Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Harold Ramis...genius?


In the 36 hours since I heard about Harold Ramis' death, I have seen five articles that referred to him directly or obliquely as a comic genius.

Really? A genius? He co-wrote four extremely entertaining comedies over a 34-year career: "Animal House," "Ghostbusters," "Caddyshack" and "Groundhog Day." (He also directed the latter two.) A bunch of his second-tier projects -- "Stripes," Meatballs," "Analyze This" -- are easy to watch.

He diluted a lot of good memories by turning hits into bad TV spinoffs ("Delta House"), unnecessary sequels ("Analyze That") or feeble copies. (There are nearly a dozen "Ghostbusters" movies, TV shows and video games.) He hadn't made a decent feature in 15 years when he died Monday.

That's not to knock the stuff he did well, and I think he didn't get enough credit in obituaries for contributing skits and episodes in the 1970s to "SCTV," which was laugh-out-loud funny much of the time. But why can't writers be content with calling him "an influential filmmaker" or "a witty director" or even "a guy who knew what makes America laugh"?

There haven't been many true geniuses in the 100 years that people have made feature-length films. When we apply that word, we cheapen it for the people who really are geniuses, and we don't do Ramis a service: It's pretentious to apply it, even posthumously.

Ramis once modestly said "I'm at my best when I'm working with really talented people, and I'm there to gently suggest or guide or inspire or contribute whatever I can to their effort." He frequently did that, and his movies remain appealing because he did. But I'm pretty sure he never thought he was a genius -- or would want to be called one.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't classify "Stripes" as second-tier. When you add in directing Vacation, Harold's top 6 movies are about as good as it can get.

Anonymous said...

Name anything that comes close to Animal House. It was a groundbreaking comedy.
If Ramis wasn't a comic genius who was? I've never read anything very funny from Einstein,Newton or DaVinci. So I think he has those guys beat.

Lawrence Toppman said...

I don't like to comment on my own blogs, but my point was that media hype oversells people to the extent that words become meaningless. I considered Ramis influential, funny and a guy with a finger on America's comic pulse -- simply not a genius, a word I don't think he would have wanted to apply to himself.