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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Assignment In Punxsutawney (Cont.)

Richard’s been in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania for hours, reporting on the hoopla surrounding Punxsutawney’s Phil’s celebrated weather forecast. You can read his tweets from the Gobbler’s Knob here.

Alas, today Punxsutawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter. I’ve got news for him — we really can’t take six more weeks of winter. In fact, the last four weeks of winter have felt like four months of winter. If we have six more weeks like that last four weeks, the stolid people of the Midwest will need to be dipped in buckets of lard to try to repair their brittle skin, moved wholesale to the Caribbean to bring a little sunshine-induced vitamin D to their lives, and subjected to mass counseling to convince them that the world is not an unremittingly gray, wet, windy, and brutally cold place unfit for extended human habitation.

Fortunately, the toothy, tubby rodent is not a proficient prognosticator. According to an analysis, Phil is right only about 39% of the time. This better not be one of them.

Assignment in Punxsutawney

Here’s something cool: Richard, who is in the midst of an internship at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, will be covering the annual Groundhog Day ceremony in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania for the newspaper. He’s already tweeted about getting ready for the assignment by watching the classic film Groundhog Day for the 200th time.

It will be hard for Richard to rise to the level of deeply moving rhetorical brilliance displayed by Bill Murray’s weatherman Phil in his last live broadcast after he lived through Groundhog Day, over and over and over again, for countless years. (The initial script for the movie had Phil trapped in the Groundhog Day time loop for 10,000 years, and Phil spent enough time reliving the day to learn how to play some killer piano, speak fluent French, and mature from a selfish, self-absorbed jerk into a sensitive guy who really cared about the citizens of Punxsutawney.)

However, the movie does offer some helpful tips about surviving Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney. Be on guard for an insurance sales pitch from Needle Nose Ned Ryerson. Watch out that a kid in a tree doesn’t fall on you. And when you walk across the main street next to the Punxsutawney town square, be sure not to step into the puddle — it’s a doozy!

Fire The Groundhog!

IMG_3441Punxsutawney Phil might be cute, in all his plump, furry, buck-toothed, rodentine glory, but he should be called Suxutawney Phil in view of his pathetic weather prognostication abilities.  Overnight, we got several inches of heavy wet snow — when the Punxster predicted that winter would end several weeks ago.

No longer will I trust the forecasts of the furry fiend emerging from his burrow on February 2!  From now on, I’ll rely on the weather auguries of Rochester Ralph, the floppy-eared rabbit forecaster who foretells the length of winter based on whether he eats lettuce or carrots on January 26, and Hanover Hal, the happy hedgehog who rolls into a ball when prodded with a stick on February 5 and veers right or left to predict how much snow will fall in the next two months.

In the meantime, Kish and I have declared that we just can’t take much more winter weather.  When spring finally gets here, we’ll return from a quick trip to Pennsylvania and celebrate with a delicately flavored, nourishing groundhog stew.

Happy Groundhog Day!

It’s February 2 — Groundhog Day — and somewhere east of here, Punxsatawney Phil has already been summoned from his burrow and failed to see his shadow.  That means we’re in for an early spring.

Much as I admire Punxsatawney Phil and his prognostication abilities, when I think of Groundhog Day I think of the classic Bill Murray movie of the same name.  In my view, Groundhog Day is one of the best movies made in the last 25 years — alternately hilarious, moving, and thought-provoking, too.  It also sounds some very interesting religious themes, such as in this scene, where Bill Murray admits that he is just “a god, not THE God” and speculates that perhaps God isn’t omnipotent but just has been around so long he knows everything there is to know.