A Ghostbusters obsession leads to introspection
I've spent weeks trying to decide what movie I would pick to best represent who I am and what I love about movies. I toyed with writing about Adam Wingard's The Guest which I often tell people is everything I love about movies in one movie. There was a moment where I thought I'd write about Die Hard or Back to the Future, which I think are two of the best, tightest scripts of my lifetime. But the real answer was always obvious, and I don't know why I was fighting it - I've got it tattooed on my body for god's sake - the answer is Ivan Reitman's Ghostbusters.
As a kid born in the 80's, I have a variety of connections to Ghostbusters. I watched the cartoons, the second movie was on TV all the time, I had a bunch of the action figures, and one of the places I went to daycare had the big firehouse playset that my parents could never afford. I grew up very much loving the Ghostbusters as an entity. But as many things do, that faded as I grew into a teenager and started becoming a budding cinephile. In my mind, Ghostbusters was some kiddie shit - I grew up with it and loved the Saturday morning cartoons just like I loved the Ninja Turtles, but I was now a teenager and that meant leaving my childhood behind and getting into more sophisticated cinema, such as Mallrats or American Pie. I left the Ghostbusters behind and didn't revisit them again until my college years.
By that time I really had become something of a cinephile. I moved to Philadelphia to go to college, and suddenly had access to all kinds of movies I had never had the ability to see before. We have a chain of Ritz theaters here (currently owned by Landmark Cinemas) that showcase independent movies, which I never could have seen in my small Pennsylvania hometown. This was also the year Netflix debuted its DVD-by-mail service, and their library was considerably large, full of movies I had been reading about on IMDb lists like Aranofsky's Pi and Carpenter's The Thing. I started catching up on all these genre movies I had missed, while simultaneously exploring new releases by exciting filmmakers like Alfonso Cuarón and The Coen Brothers.
I don't mind admitting here that in the midst of all of this I became a bit of a stoner, spending some weekends back home with some old high school buddies smoking weed around a fire pit. One night, a friend of mine started quoting a movie that really made me laugh, but I couldn't figure out what it was. He finally revealed that he was quoting Louis Tully's dialogue (played by Rick Moranis) from Ghostbusters. I demanded we watch it right away. So at 19 years old, stoned out of my mind, I watched Ghostbusters for the first time since childhood and couldn't believe how adult it was. I was really taken aback by how NOT kid friendly it is. It's clearly not a movie made for children, and yet everyone I grew up with was watching it constantly. It had obviously become a hit with kids, given all the toys and cartoons that spawned from it, but there's no way it was made with that intention. I was fascinated by this.
So I went out and bought it and watched it again the next weekend. And then again the weekend after that. And again the next weekend. I must have watched Ghostbusters upwards of 50 times over the course of one summer. I was obsessed with it. It was a combination of everything I had come to love over the years - science-fiction, horror, comedy, action. To this day, there are very few movies that I think balance all of those tones quite as well as Ghostbusters. It's laugh out loud funny from start to finish, has some genuinely creepy horror moments, is a well-explored science-fiction concept, and has consistent action beats throughout. One never overshadows the other. It's really incredible and something I've always got my eye out for as far as new movies are concerned - I'm waiting for someone to strike this balance again.
That obsession lead to some investigation and introspection into just why I loved it so much, both as a kid and then again as an adult. And I realized that came down to two things, one perhaps minor, and the other very major. The minor idea that I think I connected with is that this is a blue-collar comedy. Aykroyd has always said he envisioned the Ghostbusters as the firemen of the future. Despite how high-tech they are, they're meant to represent the every day, hardworking middle class that has to wear a jumpsuit to work. My dad worked a factory job my whole life - we were always at the very low end of that middle class. And I think the reason I connected with Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, and outside the Ghostbusters people like Chevy Chase, is even at a young age I kind of understood that these guys were poking fun at the elite, the people that made fun of me at school for being poor.
The more major reason I had fallen in love with these guys as a kid and reconnected with them so much as an adult is they were weird, and they were celebrated for their weirdness. Ghostbusters is a movie where the heroes are total weirdos. They're science nerds and tech geeks and deadbeat academics. But they don't let anyone talk down to them for that. In fact, they're ultimately celebrated for it. And I was one weird kid, man. I had a bowl cut, enormous glasses, hit my growth spurt way late, was obsessed with Star Wars and the Inspector Gadget game for SNES. I was picked on a lot growing up, especially when role-playing the Power Rangers on the playground. Having a movie where the heroes were just like me, and were celebrated for being like me, meant the world to me as a kid. And revisiting it as an adult, and discovering that this was about blue-collar nerds that stuck their noses up at the establishment and were rewarded for it, really helped me get comfortable in my own skin. It was OK to be me, and I didn't need to feel bad for that.
As a parting note, this is why I think Paul Feig's Ghostbusters is such an important movie. As a male, being weird has been OK for a while now. Despite the fact that I got beat up for it, there was plenty of media around to support to me. I had weird role models to look up to. Eventually that changed the tides and there was actually some cachet in being a weird guy. Comic book movies are the biggest box office grossers now - we weirdos have arrived (for better and for worse). But women deserve that too. There's very little media that allows women to be weird. Our media too often still demands that women be beautiful, forever young, and motherly. By remaking Ghostbusters with a cast of women, Feig has given a generation of women weird role models in a movie that never makes fun of them for being weird. They're the heroes, through and through, and they're celebrated for being the awesome, weird women that they are. Not to mention that Feig made a really funny movie that I think upholds the legacy of the Ghostbusters perfectly well. The backlash against it is only evidence that men refuse this version of women, which is ridiculous and demeaning, and I really hope the people that were so vocally against it are ashamed of themselves.
I suppose I should leave you with another parting note, being as I got a little heated there (fuck you, Ghostbros), and I'll make it my favorite comedic exchange in the original movie. That's actually what I love about the comedy in this so much, by the way - it's all character based. There are hardly any "jokes" in this movie. What's funny about it is how well defined the characters are and how they bounce off of each other in any given situation. That's not only good comedy, that's just good writing.
Ray: Everything was fine with our system until the power grid was shut off by dickless here.
Peck: They caused an explosion!
Mayor: Is this true?
Venkman: Yes, it's true... This man has no dick.
Long live the Ghostbusters.