Harold Ramis – The Passing of a Legend

My first memories in life are from being 3 years old. I don’t know which one is the earliest, but I know that one of the first is being terrified of the library ghost at the start of Ghostbusters. It is a moment that led to a lifelong obsession with the film that manages to grow and evolve in its greatness with each passing year.

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I’m obsessed with both of these.

So to me the Ghostbusters were my first superheroes. They were my first proper introduction to cinema, before I even realised it took a team of people to bring a film together. I just assumed these were real people being filmed on their adventures. Because of this Harold Ramis, Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd have always been more than just actors in a role. They are godly icons that I feel I’ve known intimately my entire life. I suppose you could say the Ghostbusters are my Beatles. And in making this comparison I suppose you would say that Harold Ramis’ Egon is the George Harrison of the group; he is the thinking man’s Ghostbuster.

But more than that Ramis is the discerning man’s comedy writer/director as well. His razor sharp observations on life, coupled with a penchant for the anarchic and irreverent led to the creation of some of comedy’s most iconic moments. With Animal House he created THE college movie, with Caddyshack he created THE sports comedy and with Ghosbusters he and Dan Aykroyd created THE high concept comedy blockbuster.

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Then of course there is Groundhog Day. I recently saw someone comment that Groundhog Day is the 80s generation’s It’s A Wonderful Life, and I think that’s right on the money. When I watch It’s A Wonderful Life I fall in love with the sincerity of George Bailey’s character and am upset that it would be unfathomable to believe such a person would exist in the modern world. Ramis understood this and so made his modern day George Bailey full of cynicism and sarcasm. When we first meet Phil Connors he is a detestable, arrogant weatherman whose desire for personal gain  is only equalled by his complete detachment from the people around him. Of course given that Phil is played by the inimitable Bill Murray makes this work for great comedy ends. But it is this very beginning that leads to one of the greatest redemptive endings in film history. As Phil is forced to relive February 2nd over and over he sees the error of his ways, the beauty in life and love all around him and the value in putting others before himself. Some theorists have calculated that based on the happenings of the story, Connors spent up to 40 years in the time loop. So whilst this kind of makes him the antithesis of George Bailey, who only needed 1 night to see how valuable he was to the world, it again speaks to the modern day reality of the film.

When I think about the more recent career highlights of Harold Ramis the first thing that comes to mind is his cameo in Knocked Up. I remember feeling the amount of respect on the screen from a team of filmmakers and actors that had obviously grown up in awe of this man. It felt like Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow picked Ramis to play Ben’s dad not just for the slight resemblance (hair, stature) but because it became like a passing of the comedy baton from the old guard to the new. In particular the scene in the restaurant where Ramis tells Rogen “Life doesn’t care about your vision, stuff happens, you’ve just gotta deal with it” feels like sage advice from one of the most prolific comedy filmmakers of all time to one of its aspiring rookies. As I think about it now it feels like advice for me too.

The last couple of weeks have been tough for fans of cinema. First Philip Seymour Hoffman and now this, it’s a bit of a one two punch. I’m not yet sure which upsets me more; the tragedy of losing someone who had so much more to give, or the literally lifelong hero, who although having slowed in output, helped define who I am and all the things I love.

The best thing to do right now is remember and celebrate the things that make our memories so strong. I will never get to shake the hand of Harold Ramis and thank him face to face for all the amazing work. But I thank him now. Thank you Harold Ramis.

James is a movie obsessive with a particular love for scores and screenplays. He has written for numerous blogs, sites and cinemas and has been involved in several screenwriting projects. He can usually be found in front of a large plasma screen devouring Westerns, 80s pulp, Jimmy Stewart movies or anything by the Coens.

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