Thursday, February 27, 2014

RIP, Harold Ramis

Sad to hear of Harold Ramis' death earlier this week. I feel kind of like I felt when John Hughes died - that someone who was really important to the movies I watched as a teen growing up was gone, and that things would be different, and we'd never quite recapture that same exact style.

Harold Ramis was a decent comic actor - he usually seemed to be the straight-man type, and I think a lot of nerdy people gravitated towards his characters (particularly Egon Spengler). But he probably shone best - or at least I think he did - as a writer. He's largely responsible for "Meatballs," and "Stripes" and "Ghostbusters," and "Groundhog Day" (those are just four of his films; he's done lots more than that).

Most of the movies he was involved with, there does seem to be an underlying sweetness - "Meatballs," for example, which I saw for the first time in its unedited form just recently (and admit, was a little taken aback at the language - oh, yeah, I'm sure some kids spoke like that but I would have been in beeeeeg trouble if I had). The whole subplot of Bill Murray's character trying to get some of the less-liked or "loser" kids to feel good about themselves - the pep talk near the end with the kid who was their camp's last hope to win the Camp Olympics with his cross-country skills. The whole "It just doesn't matter!" scene.

And "Groundhog Day" - which is on my short list of favorite movies - it's essentially a story about redemption, about learning to live outside our own wants and our own heads, and that's how we move on. (It's interesting - that underlying theme has some deep resonances with Christianity, but it could also be seen as sort of a Buddhist worldview, I think - and I know Ramis was quoted at least once about his interest in, and following of, the Buddhist philosophy as an adult). I find "Groundhog Day" a profoundly moving movie, even though it's also laugh-out-loud funny in a lot of places.

(One thing I read in one of the obituaries - that he and Bill Murray had been "estranged" for a few years. I don't know why and it doesn't matter. But apparently, before Ramis' death, the two reconciled. And that makes me happy - I know too many people who didn't get that chance to reconcile with someone who had been important in their life.)

I think movies, even more than television or books, seem to be a cultural touchstone for people of my generation or my circle. I think most people have had the experience of quoting a movie line and having someone else in the group quote another line back to them - and there's a moment of laughter and recognition (and I don't know why I'm always surprised, considering how many hundreds of millions of people probably see the big blockbuster movies, but I am surprised, and suddenly feel like, "This is someone who gets me, at least a little bit.").

I can't remember the context now, but the line "Lighten up, Francis!" was once used (jokingly, of course) in a faculty meeting and it broke the tension and everyone laughed and went back to being cool. And I've said to students, when we're out doing fieldwork and they're working with 50' tapes to lay out transects, "Don't cross the streams; that would be bad" (meaning: don't get the tapes off parallel) and that usually gets at least a chuckle.

I do think for Generation X, between John Hughes and Harold Ramis - well, that's a lot of the movies that were important parts of our lives. And now both of them are gone.

RIP, Dr. Spengler. You'll be missed.

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