A love letter to one of the best movies of the 80s, a call-to-arms to save a vital piece of American cultural history, and a startling confession from your intrepid writer. All this and more, after the jump. Let’s say that four or five years ago, Vince Vaughn, Steve Carell and Tina Fey were going to star in a movie written by Carell and Fey and directed by Judd Apatow that riffed on classic Laurel and Hardy sketches and Buster Keaton setpieces and featured a supporting role played by Stephen Colbert.
That’s sort of what happened in the mid-1980s when Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis got together with Ivan Reitman to make Ghostbusters, a movie that I’m willing to bet shaped more than a few of our childhoods.
For those of you who don’t know, Ghostbusters took the general concept of such classic comedies as Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and put it in the hands of some of the best comedic minds to come out of the generation that gave birth to Saturday Night Live and Second City TV. The film follows Murray, Aykroyd and Ramis as mildly disgraced Columbia University professors who mix their Ivy League bullshitting skills with enough quantum physics and occult knowledge to open up a “paranormal investigation and elimination” service. (The first of a planned franchise, according to Murray’s character.)
It’s one of the funniest movies ever made--if you haven’t seen it yet, you should do so right now—but its humor is so dialogue-driven and its ancillary thrills so visceral that I didn’t realize it was a comedy until I was a teenager. Instead, I spent my childhood stomping around my house pretending to be the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man, dropping globs of slime on unsuspecting action figures and trying to bust my parents’ poor dog (appropriately named Sad Sack).
It’s also one of the best New York movies ever made. The story would hardly work--or at least, it would hardly be able to get the same kinds of laughs—if it were set anywhere other than the New York of the 1980s: a strange place full of hard, impatient people. A place where the only people tougher and less afraid of anyone than the gang members are the yuppies with whom they share the city. Much has been made of the scene where Rick Moranis (a Second City alumn) is assaulted by a hellhound (okay, I’m not even going to pretend that I don’t know they’re called Terror Dogs) outside of Tavern on the Green, only for the clientele to resume their conversation as though nothing had happened. But for my money, it’s the brief scene of a man getting into a cab completely oblivious to the fact that the cabbie is a corpse that says the most about the cold, hard, self-absorbed New York of the Reagan era. (A New York, it should be noted, that I've never actually experienced.)
By now, you know that I love New York. What you may not know is that Ghostbusters was hugely influential in the way I see the city. (Yes, even more than Sports Night or that last scene of "Winter Dreams.") Every time I set foot in Columbus Circle, walk up Central Park West, or set foot on the Columbia campus, my first thought is, "They shot part of Ghostbusters here!" I get a thrill when I walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, because I know that Ray and Winston had their talk about "the dead rising from the grave" driving across that same bridge. And when I first saw Hook & Ladder 8 in real life, it was one of the greatest thrills I’ve ever had.
Now, I may not be living in New York any more (I moved to Washington, DC, a few months back...), but the news that Mayor Bloomberg is aiming to close Hook & Ladder 8 as part of his efforts to keep the city’s budget under control still hits me hard.
Now, I know the kind of pull this blog has in New York. My readership extends well into the single-digits, and at least 10% of those readers live in the Five Boroughs. So I’m counting on you guys to keep our cultural history alive. Tell the mayor that you won’t stand for this. Tell your city council member that you hope they won’t, either. The Ghostbusters’ office stays open, end of discussion.
Oh yeah, and I guess you should make an argument for keeping firefighters employed and close to where people live and work. That’d be good, too.