[To celebrate one of our strangest holidays, Groundhog Day, this week I’ve AmericanStudied that film as well as four others in the long and unique career of Bill Murray. Leading up to this crowd-sourced post featuring more MurrayStudying takes—add yours in comments, please!]
To start with a great overall take on Murray, Jeremy Ruby tweets, “Bill Murray is a rarity in American films. He’s gone from likable sarcastic slacker to serious actor, Lost in Translation and Hyde Park on Hudson are examples of his serious work. He’s done some problematic work & he’s done some amazing work. Time periods define much of his work.” He follows up the Lost post later in the week, adding, “Lost in Translation is his magnum opus. He’s a burnt-out movie star who goes to Japan for a marketing campaing. Along the way he discovers himself and slowly absorbs a culture much different to his own. Murray has moved into the cool older guy persona that Chive has tapped into.”
And on a different introductory note, Kait Tonti shares, “My favorite thing Bill Murray was when he used to show up at the Prudential Center or Madison Square Garden when Seton Hall played Xavier—because his son was the Assistant Coach for Xavier men's BB.”
In response to Monday’s Tootsie post, Candy Thomson writes, “I never thought of Les’s comment as vicious, more like the blustery blurting of a man born in the late 1930s/early 1940s bewildered by a unfathomable situation caused by his desire for companionship. I could hear my dad saying it. And you are right about the movie’s final lines. I walked out of the theater in 1982 feeling optimistic about man/woman relationships, which is saying a lot for a rom-com.”
In response to Wednesday’s Groundhog Day post, some great conversations about that film in this thread.
Lydia Currie writes, “My mom feels that the existential horror of living the same day over and over again with no means of escape is WAY played down. I have heard that the original cut of the movie was much darker.” And on that note, Jeff Renye shares this unique take on Groundhog Day as a horror film from The Atlantic.
And Lito Velasco, one of the most passionate and thoughtful FilmStudiers I know, writes, “At risk of sounding like a two-cent phil-osopher (see what I did there?), I honestly consider Groundhog Day to be ESSENTIAL film viewing for anyone—and especially for those of us who find ourselves in an ongoing battle against depression, inner demons, and our ‘lesser’ natures and aspects of ourselves. To me, the film is a beautiful, hilarious, heartwarming, and sometimes heartbreaking (I dare anyone to challenge my saying that the visuals and music in the scene with Murray ‘letting go’ and falling from the tower isn't one of the most devastatingly-beautiful scenes in any film from that era) examination of what it means to be human—the daily struggles, the battle for self and identity, the wonder and beauty of common and everyday moments, the need to be there for our fellow man, and the importance of trying to be the best version of ourselves possible. I find it to be Ramis' best film, one of Murray's finest, most-nuanced and hysterical performances, and accessible to just about anyone and everyone, at any age, and every year. It's easily one of my favorite films of all time and one I return to, like clockwork, every February 2nd—not just for the entertainment, but for the reminders and wisdom it imparts upon me every single time I watch.”
On Lost in Translation, Lito adds, “That's another one of my favorite films- and most definitely one of my faves from the early 2000s. It has such a quiet, bewitching, beautiful power to it that always leaves me quaking with tears at the end. That haunting feeling of loss, disconnect, and loneliness that lies beneath the moments and performances is just breathtaking. How we can be WITH people in the midst of such a busy setting and yet also feel so totally abandoned by those same people and our lives themselves... powerful, moving stuff. And Murray and Scarlett are both at the top of their games in that film, in my opinion, conveying what the script and film needs with such exquisite, subtle perfection.” He adds, “And, just to be sure I'm not misrepresenting the film: I should also mention that I adore the journey of self-discovery on the part of the two leads, but...there's something about that discovery that also brings with it this sense of loss, which I suppose is inherent in many sorts of evolutions.”
