Sunday, August 18, 2013

one of these big blue things

It starts with blue sky—sure there are clouds moving, movie shorthand for the passage of time… Ryan Gilbey, author of the BFI Modern Classics critical study of Groundhog Day, calls this “only slightly less clichéd than the peeling leaves of a calendar.” But, then there’s the bluescreen. Where does Phil point to when he says where he would like to be if he could be anywhere in the world? He says, Elko, Nevada. But, he is gesturing at the blue emptiness. And, he soon warns about “one of these big blue things” coming for Pennsylvania.

The next notable blue is Rita. Not Rita herself, obviously; she’s not Smurfette. She’s wearing her blue coat and she’s playing like a child in front of that same blue screen. Fun, but not Phil’s kind of fun. Too innocent, maybe.

Minor blue: Kenny’s shirt. Kenny is, presumably, Phil’s assistant. He’s played by Willie Garson.

(And Larry’s blue jeans, but I’m not sure if counting blue jeans is fair. Oh, I’m getting ahead of myself, like Rubin’s original screenplay. See, I’m going to try to point out something I noticed while watching this movie when I was camping—yes, I took my iPad camping just to watch Groundhog Day because I should be committed… I mean, because I am that committed. And, there were a bunch of people around and music playing and conversation flying, and I could barely hear the movie. Fortunately, I pretty much know the whole thing by heart already, so I could keep up. But, with mostly visuals and what I had in my head as far as the dialogue and music went, I noticed something I hadn’t quite noticed before. Namely, there is a lot of blue in this movie. The overall palette of the film is fairly limited, a lot of browns and greys, but also a lot of blue. And, this is where I am, watching the film again tonight. I am focusing on the blue.)
The next important blue might already be stretching this count. To get out of the news studio, we don’t cut to the trip. Instead, the camera focuses on a TV monitor. And, that camera is flying down the Ohio River toward Pittsburgh. I read somewhere—can’t recall where, maybe on the IMDb board—someone suggesting the entire film takes place inside that television. Not sure why that would matter, unless we assume that given the relatability of the whole thing, and Phil as the everyman, what if we are all inside that television?

But, I digress. I was talking about the color blue. The river is blue, the whole shot seems a bit blue—at least on the copy of the film I watch most for this blog (I may have to get a nice blu-ray and revisit this topic (and I won’t make a joke about it being called a “blu” ray)).

Note, I’m also not entirely sure what color, say, Phil’s suit is, or if he’s got two. Sometimes it looks like a dark grey, sometimes a dark blue. And, his shirt’s stripes seem to be blue… but I want to deal in the more obvious blue. A good portion of the PBH logo on the van is blue, though.

So, I will go next to one you probably shouldn’t even notice. As the names of the producers, Trevor Albert and Harold Ramis, are on the screen, we see our first blue coat (outside Rita’s), some random background person walking in the street.

Cut to: The very next shot (along with Directed by Harold Ramis), there’s another blue coat, on a woman taking stuff out the back of her car.

Larry’s hat is worth mentioning even if his jeans might not be. Jeans are generic. Larry’s hat is not.

As Phil gets into the van after calling himself “the talent” we see the first (I think; I might be missing some of this as I go) of the blue flags that are all over town at the top of the screen.

And, on to the bed and breakfast on Cherry Street. We’ll code this a maybe, but the building looks a light shade of blue on my iPad screen. And, then the wallpaper in Phil’s room certainly includes a bit of blue.

Here you’re wondering if I’ve lost my mind. But bear with me. This isn’t me grasping simply for anything and everything blue—notice, I only mentioned the sky in that opening shot.

The next one is a big one. Phil’s pajamas, a rich dark blue. And, they look comfortable, though I’m not normally a pajama guy.

Bathroom wall in Phil’s room: light blue. And, there’s a blue piece of clothing—looks like it might be a dress shirt—to the left of the window. And, outside the window. There’s that bright blue, a guy crossing to the corner on the left, headed off to Gobbler’s Knob.

