The 7500 word, Ultimate Groundhog Day written/ picture essay/ commentary/ scrapped podcast thing you will ever need. Part One Words 1-2841
On February 13th 1993, I was 15. My father died the previous summer and since I was 15, I was in the middle of a weird social transition that they make movies about starring Freddie Prinze Jr. (it was 1993.) Formally dormant parts of my personality were coming to the surface and I had recently discovered you could wear jeans for months on end without changing them (a principle I still employ to this day). So to say I was susceptible to seminal pieces of pop culture would be an understatement like saying I thought rewatching Mallrats in my 30′s was a terrible idea. In the middle of February of 1993, I was dropped off at the Liberty Tree Mall with my childhood friend, Jonathon Coste and his friend Mike Garvin to see the “New Bill Murray Movie.” At that point there was Ghostbusters and little else on my personal movie Mount Rushmore and I didn’t even know or care that it was directed by Egon. Ninety four minutes later, I left the theater, dipped for the first time, in what I call “movie euphoria.” It’s a kind of joy for life that comes from being emmersed in a happy ending and love for the art form of film that wills one to literally dance throught the food court past the Taco Bell, Sparro and place where you could get the chocolate chip cookie birthday cake like I was Fred Astaire and Usher’s legitamately adopted Asian son. Jon, taken aback by my newfound Rain Singin lightfootedness, told Mike “He’s never actually like this.” Not that you care, but I feel this movie was the day I knew I wanted to make a great piece of comedic art and everytime I watch Groundhog, whether its on Netflix, DVD or TBS is a reminder that there are heights (CN Tower heights) I have no shot at hitting but still reminds me to aspire to them anyway. Did I mention this is funny? So for the next billion words, give or take a hundred mill, I have watched, splayed and dissected every point, character, and theme in this movie, reading every article and studying every wiki, IMDB page and Ned Ryerson fan site down to the marrow so that you never have to read another article on Groundhog Day again. Until tomorrow. SEE WHAT I DID THERE! First the stats. Groundhog Day was released on February 13th 1993 and made $70,906,973. It won a BAFTA, a Saturn and in 2006 was included in the National Registry of Films to be permently preserved (ironic right?). According to Time OUT London it’s the 8th Greatest Comedy of all time, #42 for Collegehumor.com, #20 The Guardian, #38 Boston.com, #34 AFI comedy but #8 fantasy film, it sports a very shiny 96% Rotten Tomatoes rating and is #1 in my heart. (All of these are subject to change the second one of these sites/ magazine (that will soon just be sites)/ vital organs/ has a low readership week/ massive clot and feels the need to put Anchorman at number one just to appeal audience that doesn’t know who there only used to be one flavor of Dorito.) FADE IN.
00:04 I do miss the old half film/ half animated title screens of my youth. The Columbia logo itself, much like some other statue the French gave us, is a female personification of these fine United States. Although, I don’t think yellow is quite her color. Or anyones. And whatever happened to Coumbia Pictures anyway…. oh, they fall under the umbrella of Sony Pictures. Oh they released some small independent movie called Skyfall. Oh that made more money than California. Well fuck me then.
00:45 Ah good ol’ clouds over circus music. I can’t help but think there were alot of “Hey the sky is cheap to film.” openings in the early 90′s and of course the only other one I can think off the top of my head was My Blue Heaven, but at least that had some allegorical tie to the movie’s title. This just screams, “Oh shit we have nothing for the title sequence, grab the camera!” I’m not sure Phil’s being a weatherman suffices. The weak link in this movie. There I said it! Happy?
01:11 First gang wars joke of the film. I guess the last cinder block of ’92 L.A. riots had yet to crush a trucker’s skull when this fine film began shooting. This is a great early example of what happens when you let Bill just have his way with your script. “Pacific Northwest they’re going to have some very tall trees,” to
THESE BIG BLUE THINGS! All the fine work we took for granted so much that now he can only do most dramatic work. Blame yourselves people. Yourselves and the Man Who Knew Too Little.
01:57 It never occurred to me, until I watched this movie how weathermen got from the screen back to the desk. This whole scene was a last minute after editing reshoot to establish Phil a little more of a total asshole. 02:26 Ever wonder what happened to “Nan”? Me neither until just now. Carol Bivins, who was also in another seminal comedy “Defending Your Life”, shows up in a fantastic bit of nothing until 2003 when she did a short stint on Boston Public as “Mrs. O’Shea.” Ms. Bivins is now a 1st grade teacher who, according to the interwebs, was 2011-2012 nominee for Illinois state teacher of the year. You are a beacon to Steppenwolf failures everywhere Nan.
