Wednesday, February 26, 2014
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.
Posted by Lawrence Toppman at 4:00 PM