And, Phil’s shirt for day one might just be that shirt that was by the window. Mrs. Lancaster’s outfit under her apron: blue.

As Phil approached the Old Man, there are two people huddled in a doorway behind him. One of them is wearing a blue coat. As he passes the Old Man, a shop door opens and out come two people; the woman is wearing a light blue coat.

Cut to: Ned. From left to right: a truck, part blue part brown; a blue flag;a blue storefront (Woodstock Jewelers); a blue car; a blue van; another blue car; and behind that last blue car two people in blue coats. Now, you’re probably starting to feel crazy too.

Cut back to Phil and a man in a blue coat rounds the corner. And, by the way, seeing him closer, Ned’s tie is blue.

”Case Western High” and another woman in a blue coat walks by Phil. “Bing” and two people in blue coats walk by behind Ned. Light blue car, and that door behind Phil is close to the blue of his pajamas.

”I sell insurance” and a couple walk by. Woman has a blue coat, man has blue mittens and a blue stripe on his coat. As Phil and Ned walk, another blue flag is visible above then behind Ned.

Is it because blue is a cold color? Because people just wear a lot of blue in Pennsylvania? As Phil enters Gobblers Knob—blue sign (and put there by the film crew, since this is not actually Punxsutawney)—a couple more people in blue. The camera pans past a few blue flags, and to the crowd. There are some crazy dancers to the left each time we get this shot, and the woman is wearing a dark blue (code: maybe) coat and blue jeans. And there’s another couple blue coats visible already. Pan up and we see a few more. Cut to another angle, and there are blue coats all over. Now, I’m looking for blue so I paused to be sure I’m not just being silly here. It’s not that there is a lot of blue but that there is very little of, say, the other primary colors. There are no red coats to be seen here (though a couple hats seem bright red or orange). There is virtually no yellow in sight. Another shot as Phil walks through the crowd and more blue coats are visible. Then, a shot of the staging area. Blue coats galore. And, a guy on stage has a blue bag. And, that Punxsutawney Phil sign is blue above the stage.

Behind Rita and Larry: a guy with a bright blue scarf taking photos.

”…an early spring” and I notice the guy behind Phil wears a blue hat.

NO! A red coat in the front row. Then, a shot with two more. I’m sure those people were killed just after that shot. They cannot stop this lovefest for the color blue.

Not much blue in the blizzard scenes, at least outside the van. Rita’s got her blue coat, Larry his blue hat and Phil his blue shirt inside the van.

Police uniform, for the stretch: actually, I’m pretty sure it’s black. Gotcha.

Maybe Phil just stands there and freezes to death and the rest of the film is what he experiences as he dies, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge style. Sorry for the spoiler there for those of you who haven’t read it.

And, now antifreeze bottles as Phil talks on the payphone.

BEST BIT EVER: The shovel… is blue.

And, so is that groundhog-headed trashcan outside the Pennsylvanian Hotel.

Phil has changed into his striped shirt (still blue). I don’t know if that’s important but the light under the bottles in the shot with the bartender make the bottles look a little blue. And, since movies always like some randomly sourced light opposite the main lighting—I’m forgetting the technical terminology here, sorry—there’s a blue light on the bartender’s sleeve.

As Rita and Larry mosey on up to the bar, the woman behind Larry is wearing blue. But, Rita is in her vest and Larry’s in his sweater; no blue for either of them here.

Bed and breakfast hallway wainscoting: blue.

Now, this should repeat a bit, so I’ll only mention the new stuff.

The stairs have a blue carpet running down their center. Phil passes two guys wearing blue as he enters the dining room. Mrs. Lancaster is still wearing blue.

A family in blue beyond Mary—the future piano teacher. Emily Gems tells us that blue symbolizes the virgin Mary. Do we know that the piano teacher is a virgin?

Repeat all the blue in Ned’s scene, though some angles are a little different.

”I really feel weird” and there’s a guy in blue dancing blurry in the background.

