the rest of her power, it turns out, is too big to fit in Fred’s body. Ultimately, to stop the loop and save Illyria from exploding and potentially destroying the fabric of reality in the process, Wesley’s got to vent her power into another dimension… it’s complicated.

    What’s remarkable about this episode, in terms of the whole time loop thing is two details: 1) For a good portion of the episode, we don’t follow the loop. Illyria’s already odd behavior—she’s a former god stuck in the body of a former physics major—has a few moments of extra oddness, but we only get glimpses of the jumps in time she’s inadvertently making… until we get to jump along with her. 2) And, so does Angel. Proximity to Illyria as one of her jumps happens drags him along in her wake and so the time loop gets some exposition and Angel, with a better idea of what’s happening, stops Illyria from killing everyone long enough for Wesley to explain he’s not there to kill her.

    Also of note: This loop is not played for humor, so there’s no time for Illyria’s version of the “adolescent” phase… well, maybe lashing out and killing everyone could qualify. In a separate subplot in this episode, the ending is actually a bit dark—the heroes of the show are working for the bad guys at this point, and they are still dealing with Fred’s death, so this isn’t lighthearted at all.

    In “Window of Opportunity,” Colonel O’Neill and Teal’c get stuck in a time loop because an alien scientist, Malikai, is trying to use a time loop to figure out how to reverse time and see his dead wife again (similar reason to the Fringe episode below). To get out of the loop, they must, among other things, try to learn Latin and translate some alien ruins—usually Dr. Jackson’s job, but given the time loop, O’Neill and Teal’c actually do a better job of it (building on Jackson’s repeated efforts, of course), but ultimately—and reminding me how well Stargate could deal with emotional stuff sometimes—it comes down to talking Malikai out of activating the loop.

    What’s remarkable about this episode is that since it’s two people stuck in the loop, and they’re dealing with others who are used to weird goings on, it’s easier for them to explain what’s going on. And, they even reference Groundhog Day specifically. When Malikai says, “I need more time. Once I've correctly deciphered the symbols on the altar I will be able to master the time device,” O'Neill responds, "Why? So you can be king of Groundhog Day?"

    Also of note: Like many a Stargate episode, they aren’t afraid to have fun with it. There’s a definite “adolescent” phase here, with O’Neill riding a bike around the base, O’Neill and Teal’c driving golf balls into the Stargate for what’s “got to be a record” length drive, and at one point, O’Neill resigning his position just so he can kiss Major Carter. And, the start of the loop gives us a couple running jokes: 1) Teal’c is just getting hit by a door opening every time, and eventually he lashes out at the guy who opened the door. 2) O’Neill has just been asked a question by Jackson and has no idea how to answer (in fact, he reveals at one point that he wasn’t even listening the first time). The extra joke here is O’Neill’s food (which was glued to his spoon to make sure it was exactly the same every time the loop repeated): Froot Loops.

    The people on the U.S.S. Enterprise don’t watch 20th century television and movies much, or they would have probably referenced Groundhog Day even though it hadn’t come out yet—“Cause and Effect” aired in 1992. Starting with a great teaser—the Enterprise, already hit by another starship (though we won’t find this out until the next loop) is damaged, already at red alert, and then boom, it explodes. And, the episode has only just begun. Turns out that this unexplored region of space includes a temporal distortion, into which flew the U.S.S. Bozeman 90 years earlier, now emerging only to collide with the Enterprise. Gradually, characters start to get a sense of déjà vu and echoes of voices from previous loops can be heard during the night. Long story short, they figure out what’s going on—and the notion that they’re caught in a temporal causality loop is discussed as casually as sailors might discuss a rainstorm—and figure out how to send a message into the next loop to get out.

    What’s remarkable about this episode is that no one is consciously experiencing the loop, but gradually everyone starts to get a sense of the repetition. Dr. Crusher (then Worf and Riker) predicts the cards dealt in their weekly poker game. Picard has the sense that he’s already read the book he’s reading before bed. And, LaForge is having trouble with his visor because it’s picking up some echoed images from earlier loops.