For a different take on Scrooged from that in my Groundhog Day post, here’s our best ChristmasFilmStudier, Gracie Vaughn Joy: “Scrooged is excessively violent to the point of absurdism. And you (and Roger Ebert) are right that it's unsettling, but contextually I think it's a brilliant use of slapstick. Slapstick meets the moment in every era it's used appropriately in, and Scrooged employs extreme violent slapstick in the 1980s which are an absolutely absurd decade. Politically, the domestic messaging is a false assertion of calm, serene status quo while foreign affairs are rapidly modernising and global threats are consistently rising from places that have never been global-powers before. It's absurd. Reagan's entire administration and 8-year term are absurd contradictions to the actual lived experience of many Americans in the 80s. That's why so many of the prominent comedians in the 80s are SNL alumni who relied on quick slapstick satirical routines that embraced absurdity. And it's why Scrooged conceptually makes sense as a grotesque caricature of slapstick. And that absurdity in the slapstick is precisely why I think the abrupt and excessively saccharine redemption speech works so well because it embraces the absurd atmosphere while telling the audience absurd isn't normal but we can find normality in absurdity and make it work for us. Slapstick is used in moments of political uncertainty and I think Scrooged is a perfect example of using slapstick to counter a rapidly changing world that the dominant political narrative refuses to engage with by presenting the status quo of the film as absurdist and then undercutting it all with a cloyingly sweet speech. And the speech itself I think is more effective than Scrooge's redemption. Scrooge changes on an individual level and it impacts his immediate contacts, but, as far as we are told, he never shares the message of his new philosophy. He never details why he has changed or how. He internalises the message of goodwill and generosity, which is great for the individual but is still selfish to a degree. He doesn't fulfill the other unspoken ask of Marley which is to cultivate the same generosity in others and pay his experience forward. He donates money and raises Bob's salary but he never apologises for how he has treated Bob. Frank, on the other hand, externalises his experience and shares his new philosophy with others in a plea for more people to join him in embracing compassion and the ‘miracle’ of generosity. Sure he has access to a live broadcast nationwide while Scrooge lives in Victorian England, but Scrooge doesn't even attempt to explain his change of heart.”
One of our best young filmmakers, Melanie Mazzarini, writes, “My bf had the chance to work with him on Moonrise Kingdom and only has positive memories of him. As a child, for some reason Meatballs defined my life. He’s just a master of comedy while also pulling off such serious roles—just a darling actor.”
On Twitter, John Webb writes, “Big fan of his ventriloquist in Cradle Will Rock … more parallels with ‘Economic Anxiety’-inspired thoughts that came out of all those diners than I’m comfortable with yet remained human and frail. Because Murray always finds the humanity. And there’s something in that here.”
Nathaniel C. Green tweets nominations for Scrooged and Caddyshack, and adds, “Maybe an unpopular opinion, but I think Groundhog Day is waaay overrated.” (See the above thread for his further threads and other voices including mine!)
Anne Bean writes, “Quick Change is the funniest, most-underrated, Bill Murray movie.”
Andrew DaSilva highlights “Bill Murray in serious roles, such as Maugham's The Razor's Edge. Or my personal favorite Lost in Translation. One done at the start of his career, the other done in his later career, both wonderful movies. Show he can do much more than just laughs. And of course who could forget his FDR in Hyde Park on Hudson I saw that 4 times at the cinema.”
Francesca Lewis adds, “I know it’s only a small part, but Bill Murray in Zombieland cracks me up every time I watch that movie. His dramatic death and guilt tripping gets me every time.”
And to end with an interesting context for the Groundhog Day part of the series, Ezekiel Healy shares, “‘America’s weirdest holiday’ brought to mind that Ireland celebrates right now; it’s called Imbolc/St. Brigid’s day. It’s a celebration of Spring, marked when Winter is half over. It was curious to me when I first learned about it, because our version of the seasons is marked pretty distinctly at the solstice and equinox. Halloween (our second weirdest holiday?) also lines up with a Celtic/pagan holiday (Samhain), which suggests that Groundhog Day has deeper roots than just the Pennsylvania Tourism Board. It’s a tentative celebration of the imminent arrival of Spring, which is finally inevitable if still unpredictable.”
Super Bowl series starts Monday,
PS. What do you think? Takes on other Murray films?