Memory’s a bitch. It’s the ex-girlfriend who shows up at the party in your head just to tell embarrassing stories about you. Often it exaggerates, even completely fabricating things. Other times, when you most need memory’s help, it goes AWOL and you’re left introducing some lady to your wife as “The one who, um, wait a second, it’s coming to me… oh, right, my sister.”
Scientists say that the brain can scrub pain out of our memories. Even if you can remember that some event hurt, you can’t remember how much. That’s why women will give birth more than once, or why people go back to Furr’s Cafeteria. Even people who have suffered horrible lives will recall only the highlights, making it like a video of the 2013 Houston Astros: very, very brief, but all happy. What about masochists, though? If your best moments are also your most painful, do you remember nothing?
Anyway, this explains why old people are always bitching about the good old days, back when they had to walk two miles uphill in the snow to get to the video store to rent porn, or use your arms to get a car window to go up and down. They’ve forgotten all the lousiness of the past. They remember Rebel Without a Cause and Night of the Hunter from 1955 but forget that 95% of the movies were like being force fed hot diarrhea: Beast With a Million Eyes, Bride of the Monster and all the shit Samuel Z. Arkoff cranked out (although, I personally have a soft spot for anything from American International Pictures).
All those fond memories huddle together in our heads and give periods of our lives a mythical glow. I’m sure most of us remember fun, joyful childhoods. It seems like being one year old was great, always playing peekaboo and sucking on titties. But what about all that falling down, not having a fucking clue what people were saying, and urinating on ourselves? The diaper rash and the mushed food, or the way Dad’s stubble scratched and his breath smelled like cigarettes and dogshit? The way Mom came home drunk sometimes and, upon seeing you in the high chair, screamed, “God dammit! He’s still here?”
My point is that it’s hard to be objective about the past because we can’t trust that bitch memory. That’s why it’s hard to fairly review movies from long ago, the ones that are bundled up in warm nostalgia. Like Ghostbusters, which was re-released this weekend to cash on its being thirty years old.
People will go to not only see the movie, but also to fire up the wayback machine in their mind and recall all the good times that surrounded it, and they’ll have a hard time thinking about the movie. Part of what I remember seeing Ghostbusters for the first time is that I got a handjob during it. Okay, so I got it from myself, but I have delicate fingers so I can pretend my hand was a really pretty lady’s.
I also remember that Ray Parker, Jr., who wrote the catchy theme song, later tried to distance himself from it and establish himself as a respected jazz artist. And how my friends and I bought tickets to his concert just so we could scream “Ghostbusters” over and over until he stopped politely saying “I am not playing that tonight,” and started crying.
The only way to be objective about Ghostbusters is to have never seen it. That’s not me. I saw it. I got a handjob when I did. From what felt like a really hot chick’s hand. I can try to forget all that. I can try to pretend I am not flooded with memories that overwhelm the truth that, like so many movies of people’s youths, it’s not as great as we remember.
If I do that, though, I realize that Ghostbusters is still pretty decent. It’s not great; some special effects are weak, it’s slow, one character has absolutely nothing to do, and a lot of scenes seem to be setups for jokes that never come. But the ending is pretty fucking awesome, and Bill Murray and Rick Moranis make a lot from a little.
Three college professors (Harold Ramis, Bill Murray and Dan Ackroyd) lose their cushy college jobs doing paranormal research. They’re forced into the real world with limited skills and open a business to exterminate ghosts. It looks like a flop until there is a sudden uptick in ghost sightings in New York.
These guys have all sorts of high-tech gizmos to help them. To me, it seems like they could have gotten a buttload of grant money to remain in college if they had bothered to tell someone they had invented nuclear ray guns, fancy ectoplasma traps and power-grid containment systems.
The increase in paranormal activity is because of the rebirth of a Sumerian god hellbent on destroying civilization. Mankind’s only hope is the Ghostbusters. The only hitch is a government official who wants them stopped because he’s certain they’re frauds.
The plot could be a shitty Michael Bay movie, and I suspect he or Brett Ratner will remake it someday, probably with Dane Cook in the lead. But in 1984, director Ivan Reitman and his cast took this premise and made an updated Three Stooges or Abbot and Costello movie, but with a less square vibe. Ramis, Ackroyd and Murray alternate between bumbling and being highly effective. Ackroyd’s character is supposed to be the technical genius, but really has little to do except explain the plot’s minutiae. Ramis’s is the same. Given even less to do is Ernie Hudson as a fourth ghostbuster. He comes in halfway through the movie with little explanation. He’s black, so I guess it adds diversity to an otherwise all-white cast, but it’s a shame nobody ever thought to give him a purpose.
Murray is the skeptic and he also gets a love interest. He gets to smartass his way through his scenes because he isn’t tasked with all the exposition. He also turns weak lines into gold and seems to best understand that this thing is a comedy. The other character that works is Rick Moranis as a dweeby accountant whose body is possessed by a demon. Again, the material he’s given lacks good lines, but he embodies the dweeb well and gets some laughs just being a dork in the background.
But the best, and most memorable thing about Ghostbusters is the end. While Bay or Ratner will someday end their remake with a giant battle against a seemingly unbeatable CGI foe, the boys in 1984 had to fight a manifestation of their own soft and warm memories. That is, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, a fluffy white mascot in a sailor cap. He’s 100-feet tall with a stupid grin the size of a Buick. He sounds like Godzilla as he pounds his way through New York, leveling buildings and crushing cars. All the while, he wears his shit-eating grin. He’s the most fun thing about Ghostbusters, and he is the moment when the comic potential is fully realized.
We know Stay-Puft will be destroyed, our heros will survive, and there’ll be a monsoon of marshmallow creme. But in its final moments, Ghostbusters isn’t about suspense, it’s about a good joke being told.
Three Fingers for Ghostbusters. It's still all right, but not as great as remembered. But when we're being honest and peeling away the nostalgia, nothing is. Then again, why ignore our pasts, or at least the good parts. You already know what to think of the movie and so do I.
So I'm going to remember Ghostbusters as the movie where I got the hand job, because believe me when I say it was really good.