    Also of note: Brannon Braga wanted to do a time travel episode without the usual clichés. In Captains’ Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, he’s quoted as saying: “I love time travel stories and I don't know who doesn't. We wanted to do a time travel story that had never been done before. Being trapped in a time loop is one I've never seen before.” Now, the time loop is just another time travel cliché. Braga also explains something interesting about filming (and I haven’t even gotten to some of the interesting behind-the-scenes stuff in Groundhog Day in this blog yet, have I?):

    In a way, doing the same scenes over was comforting; it was fun to come up with different takes and to think how I could get that glass to break each time. It wasn't until I got to the final draft that I thought to have the glass break over the intercom on that final loop through. So it was finding those little nuggets and pathways and weave through as we were structuring it. That was a terrific challenge.

    “Monday” is not a good day for Fox Mulder. He wakes up to a waterbed leak—with a running joke being that he never tells Scully when he got a waterbed (until this episode, there was no evidence he even had a bedroom)—that has shorted out his alarm clock and killed his cell phone. He intends to write a check for the damages since he’s not supposed to have a waterbed in his building and it’s leaking through the floor below, but the check will bounce if he doesn’t deposit his paycheck, so he has to go to the bank, and that’s the day a guy with a gun and a bomb is at the bank. Nothing supernatural, just a fantastic day for Mulder… except the teaser has already shown us Mulder dying from a gunshot wound, and after Mulder dies again, he wakes up to a waterbed leak and so on.

    What’s remarkable about this episode is that while eventually Mulder does experience some déjà vu from the loop, it is a guest star, playing the bank robber’s girlfriend, who is actually experiencing the loop itself (or Mulder probably would have made a Groundhog Day reference). And, she’s been doing it for a while, and she has learned to notice when something is different, just like Phil Connors.

    Also of note: There are some awesome exchanges in this episode, like this one:

    Mulder: Scully, did you ever have one of those days you wish you could rewind and start all over again from the beginning?
    Scully: Yes. Frequently. But, I mean, who's... who's to say that if you did rewind it and start over again that it wouldn't end up exactly the same way?
    Mulder: So you think it's all just fate? We have no free will?
    Scully: No, I think that we're free to be the people that we are - good, bad or indifferent. I think that it's our character that determines our fate.
    Mulder: And all the rest is just preordained? I don't buy that. There's too many variables. Too many forks in the road. I meant to be on time to work this morning but my waterbed springs a leak flooding my apartment (Scully looks surprised) and the apartment below me so that makes me late for the meeting. Then I realize I got to write a check to cover the damages to my landlord but, as I'm walking to work, I realize that that's gonna bounce unless I deposit my pay. So now I got to go to the bank, which makes me even later.
    Scully: (curious) Since when did you get a waterbed?
    Mulder: I might just as easily not have a waterbed then I'd be on time for this meeting. You might just as easily have stayed in medicine and not gone into the FBI, and then we would never have met. Blah, blah, blah...
    Scully: Fate.
    Mulder: Free will. With every choice, you change your fate.

    (This reminds me of something from Rubin’s first version of Groundhog Day with the implication that there are other people who might be insane or just might be experiencing the same time loop as Phil. I imagine some of their conversations might be like this.)

    “Mystery Spot” is probably the funniest of these time loop episodes—though, really, only Stargate’s played its stuff for laughs, so maybe it isn’t fair to compare; still, the one-two punch of this hilarious Supernatural episode followed by the rather sad Fringe episode I’ll get to next was a great ending to a long day. There are some simple gags, like Sam catching the hot sauce falling from the waitress’ tray, and room for a lot of unseen elements—Sam knows the waitress is bad at archery, he takes the keys from the old drunk guy...