02:46 Oooooooo Chris Elliot. While horrifically underused in this movie, Groundhog Day is a totem for the height of Elliot’s career. If there ever was a “height.” Just 5 years removed from being Dave’s greatest in house character, one from his underappreciated TV show, Get A Life and a year before his colossal box office wunderflop/ cult comedy classic/ Dave Letterman acting opus, Cabin Boy, there was probably never a better time in his career creatively. And look how svelte. Good luck living up to that Abby. Also yes the guy over Bill shoulder was in Sex In The City and White Collar. His name is Willie Garson (full name Willie Garson Paszamant). He’s a mean poker player and oddly played Lee Harvey Oswald on three seperate occasions. CREEPY!
03:16 This is how we are introduced to Rita. RI-TA! (may have been the inspiration for this.) And so the Andie MacDowell rant begins. If I ever get to choose an agent and I found out they represented Andie MacDowell I would run in a screaming ball of chemical fire to their office and beg them with a knapsack full of blowjobs to take me on. (The same can be said of Joe Rogan’s agent. BRAAAAAAAAAAAAAVO my friend.) That man and or woman or team of both is a agent savant. Because I can’t think of any reason why I should ever see Andie MacDowell’s face in anything except make up for old lady ads and yet she is featured prominently in 3 of the best 100 movies of the past 25 years, Groundhog Day, Short Cuts, and Sex, Lies, & Videotape ANNNND ended up in the only good Hugh Grant movie 4 Wedding and Funeral ANNNND turned down the Jodie Foster role in the Accused. As in no thank you Oscar role. I mean in this woman who’s first role went so bad that she had to be re-dubbed by Glenn Close. I can not ask enough questions of this person who runs her career. I would get car insurance advice from these people. I imagine they are short, magical, make cookies and the Accused just wasn’t one of her 3 wishes. Fun fact: this role was almost taken by TORI FUCKING AMOS? Because Harold Ramis had a boner for piano stradling self cutters, so I tell myself. But as the commentary makes very clear, Harold Ramis, who cast her after seeing the movie Object of Beauty, really found her the most beautiful creature on Earth. Sometimes forgetting to call cut on close-ups, refering to her as looking “12 years old” and leaving notes written in his own blood in her dressing room. (I only made one of those up.) 03:29 “MMMmmm she’s fun. Not my kinda fun.” Phil’s way of saying a lil downsy.
03:48 It’s the Pittsburgh corporate headquarters of Medeval Times! Noooooo Justin, that is known as PPG place, a building completed in 1984 by no less than Phillip Johnson and refered to as the crown jewel of the Pittsburgh skyline. But it was the corporate headquarters for Dr. Claw in the Inspector Gadget movie. Suck it! Me? Then there’s you George Fenton. Four time Oscar nominee and the writer of the aforementioned “circus music” as Harold Ramis wanted a Nino Rota feel. Ramis thought the music from the Godfather was, you know, good for comedy. Where I really have to give him and co-writer Harold Ramis (who still gets “45 cent” ASCAP checks today) mad props is on collaborating on the theme song, “Weatherman”, that almost outNewmans Randy Newman himself. It’s sits on that magical lyrical razor’s edge of cheese without immediately giving away that they made it up entirely for the film. “Can’t you feel it warmin’ up, I’m yo weathermaaaan.” Suck it! Robert Zimmerman? 05:12 “People like blood sausage too.” I have to agree with Rita on this one. I love blood sausage. If you don’t get over it. It’s fucking good. Especially at Christmas.
5:23 Seriously, he falls for her?
5:46 I’m sure we are allll familiar with the family classic that is Heidi. It was so classic a TV replay of the film once preempted a Jets’ game back in the 60′s and the backlash forever changed the way TV stations thought about shitty kid’s movies interrupting sports, but Heidi 2? Not a real movie. Despite all the remakes of the original and sequels to the books there was never an actual sequel to the Shirley Temple classic.
5:54 Where are thee now Danny Rubin? Groundhog Day is one of the top 5 comedies of all time and yet Danny Rubin remains it’s Harper Lee. Rarely heard from or see after. While he does have some credits in the following 12 months, a terrible Marlee Matlin thiller called Hear No Evil (cause she can’t hear, get it?) and some early Reese Witherspoon fodder S.F.W., Danny just drops off the face of the Earth. Or is he just living his own Groundhog Day. In fact, it’s pretty much his life. While it’s widely known, or it will be in in 6900 words, that Harold Ramis was the force who shaped the script from an existential think piece with comedic parts to an existential comedy, that hasn’t stopped Danny from lecturing all over the country about Groundhog Day, teaching screenwriting at Harvard and even writing a book called, “How to write Groundhog Day.” I mean Harold Ramis hasn’t faired much better since (remember Year One?) but he earned a littttttle more cred. Looking this up, I also discovered that Groundhog Day has been remade in Italy under the name Stork Day in 2004. Where an Italian TV reporter goes to report on a local stork and after the ferry breaks down has to relive August 13th which itself is not a holiday but is Lefthander’s Day.
