Everyone has a favourite childhood movie, a film that drove one’s parents to despair with its constant video or dvd rotation, a movie you loved and will always love, a slice of cinema that takes you back to those times. Mine was, and is, Ghostbusters (1984).
My record for number of viewings in one day stood at three, achieved once I got my hands on the double Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II (1989) VHS. It would have been more if I’d have been given unrestricted access to the family television. Strangely, my childhood fixation with the film didn’t start well. My first encounter came via the Christmas television premiere some time in the late eighties. The extended family were crammed into our living room to watch it, while I busied myself with a set of Lego in the dining room. I strayed into sight of the TV just as Peter, Ray and Egon were approaching the library ghost in the movie’s opening salvo. Fascinated at first, I hung around long enough for the smoky white old-lady apparition to burst into a hideous toothy beast. I ran back to my Lego pile, the spooks roar mixing with the chorus of my own cries. A slice of Christmas cake and a glass of cherryade just about took the edge off my shock.
How I came to brave the film again such a short time later, I’ve no idea, but within a year or two I’d girded by loins and sat through until the marshmallow soaked finale. And I was hooked. The ghostly effects and action scenes were the candy that snared me, but what I failed to recognise as a ten year old were the other myriad delights that made Ghostbusters one of the finest action comedies of all time. One of the best casts of the decade helped immensely, as did the stunning sight of Sigourney Weaver’s never-ending legs. But the standout star was the script, crafted by two of America’s finest cinematic comedic talents, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis.
It was their Second City buddy Bill Murray that won most of the Ghostbuster plaudits for his sarcastic delivery of most of the film’s winning lines, but the strength of Aykroyd and Ramis’ writing can’t be overstated enough. I could fill the rest of this article with top quotes from Ghostbusters alone. Of course, Aykroyd and Ramis didn’t stop at scripting; they got in front of the camera to. If Murray was the comedic leader, Aykroyd was the heart of the team, Ernie Hudson the cool muscle, and Ramis the brains. And while most others plumped for Venkman as their favourite proton pack wielder when it came time for playground re-enactments, I always went with my fave, the towering figure and towering intellect of Egon Spengler. Afterall, without his technical no-how, knocking out Ecto 1, the proton accelerators, the containment system and every other Ghostbusting gizmo, the boys wouldn’t have got past their first poltergeist.
So how sad it was when I awoke to news that one quarter of the world’s finest spook exterminators had moved on to continue his journey on another ethereal plane. At the age of 69, writer, actor and director Harold Ramis passed away at his home in Chicago. Visually Ramis will be most remembered for his turn as Dr. Spengler, but his movie legacy goes well beyond even this.
Ramis' first film behind the camera as a director was as brilliant a debut as it would be fair to hope for, the cult classic Caddyshack (1980). Following this cheeky rib-tickler up would have been a tough ask, but staggeringly Ramis managed to top it, directing National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) three years later. Then, ten years on he teamed with Danny Rubin to write and direct his masterpiece, Groundhog Day (1993).
It takes a movie artist of some considerable talent to create a film that not only replaces Its A Wonderful Life (1946) as the cornerstone of festive morality cinema, but also remains achingly funny and doesn’t once stray into the uncomfortable realms of soppiness and cheese. Groundhog Day more than any movie of modern times, is all things to all people. Its a tremendous comedy outing for those in need of laughs, its inspiration to those struggling with the plod of everyday life, and its the answer to some of the biggest questions in life. How one film can encompass so much and still be so easily watchable is staggering.
Ramis’ work following this was fairly fleeting, but he still continued to create worthwhile cinema when the mood did take him, with the likes Multiplicity (1996), the Sopranos inspiring Analyze This (1999), The Ice Harvest (2005), and Year One (2009). But when he created such movie magic in 1993 with a story about a weather predicting groundhog you can’t really blame the man for putting his feet up a little; utter perfection comes along very rarely in Hollywood but Ramis created just that in Punxsutawney. When it comes to great comedy movies, very rarely are they acknowledged when the big award ceremonies role around. But as we always say here at FilmsFilmsFilms, growing recognition and warmth in the hearts of film fans is an award worth more than a million Oscar statuettes. It says it all that Harold Ramis and his work, so much of which placed the widest smiles on faces across the world, will be long remembered and revered when others have become a faded footnote in Hollywood history. Rest easy Mr. Ramis, and have a Twinkie on us.