    What’s remarkable about this episode is how it fits (like the Angel episode) into ongoing continuity. Aside from the Trickster’s involvement, the driving force in the time loop is that Dean keeps dying and Sam tries to stop it. In the ongoing story at the time, Dean’s days were numbered because of a deal he’d made. The Trickster is proving a point to Sam (though I’m not sure Sam gets it); he tells him:

    This obsession to save Dean? The way you two keep sacrificing yourselves for each other? Nothing good comes out of it. Just blood and pain. Dean's your weakness. The bad guys know it, too. It's gonna be the death of you, Sam. Sometimes, you just gotta let people go.

    Sam and Dean have never been good at letting people go, of course. And, the initial end to the loop (like Star Trek: Voyager’s “Year of Hell”) gets nice and dark as Sam is let out of the loop only to have Dean murdered the next morning anyway, and we get a nice glimpse into his future—Jared Padalecki probably could have brooded a little more here, but it still plays well.

    Also of note: This episode specifically references Groundhog Day and the waitress’ name is Doris. And, just like Phil Connors, Sam wakes up to the same song every morning—Asia’s “Heat of the Moment” (though that changes later to Huey Lewis’ “Back in Time” featured in Back to the Future).

    And, there is an awesome exchange regarding déjà vu:

    Sam: You don't remember any of this?
    Dean: Any of what?
    Sam: This. Like it's - happened before?
    Dean: You mean like deja vu?
    Sam: No, like it's - like it's really happened before.
    Dean: Yeah, like deja vu.
    Sam: Forget about deja vu! I'm asking you if it feels like we're living yesterday all over again?
    Dean: Okay, how is that not...
    Sam: Don't say it!

    Finally, yesterday’s time loop day ended with Fringe’s “White Tulip.” As Walter deals with issues of guilt (which makes for an amazing, emotional ending for this episode), the Fringe team must deal with a subway train car full of dead bodies and dead batteries. Turns out, a scientist is using a time loop to work on a bigger jump back in time. Like Stargate the climax comes down to conversation and some of the usual great character work by John Noble as Walter.

    What’s remarkable about this episode is that none of the stars experience the time loop. They do eventually figure out it’s happening but only the guest star, Peter Weller’s scientist, Alistair Peck, who, like Malikai in Stargate is trying to time travel to see—or maybe save—his dead wife.

    Also of note: If you know Fringe, you know that the white tulip drawing will return much later, of course. But, I think, in terms of time loops and déjà vu, the interesting thing here is Peter’s take on déjà vu. While this is countered by a more scientific explanation (which I’ve covered), Peter says,

    I read that deja vu is Fate's way of telling you that you're exactly where you're supposed to be. That's why you feel like you've been there before. You are right in line with your own destiny.

    He claims he doesn’t buy into this explanation—“a bit mystical for my taste”—but I think it’s an interesting addition to approaches to Groundhog Day. I haven’t really dealt with free will or destiny yet, but there are certainly arguments to be made about both of these things and how they relate to Phil Connors’ journey. In fiction, we can safely believe in such things, fate and destiny, and our quest to reach or avoid them can make great fodder for drama. In real life, though, I think they might just get in the way.

    Today’s reason to repeat a day forever: to rewatch not just individual episode from all these shows but every episode. One of the great things we’ve got with Hulu and Netflix and the like is the ability to binge-watch whole series. And, all seven of these series were great and still hold up pretty well.

  • Sunday, August 25, 2013

    fred, how was the wedding?

    I already mentioned how I briefly thought the quilt on Phil’s bed was a wedding ring pattern—I’m not a quilter but I my mother used to be, so I’ve heard of some stuff like this. Anyway, found online a couple spots (like this one) where people were talking about that quilt and, well, apparently it’s an “irish chain” (maybe a triple irish chain) which has nothing to do with wedding symbology.

    But, I wanted to write about the stuff that is wedding symbology today. Not just symbology, of course, but weddings themselves. In the movie, we don’t see the Kleiser wedding, but in earlier drafts, the big party at the end was the wedding, not the Groundhog ball. Rubin includes a version of this scene (though it was not part of the original screenplay) in How to Write Groundhog Day. Debbie is still named Doris, and all Phil says he did to get her to go through with the wedding was have “a little chat.” The movie presents this better; as Phil says, “All I did was fan the flame of her passion for you.”

