In honour of Harold Ramis who passed away on the 28th of February aged 69, Belfast Film Festival are putting on a free screening of Groundhog Day at Belfast City Hall.
Groundhog Day was directed and co-written by Harold Ramis, this was Ramis’ 6th and final film with Bill Murray, others include; Meatballs, Caddyshack and Ghostbustsers. Billed as ‘He’s having the worst day of his life, over and over again,’ Murray plays Phil Connors a weatherman who is cursed to repeat the 2nd of February till he gets it right. Now considered a philosophical comedy, some religious leaders have dubbed the film as the “most spiritual film of our time,” and its themes of selflessness and rebirth make it a favorite of Buddhists who own DVD players.
Groundhog Day falls on the 2nd of February, according to the legend if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow, then spring will come early; if it is sunny, the groundhog will supposedly see its shadow and retreat back into its burrow, and winter weather will continue for six more weeks. Inspired by Philosopher Fredrich Nietzsche’s book ‘The Gay Science’, (a description of a man who is living the same day over and over again), existentialist discussions of how long Phil Connor’s actually spends in purgatory continue. According to the website Wolf Gnards, Bill Murray spends 8 years, 8 months and 16 days trapped in Groundhog Day. Another website, Obsessed With Film claims he was trapped 12,403 days, just under 34 years, in order to account for becoming a master piano player, ice sculptor, etc. The film itself depicts 38 specific days (either partially or in full) and according to Stephen Tobolowsky, who plays Ned, Ramis told him that the entire progress of Groundhog Day covered 10,000 years.
The film was itself beset with philosophical conundrums that proved volatile for shooting, for example Bill Murray refused to shoot the final scene until he knew exactly how he should be dressed. Maybe it was being bitten twice by one of the family of weather forecasting, precognitive, bloodthirsty groundhogs that were reared for the production. Or maybe it was waking up each morning in his pyjamas to Sunny and Cher’s ‘I’ve Got You Babe’ that had finally got to him. But he had a point. How to mark the breaking of the groundhog’s curse? If the cycle was broken Murray wanted to know, “Am I wearing the clothes I wore the night before? Am I wearing p.j.’s? Am I not wearing that?” The crew took a vote, PJ’s or clothes from the night before, they reached a draw. Murray refused to shoot, until an assistant set director raise her hand and said, “He is absolutely wearing the clothes he wore the night before. If he is not wearing the clothes he wore the night before, it will ruin the movie. That’s my vote.” The shoot, like Phil Connor’s life, was back on.
The film has since made Punxsutawney a major tourist attraction, though filming took place in Woodstock, Illinois. If you go looking around Woodstock you will find a plaque affixed to the curb where Phil repeatedly steps into the puddle in the road, it reads, “Bill Murray stepped here”. Then just on the corner at the site where insurance salesman Ned Ryerson repeatedly accosts Phil, on the wall there is another plaque that says “Ned’s Corner”. The locals of Punxsutawney have been so enamored with the film that Stephen Tobolowsky who plays Ned the insurance agent, Bill Murray and Harold Ramis, have all been honorary grand marshals of Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney. During his speech, Stephen performed the “whistling belly button act” he refers to in the film.
Ramis originally considered Tom Hanks, Chevy Chase, Steve Martin and John Travolta for the role of Phil Connors, opting for Murray because they were all “too nice”. Although Murray did something really nice at this year’s Academy Awards. He paid tribute to Ramis as he read the nominees for Best Cinematography in a Major Motion Picture. “Oh, we forgot one,” Murray said, after reading off the likes of Gravity, The Grandmaster, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska and Prisoners. “Harold Ramis, for Caddyshack, Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day.”
Groundhog Day was well received on release; one particular review of note is Desson Howe’s in the The Washington Post. Howe remarked that “even though the film is a good Bill Murray vehicle, “‘Groundhog’ will never be designated a national film treasure by the Library of Congress”. The film was selected by the National Film Preservation Board for preservation in the Library of Congress in 2006 (Films added are deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.) In the same year it was voted as one of “The 50 Greatest Comedies Of All Time” by Premier and ranked #8 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 10 greatest films in the genre “Fantasy” in June 2008. It’s fair to say that with the passage of time, just like its main character Phil Connors, audience’s appreciation of Groundhog Day has only matured and grown in sincerity. Groundhog Day definitely wakes up in 2014 in a shirt and not its pyjamas.