Emily Gems also tells us blue is a soothing color, good for pajamas. And, we see more of Phil’s pajamas on day three. And, another woman in blue in the dining room, one in a long blue coat out in the street.

”Come and meet me in the diner” and there’s a woman in a blue coat behind Phil. First shot outside the Tip Top Café (which is some shade of blue, maybe teal), from left to right: a couple in blue coats, another storefront across the way which appears to be light blue, another couple in blue coats, a guy with a blue hat. Inside the Tip Top Café: the wait staff is all in blue. And, the first shot of Doris includes at least four people wearing blue behind her. Rita’s shirt is blue under a pink sweater. There’s a blue and white plate by her head on the wall.

Gus wears no blue, though Ralph has a blue vest and hat (though not as vibrant a blue as most of the coats around Punxsutawney).

Oddly, the doctor’s costume is NOT blue but green. Perhaps because Harold Ramis plays the doctor, and as director, he is above all this craziness.

The psychiatrist has no blue in his outfit, but his couch might be a dark blue (code: maybe).

Bowling alley lane dividers and decoration: blue.

The night lighting for shooting outside the bowling alley makes the upstairs windows look blue… and Gus puts on a blue coat. One of us! One of us! One of us!

Empower yourself with color psychology tells us blue is the color of trust, honesty, quiet. It hates confrontation but “you can rely on it to take control and do the right thing in difficult times.” Sounds a little like Phil Connors to me. LITE beer sign: blue neon.

Inside the vehicle, just like the van, three people wearing different blue items of clothing. Does the blue make a complete outfit? Is it code for each individual being a part of the greater whole? Did the filmmakers control the color of Pennsylvania license plates in 1993, because that thing’s blue also?

What does Phil crash into? A blue mailbox. Blue stripe on the police car, blue light… but that one’s pushing it. And the police car hits a blue trashcan—there are also red trashcans with those groundhog heads, so there was an option here… the other cans are red, and so is Gus’s car. And so is that guy’s hat later in the “god” scene, but that’s guy is for another day’s entry. Does red mean something to? Is this like Shyamalan in Unbreakable, some Hitchcockian control over the color scheme to create some symbolic chess match between good and evil? If so, where’s the evil? Is Phil both the good and the evil? Are we all a bit of both? Is that the point to the struggle to better ourselves or to better Phil… That phrasing stays, because I think it’s kind of cool, like we watch the film to make Phil a better man. He may be a god, but we are the god. If we stop the film before it’s over, Phil never gets out of the loop. We have all the power.

(Are we all wearing blue? Or, are we wearing red… I’d like to note that in the original screenplay, it is Gus’ fantasy—to "crank her up to ninety and tear through town smashing into everything"—that prompts Phil to do a bit of the same. Is Gus the devil on Phil’s shoulder?)

Nancy doesn’t wear blue… though there does seem to be a little inside her sleeve. She wears pink at the Tip Top Café. That’s close to red. Is she evil? Later she wears black and white. Her scarf at Gobbler’s Knob includes some blue… and some yellow; it’s nice to see yellow for a change.

Blue flag by the Northern Federal Savings Bank which has a blue log and blue lettering on its sign.

At least two people in blue outside the Alpine Theater. And, a third going in as Phil walks around the car.

French maid costume: black and white. Nancy’s dress for her night out: black and white. Are these two there just to weigh and measure Phil and see how good or bad he is?

The bartender’s vest is green. At tv tropes, someone suggests that the bartender is a “magic negro” who is actually behind the time loop. Perhaps his green hue is a sign that he is a part of nature, above all this trivial stuff, and his amusement at Phil and Rita is genuine, the gaze of a benevolent god looking down on those silly humans trying to mate again.

Girl in blue at the fudge shop.

Not much blue in the restaurant, but it’s actually in Chicago, so maybe the extras there just don’t wear blue as much.

Blue ribbon decorations in the gazebo as Phil and Rita dance… also some seem purple, a cross between the red and blue. Phil’s evil side giving way to the blue?