    The bachelor auction came into the story when Murray and Rubin went to the actual Punxsutawney to “experience the actual festival.” Rubin saw mention of a bachelor auction in the local paper. This combined with the Groundhog Banquet thrown in Punxsutawney became the centerpiece and climax for Act III of the film. But, in terms of gender roles and wedding symbology, there’s an interesting change here. Claire S. Bacha, whose “Groundhog Day: the individual, the couple, the group and the space between” I wrote about a few entries ago, suggests that Phil, in changing, has gotten closer to his feminine side… and I hate it when I can’t find the bookmark I want. I thought it was Bacha who mentioned how the wedding scene at the end of a drama is there to uphold traditional roles, to let the audience know that all is normal. But, apparently it wasn’t in her piece that I was reading that.

    So, I will have to make the point myself.

    If we take the film as romantic comedy, the main throughline being Phil’s realization that he wants Rita, and his becoming someone worthy of her, then an actual wedding in the end would uphold the patriarchal elements inherent in romantic comedy. The man pursues the woman. The man may have to change to get her, but ultimately, by upholding traditional marriage, the film would tell us that this is all normal; we must couple and marry and that is how things are done. Bacha’s notion of Phil getting closer to his feminine side holds up fairly well next to what we are given instead in the film. Phil, auctioned off to Rita, is now the commodity. Bacha argues that he is still trying to impress Rita at this point, but I disagree. I think he has moved beyond that; that is why we can accept the role reversal here, Rita buying Phil. In a way, the auction scene actually transcends the idea that this is a conventional romantic comedy. It makes it something much more interesting and unique.

    Still, there are several references to weddings and images related to them in the film. Of course, there’s the Kleiser wedding. We learn of their wedding in the “god” scene. As far as upholding patriarchal values, here, it is Debbie, not Fred who is having second thoughts. Fred having second thoughts might be the more clichéd Hollywood idea, but Debbie having second thoughts, and here being called out on it by a man, Phil, upholds patriarchy in a way. And, of course Debbie’s second thoughts are one of the many things “fixed” by the all-knowing Phil on his final repetition. However much he has changed, he has taken it upon himself here to support this marriage, the wedding we no longer get to see. While the film might be slipping a little bit past tradition, Phil has not necessarily gotten so far.

    There are wedding photos in at least two notable scenes as well. Behind Phil and Rita at the bar, there is one on the wall, though the camera angle doesn’t make it visible every time. And, on Mary’s piano there is a wedding photo framed at center of the screen for two nearly identical shots of Phil practicing piano. Now, neither of these things was necessarily placed there to promote marriage. But, let’s assume for a moment that they were. What do they tell us about, well, Phil and Rita? The bar is where the pursuit begins. That the wedding photo is framed between Rita and Phil could be taken as a clear symbolic reference of what is to come. If this placement is important than the placement of Mary’s wedding photo (presumably it is hers, but it could be her parents) on the piano also drives what Bacha suggests, that Phil is still just pursuing the marriage with Rita by learning piano.

    (There could be some symbology of Mary as Phil’s mother figure, also, just like the Old Man becomes his father, but that’s symbolism for another day.)

    Or maybe it’s just set dressing. But, even then, why do the set dressers take marriage as a given?

    More importantly, in terms of the presentation of marriage (or at least symbolic marriage) in the film, we have the ending of the film. Stephen Tobolowsky (AKA Ned Ryerson) describes this well in his podcast, The Tobolowsky Files; he refers to Phil’s lifting of Rita over the closed gate in front of the bed and breakfast as a carrying over the threshold. Now, practically speaking, Bill Murray lifted Andie MacDowell over the gate because he saw that the gate was frozen shut and wanted to get the shot in one take so they wouldn’t have to deal with footprints in the snow. But, in terms of the movie itself, Phil carrying Rita over the threshold could easily be taken as the culmination of the wedding we don’t see. With the Kleiser wedding offscreen, it actually makes the symbolism here stronger, like the ending sequence in the film is the wedding of Phil and Rita. Whether he’s done it on purpose or not, he has won Rita’s attention… hell, he does look directly at Rita during part of his final Groundhog Day speech, so there is some evidence he’s still interested even if he’s no longer in pursuit. And, Rita’s purchase of Phil, going back beyond what we normally call “traditional” marriage, could be taken as her buying him as her husband, like the business contract of old time marriages. The dowry of sorts: $339.88. Which has gone to the city of Punxsutawney. Rita has purchased her new groom from the city that has raised him up from his narcissistic beginnings.