6:01 How different was Rubin’s spec script compared to finished product? Well in the first draft, Phil starts in his multi day hell and has the first act explained through voiceover, which Ramis said at first he loved and would never change and then started his rewrite by changing that exact device. And even worse, there was a element in the earlier draft where Phil’s distress was explained by him gilting an ex girlfriend of him from the station who just happened to be from the islands. (I know, right Picard.) So when Ramis and Murray broke it down and stripped it apart, the script they gave back to Rubin had barely a word he had written, but to all of their credit, they kept what was unique about the script (the structure and point of view), and kept Rubin on throughout the production for rewrites.
6:13 I don’t know how many people of the Pizza Supreme Doritos generation realize how much Egon from Ghostbusters has effected pop culture, because even I, one of his biggest admirers, forget sometimes. So here’s just a few of the legendary movies he either wrote or directed or starred in besides Groundhog Day:
Animal House W,
National Lampoon’s Vacation D,
Caddyshack W, D,
Stripes W, A,
SCTV W, A,
Back To School W,
Analyze This W, D,
Knocked Up A
but of course the world will always remember..
6:57 “Keep the talent happy.” Also the Ambitious Mediocrity motto. Weird. Also Harold Ramis likes to make note that not only is this an Armani jacket that Phil is wearing, but that Ramis kept it after the production.
7:32 Day One. Ah the ominous clock and the first ” I got you babe.” by Sonny and Cher. Which I’m sure I don’t really have to tell you anything about. Except that it was produced by a convicted killer, Phil Spector, and written by a one of the great musical salesmen/ future Republicans/ bad skiers of all time He wrote the song to capitalize on the popular counter- cultural words, “Babe.” Oh yeah Cher was 19 when this song came out. Sonny, 30. Zang.
The DJ’s are actors Richard Henzel and Rob Riley, which isn’t that important except that I was sure one of them was Brian Doyle Murray. In fact, it had never crossed my mind that one of them was not until just now. It’s also pointed out throughout the internet that at 6am, in Pennsylvania, in February, it’s still dark outside. Troll you Groundhog Day.
8:40 It’s KEN HUDSON CAMPBELL!!! Why do I care? (sensing a theme?) He was Lust (cause he’s fat) or something in Herman’s Head a terrible Fox sitcom that lasted 3 seasons in the early 90′s, starred Yeardley Smith and the husband of Timothy Olyphant’s ex-wife from Justified and for some reason has left an indelible scar somewhere on my pop culture mind receptors. GET THE FUCK OUT HERMAN’S HEAD! OUT! Make room for some more math or Frank Underwood references.
9:49 “Did you want to talk about the weather or were you just making chit-chat?” Dick 101. Apparently during the shooting, due to the nature of shooting multiple stages in succession, Bill just had to ask Harold, “Good Phil or Bad Phil.” Looked up what happened to Mrs. Lancaster too. Nothing. Carry on with your day. 10:19 “PHIL?! PHILLLLL CONNERS!” And with that Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Ned Ryerson. Ryerson is the spice in the Groundhog Day stew and played by “that guy” Hall of Famer Stephen Tobolowsky. According to Stephen himself, during a very informative episode of the Tobolowsky Files that I reference generously, Ned was originally written for “personal friend of Harold Ramis” Kurt Fuller.
The problem was that Harold turned on his friend after auditioning Stephen and discovering “the most obnoxious person (he’d) ever met.” I imagine that’s something when you’re friends with Dan Ackroyd. Tobolowsky also tells his own Bill Murray story about his first day of shooting. He had acquired about 90 minutes of sleep having flown to Chicago directly from filming the Jason Priestly vehicle (remember when that could be a thing) Calendar Girl. Just before the start of filming, Murray looked out into the crowd that had gathered and decided “This town needs danish.” With Tobolowsky in tow, they went from bakery to bakery gathering up every danish, donut and bearclaw in town and handed them out to the crowd. All that was missing was him whispering to the crowd, “No one will ever believe you.” Stephen actually performed the whistling belly button trick when he was a member of the Groundhog Court. Something he had never done before, but Murray and Ramis have also done. BING! By the way, do yourself a favor and download the entirity of the Tobolowsky Files. It is some of the best storytelling in all of podcastdom. That is a word. It will be when I hit publish anyway. 12:11 Gobbler’s Knob? Really? Well not really. First of all, this was shot entirely in Woodstock, Ill, mainly because it was closer to Murray’s home in Williamette, IL. Also because Punxatawney wasn’t deemed cute enough. Woodstock was one of the last town’s the location scouts looked at. The real Gobbler’s Knob is not at the center of town but on the outskirts of Punxsutawney in a more rural area about 2 miles out. Punxsutawney Phil lives most of the year in a climate controlled environment in the Punxsutawney library and drinks a magic elixir every summer to keep him immortal. All true things. Groundhog Day itself has roots in the spring rituals of native Americans of the area who saw the groundhog as a spirit of wisdom. The event was created in 1886 and moved to The Knob in 1887 by German groundhog hunters as an excuse to eat more food (sometimes groundhog) and express their Germanhood. In fact, according to one account there was a 10 cent penalty for speaking English.