Tuesday, February 25, 2014

the last thing that you heard

Two things:

Michelle and I were saddened to hear of the passing of Harold Ramis, one of America's greatest satirists, and like so many other comedic geniuses, a proud product of Chicago's Second City. When we watched his movies – from ‘Animal House’ and ‘Caddyshack’ to ‘Ghostbusters’ and ‘Groundhog Day’ – we didn’t just laugh until it hurt. We questioned authority. We identified with the outsider. We rooted for the underdog. And through it all, we never lost our faith in happy endings. Our thoughts and prayers are with Harold’s wife, Erica, his children and grandchildren, and all those who loved him, who quote his work with abandon, and who hope that he received total consciousness.

and

Harold Ramis and I together did the National Lampoon Show off Broadway, Meatballs, Stripes, Caddyshack, Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day. He earned his keep on this planet. God bless him.

That longer one is from President Barack Obama. The shorter one is Bill Murray.

But, I actually didn't want to quote a bunch of other people today. I couldn't pass up those two, though.

I'm not sure that I'd really thought about Harold Ramis as someone who meant something to me until yesterday when I heard he had died. I watch what I believe is his greatest film every day and I've written entries about his commentary track and entries about his second revision of Rubin's screenplay. But, I've spent so much of my time inside the movie, I hadn't really put much thought into Ramis, necessarily.

Yet, I had several people who said sorry to me as if I knew the guy... and I guess, in a way, I do know the guy. I'm in his head quite often, thinking about decisions he must have made while making Groundhog Day, wondering why he made certain choices or how he came up with certain ideas.

The structural echoes within the film, for example, so many of those are visual things that certainly don't come from Rubin's seven-act original but also don't really come from Ramis' rewrite. The first shot of the street in front of the Cherry Street Inn, for example (which was just on my television)--it is echoed in the shot at the end of the film of that same street covered in snow. Phil mimicking Larry eating is echoed in Phil gorging on cake at the Tip Top. The trio of Phil and Rita and Larry in the van is echoed in Gus and Ralph and Phil in the car.

Another choice that likely came from Ramis: the crane shots early in the film establish some basic geography for the square. We see where the movie theater is, we see the Tip Top, we get a nice overview of Gobbler's Knob, and the Pennsylvanian Hotel. Locations that will matter more later and Ramis establishes their locations in our heads before we even realize they matter.

A lot of the spiritual aspects of the film are present in Rubin's original, but Ramis embraces them fully while never focusing on them, which makes them all the more powerful. As a "nonpracticing" Buddhist, he gives the film a sense of depth that, on first blush, it almost doesn't earn. I mean, yeah, I've quoted that 12-year-old from the Los Angeles Times article who saw that Phil needed to get things right to escape the time loop, but so much of the film is an enjoyable surface. And, that choice--to keep the romantic comedy surface atop the underlying philosophical nougat center--that's Ramis far more than Rubin. It's the dual-layer nature of the film that makes it stick in our heads even if we just see an enjoyable comedy...

I don't just see an "enjoyable comedy" anymore, of course. I don't even see the dual-layer, semi-subversive film that tricks us into thinking about big ideas in between Murray and his jokes, anymore. I see a lot more than that. Arguably, we all see much more than that; we just don't realize it. Groundhog Day is a film that, as I have mentioned many times before, connects to virtually any theme you can think of.

Just look at Gus' and Ralph's joy when presented with the idea of no tomorrow. It's a concept we've all thought about. It's universal. There's no tomorrow. What do you do? I had a pretty good day today, but on the second go round I might skip my office hours altogether because I'd know no students would come. Or I might watch something different or read something different as I sit there alone. Or I might go find someone to spend time with, a friend perhaps. Or--and I don't mean to keep mentioning this--I'd see if that girl I'm interested in was on campus, or I'd find out where she was instead and go there, and I'd Phil Connor her... which sounds dirtier than usual suddenly. I just mean I'd figure out through trial and error what it would take for her to go out with me. I don't need to get her back to my room.

Somewhere in Phil Connors or Bill Murray or Danny Rubin or Harold Ramis is a sort of guru to a take on life I think I experience in my head but fail far too often to externalize. I don't grab at the things I want. I don't tell people the things I want to tell them sometimes because I imagine the conversation that might result and I opt out before it's even had the chance to go well.

I'm not as old as Harold Ramis was, but I can't help but think I need to get a little better grasp on my life before I get much older. I don't want an endless list of regrets when it comes time for me to die. I don't have a lot of regrets per se, now. So much of what I've been through, good or bad, has led to who and what I am today. There are key moments, key actions I would take back if I could, things I'd do better. But, I am not particularly disappointed in my today. And, I'd like to not be disappointed in my tomorrow.

Harold Ramis was apparently quite a great guy, thoughtful and giving. I'm sure I'll have more to say about him--and I may quote a bunch of other people again next time. He was a prolific filmmaker, a creative writer, a successful actor, a husband, a father, a grandfather. He was beloved by many and he has left a legacy of great films and comedy routines. And, he has given me, at least, a lot to think about.

Now, I need to figure out how to do better. I'm doing pretty good with my life lately, grad school, coaching, hanging out with my kids when I can... But, I could do more, in all aspects of my life. And, I could be more bold.

Today's reason to repeat a day forever: to have total consciousness. And, to be bolder, even if it means being rejected.

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