    Though they spend the night together, they do not have sex. Phil just falls asleep, exhausted. They have not consummated the marriage yet, so the carrying over the threshold, out into the world instead of in from it, works. Does it reaffirm tradition? Maybe. Or maybe the gate was just frozen shut.

    Today’s reason to repeat a day forever: to figure out how to deal with the movie’s repeated placement of trios in cars… I mean is it a subtle promotion of the idea of a threesome, an undermining of the religious concept of the trinity or what?

    (Or maybe just coincidence.)

    Saturday, August 24, 2013

    i've killed myself so many times, i don't even exist anymore

    I intended to write a bit about marriage today, but I’ll save that for tomorrow maybe (even though it was a logical third part to the last two days on romance and love.

    Instead, I wanted to explore something else today because of something I just learned about on Facebook—this particular angle on this topic and where I think I might go with it seems like it will work better fresher, without too much thought or research.

    The title above will give away my topic, of course. Suicide. Which Phil Connors commits at least three times, and presumably more if he’s been in the repeating cycle for decades as some suggest. Keep in mind, Phil does say he’s “been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted, and burned.” We only see one of those on screen, when he drops the toaster into the bathtub at the bed and breakfast. The others must be suicides or accidents also, though, because the people of Punxsutawney don’t seem all that homicidal.

    I’ve written about Phil’s depression and suicides before, though not in a lot of detail—it’s not a topic one wants to spend a lot of time on. Hell, the movie only spends a few minutes on it before getting on with something else.

    I actually want to deal with this topic from a somewhat positive perspective, value life by discussing death, that sort of thing. But, it is necessary to mention the death stuff to do so. So…

    First of all, obituaries can be interesting. I found the following obituary online while researching some lesser players in Groundhog Day:

    Lucina Paquet Gabbard died peacefully of lung cancer on May 23. She was born in 1922 in New Orleans, Louisiana. She lived an extraordinary life as a mother, a teacher, a scholar, and an actress. She majored in Theatre Arts at Louisiana State University, graduating in 1942. It was there that she met Glendon Gabbard, with whom she had appeared in plays. They were married on January 29, 1942. After World War II, they moved to Charleston, Illinois, where Glendon was a professor of Theatre Arts at Eastern Illinois University. After raising two children, Lucina went back to school and received a Ph.D. in English from the University of Illinois in 1973. As a Professor of English at Eastern Illinois University, she won teaching awards and the great respect of her colleagues. She also published numerous articles in scholarly journals and two books, The Dream Structure of Pinter's Plays (1976) and The Stoppard Plays (1982). She retired from teaching in 1985 and moved to Chicago with her husband. The couple worked regularly as actors in Chicago, appearing in films, plays, television programs, and print ads. As Lucina Paquet, she appeared in Groundhog Day, Prelude to a Kiss, My Best Friend's Wedding, and several others. She also played the role of Grandma Joad in the Steppenwolf Theater's production of The Grapes of Wrath, which won a Tony Award while it was playing in New York in 1990. She is survived by her husband and by her two children, Glen O. Gabbard, a psychoanalyst at the Baylor University Medical Center, and Krin Gabbard, a professor of Comparative Literature. She is fondly remembered by her two daughters-in-law, Paula Beversdorf Gabbard and Joyce Davidson Gabbard, by her four grandchildren, Matthew Gabbard, Abigail Gabbard, Amanda Gabbard, and Allison Gabbard, and by her sister, Athalie Morgan.

