Welcome to another perennial item. I run this one every year in conjunction with Groundhog Day, (the 34th funniest American film of all time, according to the American Film Institute) since the Bill Murray movie of the same name is my favorite movie of all times. This is the fifth time I've run this item!
I went to a showing of Groundhog Day sponsored by the San Francisco Zen Center on Friday, Aug. 10, 2001, held in the Trustees' Auditorium of the Asian Art Museum in Golden Gate Park (relocating in October 2002 to the old SF Main library in the civic center).
I have so much to say about this exciting, exhilarating, eye-opening experience that it is now a subsite titled Groundhog Day The Movie, Buddhism and Me, which includes a description of that seminal showing, commentary, and links to other sites that deal with the connection. While noticing the connection between this movie and Buddhism is not particularly profound, it was news to me, and the nuances were explored in a particularly exciting fashion during the Zen Center presentation. My set of pages are rapidly gaining ground as the authoritative center for GHD/Buddhism commentary on the web. I brush it up and add new material regularly, so if you haven't been there in a while, take a look.
If you love the work of GHD writer Danny Rubin as much as I do, check out his web site which includes a bio, a list of his works in progress (exciting) and a list of his sold films (also exciting).
I can't wait for his next released film. Go Danny!
In the meantime, note that the University of California/British Film Institute has published a Groundhog Day book, by Ryan Gilbey.
Part of a series of critical studies of important films (Thelma and Louise, Eyes Wide Shut, Titanic), this 88-page essay is an exhaustive and thoughtful examination of the movie, from script and conception through production and societal impact. It is not quite as accessible as this website (which, I regret to say, is not among the 111 footnotes), nor can it be updated as easily, but it is dead-tree media, so of course, it carries more authority.
- [page 11] As the New Statesman noted, it "appeals at once to absolute idealism and absolute cynicism." Depending on the eye of the beholder, this particular glass can appear half-full or half-empty -- brimming over with the milk of human kindness, or shattered to pieces on the floor. It's a kind of miracle that neither interpretation ever fully negates the other.
- This above all else is what makes it rewarding to keep returning to Groundhog Day. It’s a gorgeous irony that this film, about a man doomed to live one day for eternity, is anything but predictable. The absence of explanation [of what caused the time loop]… has actually preserved the film’s enigma and increased its allure…
- It would be hard now to express an adequate degree of gratitude that these [explanations] were jettisoned… Groundhog Day is a film that dares to withhold…
- [page 86; quoting Gilbert Adair, London newspaper Independent on Sunday, 19 March 2000, review section, p. 3] [Groundhog Day] is the progenitor of "avant-garde lite," a sub-genre that he argued would also include Being John Malkovich (1999) and The Truman Show…
- [page 88] The movie also represents an unpolluted instance of pure cinema. That term is traditionally applied to a picture that boasts eye-popping effects or humbling landscapes. There’s none of that here. The irony of John Bailey’s cinematography as that it fully achieves its ambition for each shot to register merely as another flat moment in the same unremarkable day. But Groundhog Day could not be rendered in any other medium. Ramis and Rubin tell their story with the camera: all the necessary information is contained in the movement or duration of a shot; in how it is juxtaposed with its neighboring images, in its relationship to shots we have already seen or are about to see. It’s a film that teaches us how to watch films…
- …the film, with its inherent repetitions, seems to grow with each viewing, yielding fresh meanings and questions that sprout off from it like new shoots. The experience if returning repeatedly to Groundhog Day proves finally to be no kind of Groundhog Day at all."
In other news, Joe Brancatelli notes that Steven Sondheim has said several times he'd love to do a Groundhog Day musical.
I finally found a DVD copy of È già ieri (2004) the Italian-language version of Groundhog Day. Feel free to look for one yourself, but keep in mind you'll need a DVD player that ignores regional settings (it is only available in a Region 2 version) and can play PAL. I have invested in just such a DVD player because my obscure tastes in journalism films frequently lead me to overseas-only releases (Newsfront for example). Anyway, I lucked out: English subtitles!
According to IMDB, the title can be translated, literally, as It's Already Yesterday; the title for international release was Stork Day. I'm not going to post a quibble on IMDB, but I thought the Italian version was inferior in almost every way, and was a perfect illustration of how the movie itself might have gone bad in the wrong hands in this country. As has been so often noted elsewhere by others, a great movie is the amazing and unpredictable confluence of a great script, great actors and great direction.
Valentina Capecci, Giulio Manfredonia and Andrés M. Koppel adapted The Danny Rubin/Harold Ramis Script. But they have created a clockwork version, with the same characters and lines in the same situations, but with the soul taken out. It is not a shot for shot remake, it's just… off. Antonio Albanese plays Phil as "Filippo." His performance was so flat I scoured IMDB to see if he was a miscast dramatic actor. He's not; he does comedies for a living, although I can't imagine, for the life of me how. Goya Toledo plays Rita, and we see, how shall I put this, much more of her than we did Andie McDowell. That would be one reason I dislike the Italian version--less innocence. Plenty of side-breast exposure, and on-screen sex. I love sex--just not watching it in a theater, or even at home on a DVD.
Fillipo is a jerk of a TV performer. Many lines are lifted directly. He talks to his radio, telling the DJ, "you've put on yesterday's tape." He asks the landlady if she has "déjà vu," and she says she'll check with the kitchen. He clocks the Ned Ryerson character, but Pepón Nieto is no Stephen Tobolowsky; he just goes down, lacking Ned's grace in doing a 360 before falling. The doctor looks at what might be the same X-rays of his head. Fillipo tells two men of a wonderful day he once had, asks why he couldn't have that day over and over, and then drives them into a crash--on a Vespa, not in a car. And he's nowhere near as funny when the police come to call.
There are some distinctly Italian/European touches. The movie takes place in summer, not in winter, and on the Canary Islands (because of a stork migration), not in Pennsylvania (for an annual weather-predicting event). I don't expect the Italian version to be set in the U.S., but winter was the right choice for the film, summer was not. Phil got up each day at 6; Fillipo gets up at 7 (God Bless the Italians!)
Then there are the just plain bad decisions: the suicide sequence is severely truncated. The good deeds are anemic. The self-improvement is almost non-existent. The character has almost no arc of development. There is no "turning point" when he realizes he needs to use eternity differently (flipping cards in the hat in Groundhog Day). The old man sequence is different (no spoilers from me) and not as good. They actually show him undergoing a transition--bad idea, badly executed. The end of the time loop is just silly. Similar but silly. Anyone could have made these bad decisions; thank god Harold Ramis didn't.
The American version was about selfless service (seva). The Italian version is a cute, silly romantic comedy with all the resonance of a bar of lead.
I always felt, and still do, that most of the magic of Groundhog Day is in Danny Rubin's story and script. Ramis made it more commercial, but Rubin had the clever ideas. Still, several essays on the film attribute much of its charm to Murray's performance. I wasn't certain before, but I am certain now: Bill Murray is the inheritor of Bob Hope's tradition of playing the egomaniac who can't see he hasn't got anything to be egomaniacal about. And he makes Groundog Day the gem it is.