I have a dirty habit. Although I love movies, I keep them waiting. They may lie for months, even years, in my hard drive, but I always find something to distract me away from them. There were two movies I’ve always wanted to watch for a long time, but I kept postponing it.
And then Philip Seymour Hoffman passed away. One of the best actors of this generation. The wise man of Almost Famous, the controller of The Master, the gamesman of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the Mattress Man of Punch-Drunk Love, and he was gone. A few weeks later, Harold Ramis passed away. No more crossing the streams. And I realised I’d hardly watched any of his other films.
Two nights ago, I decided to set everything aside and pay them a visit.
I first watched Groundhog Day. I knew the concept of the film; I’d also seen it play out in front of me in Source Code. And it’s difficult to keep it interesting in such a way that you never tire of it. And might I say Bill Murray sells the charm – whether it be his genuine assholic self or his latter sweetness, but what gorgeous writing that film is. Ramis’ direction isn’t showy, and his writing is simple. And the comedy is great. I read recently that you can judge the greatness of a film by how much it spawned imitators. Groundhog Day would be right up there and one reason why it is because of Harold Ramis.
I couldn’t talk about Ramis and not write a little about Ghostbusters. I saw both the movies back-to-back when I was 8 or 9. And I don’t think I got much of the humour then. But the person I recalled most after that (besides the Gatekeeper and Keymaster) was Ramis’ Egon Spengler. Always tweaking and working while everyone around him were busy wisecracking away, his oddity stood out. As the writer of the film too, he may have given the best lines to Murray’s Venkman, but you knew that the one Venkman would be paying attention to, and you would have to as well, was Spengler. When he warned against crossing the streams, you made sure you never did. And when he did tell you to do it, you’d wonder why but still go along with it. Spengler’s fearlessness in the face of death is probably how I think Ramis must have been right in the end of his own life too.
From her introduction as the strict Mother Superior, Meryl Streep dominates most of Doubt. It’s a strong performance and it’s difficult for anyone to match up to it. Thankfully then, for Philip Seymour Hoffman. Playing the priest going up against her, he brings everything to the table. He’s a character who may or may not have done something wrong, and it’s easy to play the role with a poker face.
Hoffman has a hypnotic voice. His delivery of soliloquys was unmatched. When he delivers the homily about gossip in the film, you can’t take your eyes off him, you can’t take your ears away from what he says. He holds you in a trance, and when he talks about feathers over Roger Deakins’ shot of feathers blowing in the wind, you can’t help but be awed and even overwhelmed.
Greater even, is the final confrontation between Hoffman and Streep. An unstoppable force meets an immovable object. And yet, when Hoffman has to rein himself in, he does it expertly. His final scene as he says goodbye to his parishioners is even more heartbreaking. Throughout the movie, we’re sold the idea that he’s guilty, and with these two scenes, Hoffman brings us on his side. Is he innocent? We don’t know. But man, does he sell it!
Two great people, lost in a month. Rest in peace, Harold Ramis and Philip Seymour Hoffman. You’ll always be remembered and your films, always cherished.
Written by Runcil Rebello.