    Lucina Paquet Gabbard plays one of the women in the car with the flat tire—the one in the passenger seat who says “oh, it’s not an earthquake.” The May 23 in question was in 2006; this isn’t particularly recent news. It’s remarkable, though, how a life can be summed up so briefly. List the personal stuff—she was a wife and mother—get to her education—pretty impressive with a PhD—and career—among other acting bits, she was, of course, in Groundhog Day. She’s on screen for less than a minute and it gets into her obituary. This speaks to the classic nature and power of this particular film, of course. But that isn’t what I wanted to talk about today.

    A couple weeks ago, I mentioned the self-written obituary of author Jan Catherine Lotter. Dying from cancer, she put together her own obituary. Sportswriter Martin Manley has gone even further (and proved one can indeed blog about absolutely anything). He put together an entire website in preparation for his suicide at age 60. While there are portions that are sad—and I’m sure the whole business is sad for those who were close to him—a lot of it is remarkably… well, not upbeat, but certainly lacking the depression one might expect. See, Manley did not kill himself because he was sick or dying or depressed. He killed himself to “control the time and manner and circumstance” of his death. He didn’t want to get so old that he was no longer in control of his life. Some psychologists and psychiatrists might wonder at the sanity of someone approaching this idea as formally and procedurally as he did—seriously, his site breaks down into 12 categories (blog entries, basically, though the entire site posted all at once) dealing with suicide, i.e. his death, and another “34 categories and 44 subcategories” about his life. He didn’t write a suicide note exactly but rather an entire autobiography in blog form. He paid for the site to exist for at least five years and has left it up to others to extend that if they see fit.

    His topics, by the way, range from a rant against 9/11 conspiracy nuts, his two marriages, religion, and sports (he also paid for his sportsinreview.com to keep on going for 5 years after his death as well). Knowing well ahead of time that he intended to kill himself, he was very organized about the whole thing.

    If we assume suicide is not a good idea in general, there is a downside to a site like his and coverage of it—I read about it in a CNN article linked on Facebook. Coverage gives people ideas. In “Life in the Big City: Migrants Cope with ‘Daily Events,’ published in The Human Tradition in Imperial Russia, Laura L. Phillips explores the “Daily Events” column in the Gazeta kopeika, a penny newspaper from St. Petersburg in the early 1900s. One of the topics she covers is suicides, particular of peasants. Interestingly…

    (And, before I go on, I should mention that, no I didn’t do research for this. I read this piece in a college course a few years back, still have the book on my shelf, and remembered it.)

    Anyway, I found it particularly interesting and memorable that the Daily Events column, in providing details on how people killed themselves, actually made it easier for many peasants to do so. See, as Phillips describes it, “drugs like morphine, cocaine, and opium… were expensive and difficult to obtain [and] were rarely mentioned in Daily Events reports.” What did get mentioned was “essence of vinegar” which was the “poison of choice” for one particular example she cites, a young woman named Marfa Dmitrieva. This poison would not have made for a pleasant death, but it did make for a cheap one. And, other peasants followed suit. As Phillips puts it, “New arrivals to the city could use Daily Events to learn how to escape the lonely victimization of urban life by committing suicide.”

    Martin Manley’s approach, as emotionless as a lot of it is, could probably serve as a recommendation of sorts for other people his age… assuming they know how to use the internet.

    (I had to make at least one joke.)

    But, something I find interesting in it is not his justification for death but some of his measures he suggests for life. In the entry entitled “Why Not?” (which couples with another entry entitled “Why Suicide?”), he mentions a poll he wanted to take:

    In a perfect world, I would do a poll of everyone of every age. The answers, depending upon the demographics, would be fascinating. The questions would be 1) Why do you want to live one more year? 2) Why do you want to live five more years? 3) Why do you want to live 10 more years? 4) Why do you want to live as long as possible? You should answer those four questions for yourself.

    In watching Groundhog Day and writing about it every day for the last three weeks—and simply in living—I think these are questions I’ve asked myself before. Not—for the record—because I’m suicidal. But, because how could I not measure my life from time to time? How could any of us not do so?