The couch in Phil’s place has a red blanket on it. Is that because that is where he wants to seduce Rita?

Jeopardy is all about the blue. And, Leslie—the woman who answers, “What is Mexico?”—is wearing blue. So, is the old guy on the couch.

As Phil steals the truck, Buster is approaching a guy in none other than a blue coat to talk to him. And, there are some blue flags and a few onlookers in blue as the chase gets going.

The truck is red.

Cop’s shirt is blue under all that black. Young guy who awkwardly came along with Buster and the cop: wearing blue.

Dead Phil on the morgue table: not very blue.

Debbie wears a blue open shirt over pink (opposite Rita’s color in the “god” scene). Fred’s sweater is striped, seems mostly blue-ish.

Woman in a blue coat in the background as Phil talks about Tom.

And, there’s the guy with the red hat, sitting behind Phil as he tells Rita about herself. My current theory: that guy’s the devil, the bartender represents nature and… is Rita God? Is that why she knows Phil cannot be? This is a film about religious indoctrination, isn’t it? Which religion values the color blue so much?

Phil’s striped shirt doesn’t look so blue in the playing card scene. Then again, Rita seems to have changed her pants sometime during their day together, which seems weird. But, neither of her pairs of pants are blue, so that really isn’t important right now.

The book Phil’s reading—Poems for Every Mood is green. Is he siding with neither good nor evil?

Blue outfits in the crowd once again. One of Phil’s books at the counter: blue (that one’s cheating, though, since four books are not blue).

Mary’s house: blue. Mary’s sweater: blue. Mary’s skirt: blue. Mary’s student’s skirt: blue.

Nurse’s outfit: blue. Curtain by the empty hospital bed: blue. Maybe all this blue is a clue that Phil is really comatose from freezing out on the highway or getting hit by that shovel and he’s the one lying in that bed.

The kid who falls from the tree, perhaps Lucifer in training: wears a bright red coat… but it does have a blue stripe.

The old women with the flat tire: a bit of blue on at least two out of three.

Restaurant: Phil passes a couple people in blue to get to Buster. The woman who needs a light seems to be wearing teal.

The dance: at first, looks like one person in blue in every couple, but a little less blue as the camera pans. Still, there’s a shot of Rita at one point, just before Phil switches songs, with four people in blue behind her. As Mary is about to tell Rita that Phil is her student, there are two people in blue behind Mary and a third walks behind Rita and Mary from left to right.

The old women dancing together: one in red, one in blue. I’m beginning to wonder if maybe these colors mean nothing. Buster’s vest is red checked. His wife wears a bright red blouse. Debbie and Fred wear no blue… what is wrong with them? And, behind them, a guy whose long blonde hair could only exist in the 80s (or 90s Pennsylvania, I suppose) had an amazing blue sweater, and he’s dancing with a woman with a red blouse. Good and evil are all over the place… The best clue this stuff might mean something: there is still no yellow. And, virtually no green. Is it just because it’s winter?

”you bid on’em” and just in the front row going across the crowd, I count seven people in blue. There are even kids in blue at this party. And, Doris is not dressed for a winter party, all flowery blues and purples.

Outside the dance, the wall with the quilt on it is blue. And, there’s a couple in blue walking by as Ned gets it.

Phil’s striped shirt looks really blue when we get to February 3rd.

Now, just because I can track this stuff, does that mean it matters? Should I also be checking the address numbers on the bed and breakfast and Mary’s house and the Pennsylvanian Hotel to see if they add up to 666?

Is there some deeper message about good and evil going on here, maybe even something neither Rubin nor Ramis intended?

Or, did the extras who didn’t have coats just get them from the production and the production had a nice box of blue coats? I’m not even sure who to ask about that one.

Even if the art director or the costume designer wanted a lot of blue, does that mean it’s symbolic of something or that it’s just that person’s favorite color? Can we even know?

Today’s reason to repeat a day forever: to look for Calumet baking powder cans in the background, because there’s got to be even more going on here.

(If you don’t get that reference, you might be better off.)

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