Egon Sadly Gone

I was very saddened today to read of the death of Harold Ramis.

Ramis was a titanic yet nevertheless underappreciated cultural figure who played a large role in many hugely popular, clever, often brilliant movies — like Animal House, Groundhog Day, Stripes, and Caddyshack — and who dazzled in some small roles that helped to make good films, like As Good as It Gets and Knocked Up, even better. Anyone who could write Animal House, direct Groundhog Day, and bring a poignancy and warmth to the role of Ben’s Dad in Knocked Up has more talent that most people could even fathom.

I’d like to focus specifically, though, on Ramis’ depiction of Egon Spengler, the genius who created the hard-scientific core of the spirit-catching team in Ghostbusters. Egon Spengler is arguably the greatest depiction of a true scientific nerd ever to grace the silver screen. Ramis captured every element of the character, from the Eraserhead-like hairdo to the lack of awareness of normal social behavior to the immediate knowledge of every page of obscure spirit guides and ghostly treatises to the willingness to create catastrophically dangerous ghost-catching devices without a second thought. We knew the Bill Murray was the clown and Dan Aykroyd was the rumpled everyman, but Egon Spengler and his protonic inventions is the one who allowed the Ghostbusters to match up with Gozer and could explain the extraordinary danger in it all by using a Twinkie as a illustration.

Ghostbusters is a great movie — one of the first “high-concept” blockbusters, where the gist of the plot could be captured in a single sentence — and Egon Spengler is what really made the movie work. The Spengler character made the Ghostbusters concept plausible, and Ramis had to sell that brainy, socially oblivious character as someone who could design ghost-catching traps and understand cross-dimensional portals. He did it brilliantly and hilariously . . . and, equally important for the nerds among us, in the process he somehow made being the nerdy scientific geek kind of cool.

You’d be hard-pressed to find many other modern figures who had the impact on popular culture of Harold Ramis. He was only 69, and these days you can fairly say that people who die at 69 die much too young. He will be missed.

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College Movies

Think back to your days at your old Alma Mater.

Perhaps you went to the University Flick, on High Street.  Or you went to the repertory theater in your college town.  Or you went to see the odd, often old, movies shown by your school’s film and cinema department.  Or, because you are just a perverse individual, you were fascinated by David Lynch’s epic Eraserhead.

Either way, when you were in college you got to see an eclectic mix of movies that you aren’t likely to see at your standard suburban multiplex.   It was a great time to watch movies, and talk about movies, and learn about movies.

Think about your college movie experience, and you’ll be more likely to appreciate Richard’s movie reviews for Vox — like his latest, of The Act of Killing.  It sounds like a great movie — but then, Richard has a talent for making just about every movie worth seeing.  If you have not subscribed to his Twitter feed, you’re missing out.  His thoughts are well worth hearing.

A Head Full Of The Courtship Of Eddie’s Father Theme Song

Humans never truly know whether they are normal or weird.  Although we may have many friends and close family members, we still live largely within our own heads, perceiving the world in our own way.

The only way to know for sure whether we are unusual or pretty much like everyone else is to ask other humans pointed, and embarrassingly self-revealing, questions.  Like:  does anyone else occasionally find themselves replaying the insipid theme song to The Courtship of Eddie’s Father in their heads, for no apparent reason?

People let me tell ya ’bout my best friend . . . .

I always despised that show, with its cloyingly cute little kid and Bill Bixby as the prototype ultra-sensitive Dad and the blatant attempts to elicit “Awwww!” reactions from the audience.  I hadn’t thought of the show in years, but yesterday morning there it was, the chipper, annoying, Harry Nilsson theme song, playing through my head as I walked up the back stairs of our building.  And once it was bouncing around in there, it was impossible to get it out.

He’s my one boy, my cuddly toy, my up, my down, my pride and joy . . . .

Some cue caused the brain neurons to fire and retrieve the theme song from an awful ’60s TV show.  But what the hell was it?  And, even more disturbing, what other trivial bits of stray popular culture lie locked securely within my brain tissue, ever to be forgotten?  The names of all members of the original cast of Laugh-In?  The words to The Monkees’ Auntie Grizelda?  The precise dialogue of the disturbing dinner scene of Eraserhead?

Whether we’re talkin’ man to man or whether we’re talkin’ son to son . . . .

Gah!