    Why do I want to live one more year? If for no other reason, to see my kids become even more of who they are and to help them get there. To spend time with my family, to figure out some parts of my life that are not quite how I want them to be just yet. To get through a good chunk of grad school and coach another season of speech and debate and help students figure out some of their own life stuff.

    (And, to complete this blog.)

    Why do I want to live five more years? Why do I want to live 10 more years? A lot of the same reasons. The future in general is nice, and I’d love to see it, but my kids’ futures, the lives of the people close to me—I don’t want to miss anymore of these things than I practically must. I want to know what my children will become. I want to know what my soon-to-be ex-wife will make of herself. I want to know what my sisters will be doing with their lives, what my various nieces and nephews will be doing. True, most of this will happen whether I am around to see it or not, but if it is in my power to do so, I will stick around to see it. I will get past grad school and I will teach, and I will spend time with friends and family and enjoy life. Maybe I’ll even get to travel again.

    I am far from 60. In another 10 years, I will still be relatively far from 60. Maybe I’ll think differently when I get closer to that age. Manley’s 4th question is the interesting one: Why do I want to live as long as possible? Better yet, do I want to live as long as possible? I’m not sure I can fully, honestly answer this question at my current age and in my current life. As I see it now, today, life would have to take a particularly bleak turn for a toaster in the bathtub or stepping out in front of an oncoming truck or diving off the Pennsylvanian Hotel tower, or a gun to the head—Manley’s method—or essence of vinegar for that matter was a better option. I’ve been unhappy. I’ve been depressed. I know from experience that life finds a way to return to better days. At least, it has so far.

    It’s a necessary piece of Phil Connors’ story that it take that darker turn in the middle. He has to have the darker days and the death in order to come out brighter on the other side. Storywise, it has to happen. But, given the possibilities, with the thousands of people in Punxsutawney on that day, Phil (the movie version at least) did not do everything he could. One could spend days at least getting to know each person (to spend too many could be difficult, since their experience is limited to the first day of knowing you).

    There’s an interesting bit on Manley’s site that I think Phil Connors could relate to:

    I never got over the desire to stay up as late as humanly possible. I think the reason was because I somehow viewed the end of the day as the end of one of the only days I would ever have in this world. Even at that age, I was thinking along those lines. I wanted to stretch each day as long as I could and that meant not going to bed.

    And, maybe we all can relate. It’s a big part of why Groundhog Day holds up so well to repeated viewings. It is, at its heart, a story about a guy stretching one day into everything he could possibly do with it, making every moment count because, well, you never know what will come tomorrow, or if tomorrow will even come.

    It may seem trite to some, but lines from the musical Rent occur to me now:

    There is no future
    There is no past
    I live this moment as my last
    There's only us
    There's only this
    Forget regret
    Or life is yours to miss
    No other road
    No other way
    No day but today

    Today’s reason to repeat a day forever: so I don’t have to wait until tomorrow to get things right.

    Friday, August 23, 2013

    this is real. this is love

    …that being said, Phil, human like the rest of us, probably still has no idea what love is (if it’s anything) at the end of his journey… Except, maybe he actually knows it better than any of us; it just isn’t isolated to romantic love anymore. Phil loves everyone. After years of repetition, after getting past his arrogance and his egocentrism and his chauvinism and his narcissism, he has become the ultimate, well, hippie I suppose. Without all the lazy stereotypes, of course. Phil’s world has become a literal microcosm of the larger world, so it may be easier, but he has come to care about, presumably, everyone in it. He doesn’t just save a kid from falling out of a tree, or save Buster from choking, or fix Felix’s back. He also changes a tire, lights a cigarette, and “fan the flame” of a young woman’s passion for her fiancé. And, so much more, I think we can assume.

    (In Rubin’s first revision (according to Ryan Gilbey; I haven’t seen that draft), Phil also “pump[s] the stomach of Janey, a lovesick girl who has attempted suicide [and] remov[es] an old lady from the path of a truck.”)

    And, aside from a stop to do his piano lesson on that final iteration of February 2nd, there are still numerous moments unaccounted for. I doubt he’s sitting around throwing cards into a hat anymore.

    The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, tells us:

    Ultimately, the reason why love and compassion bring the greatest happiness is simply that our nature cherishes them above all else. The need for love lies at the very foundation of human existence. It results from the profound interdependence we all share with one another. However capable and skillful an individual may be, left alone, he or she will not survive. However vigorous and independent one may feel during the most prosperous periods of life, when one is sick or very young or very old, one must depend on the support of others.

    I think Phil Connors knows this better than anyone. Nevermind Maslow or Glasser, Phil knows what people need. Sometimes it’s a life-saving intervention. Sometimes it’s a light for a cigarette. And, sometimes it’s someone new to sit by you drinking at the local bowling alley. When Phil tells Rita, “This is love,” he’s wrong or he’s lying or both. But, later on, he could account for most of his actions with the same sentiment. And, despite Bacha (who I cited so much yesterday, it is not his love for Rita (or his pursuit of it, anyway) that drives him. He’s better than that; that’s the point. If we assume he is only bettering himself to earn Rita’s love, then we’re now the cynical ones. Then again, maybe romantic comedies are cynical at heart because, like many a religion, they tell us that we can never be complete on our own… and yet I quoted the Dalai Lama saying something similar, didn’t I?

    We obviously enjoy companionship and love and belonging. But, maybe this isn’t because we are, as Daniel Quinn suggests we believe it to be, “fundamentally flawed” but because we are, in fact, fundamentally perfect.

    (Now, who’s the hippie?)

    Tenzin Gyatso says: “It is because our own human existence is so dependent on the help of others that our need for love lies at the very foundation of our existence. Therefore we need a genuine sense of responsibility and a sincere concern for the welfare of others.” I think, on some level, we can all agree with that last notion. But, we tend to be so cynical that we assume that “sense of responsibility” and “concern” comes from a conscious effort, that it doesn’t come naturally. We balk at the “it takes a village” concept and don’t do enough to help the downtrodden of the world to be better off…

    And, now I’m preaching, aren’t I? The atheist preaching about loving your fellow man, and in a blog about a silly romantic comedy from two decades ago—that should be the new tagline for this blog.

    Anyway, my point at the top of this entry was that Phil is wrong when he tells Rita, “This is love.” But, that doesn’t mean he didn’t believe it. And, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t mean it when he tells her on the final iteration of February 2nd, “I’m happy now because I love you.” I just think he loves a lot more than just Rita. I don’t buy Bacha’s line that Phil is just trying to improve himself for Rita. I’m not that cynical. On the other hand, I am cynical enough to suggest that Phil doesn’t necessarily intend to become a better man, either. I’ve seen variations of the following quotation, but this particular version gets attributed to Winston Churchill: “The Americans will always do the right thing… after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.” This same idea can be applied to Phil. We could assume that Phil only becomes better because he’s exhausted all other options.

    But, that doesn’t negate the effect. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t become a better man. And, yes, the hippie in me thinks the best example of him being a “better man” is his concern for everyone else around him, not just those close to him but everyone, even the Old Man he can’t save…

    It occurs to me now that on that last iteration, with Phil at the ball interacting with a who’s who of Punxsutawney, the Old Man is outside, not that far away, dying. Now, I think Phil has learned that the Old Man can’t be saved. But, it saddens me to think of that Old Man dying alone in an alleyway while the people of Punxsutawney dance the night away.

    This is why you shouldn’t watch a movie too many times. You don’t just notice new things onscreen; you catch things offscreen, and some of them are nice, but some of them are just depressing.

    Today’s reason to repeat a day forever: to get on with some shallower topics like an exploration of the notable screen roles of Stephen Tobolowsky or Chris Elliott. Or maybe I’ve already repeated today so many times that I’m over such things—we’ve got IMDb and Wikipedia for that anyway.