Groundhog Day: A Classic

Not the holiday, the movie!  To quote a line from the movie, the actual Groundhog Day is “A thousand people, freezing their butts off waiting to worship a rat.”

The 1993 movie on the other hand is a masterpiece of romance, comedy and philosophy with the emphasis on philosophy.

I have no idea how to organize a description of this classic movie so I am going into stream of consciousness mode. (This technique was first employed by Édouard Dujardin (1861-1949) in his novel Les Lauriers sont coupés(1888) and was subsequently used by such notable writers as James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and William Faulkner.  So stream of consciousness is a valid literary technique. I am sure most regular readers are trying to figure out when I use any other technique. But I digress.)

To me, Bill Murray is Cary Grant without the devastatingly good looks. Both have brought broad and dry comedy as well as dramatic acting to their work.  Murray has the relative disadvantage as a leading man in that he does not look like Cary Grant. Therefore he needs to work harder to make it believable when he  wins over the beautiful woman as he does with Andie MacDowell’s character.  He has to transform that man-child cuteness into a beautiful soul. Harold Ramis, the c0-writer-director, provides the dramatic technique of repeating  the same day over until the transformation occurs.

Is there humor? Mais oui. It is a Bill Murray vehicle. The humor though is generally dry and does not overwhelm the movie. This is not a joke-off. For me this is the type of humor Murray does better than almost anyone. It manifests from his vocal tone and  facial expressions.

But it is the philosophy combined with the humor that makes me love this movie. How would you react if you were doomed to repeat the same day over and over and over again never knowing if there is an end? What would you do if you had one day to do anything you wanted to do? Would you use the time to become a better you?

Ramis and Murray take us on a magic ride of emotions. First, disbelief. Next annoyance. Then the  first major breakthrough. Phil, Murray’s character, realizes the sense of freedom that comes with knowing there are no consequences to what you do today. This leads to wild risk taking. However after several days even the thrill of car chases and death defying stunts becomes ordinary.

Phil moves on to excess for the sake of excess. There is a great scene where he has platefuls of food in front of him and he stuffs pastries in his mouth between puffs on a cigarette. Worried about cholesterol? Of course not.

Next comes days of anger, in which a montage of alarm clock destruction occurs. Then comes the second breakthrough. While the rest of the world resets, he remembers what he has learned. Knowing that he can use information learned on the last repeated day to your advantage in the next one first leads to the equivalent of parlor tricks by an amoral man. He picks up an attractive woman, he allows someone to step into a deep puddle he had been stepping in, and then finally tries over days to win over Rita, Andie MacDowell’s character.

Phil sincerely wants Rita but he is still an amoral jerk above all else. Each day uses something he learns about Rita to make it further with her but ultimately his lack of true sincerity means that every day ends with a slap in the face. Slap after slap after slap.

Next comes the suicides. electrocution, jumping off a building, being hit by a truck and the piece de resistance. He steals Punxsutawney Phil, the official groundhog and after a long car chase does a Thelma and Louise off a cliff–and gets a laugh.

The final breakthrough is when Phil finally pays attention to an old beggar man that he had passed every day. After an act of charity, his first, the man dies. For several repeat days Phil tries harder to avoid the death but to no avail. This seems to set him off on a quest of self improvement and helping others that leads to the final Groundhog day. I will not attempt to describe all that happens that day other than to tip my hat to Ramis and Murray. This day needs to be seen. I guarantee many smiles. At the end of the day Phil’s transformation is complete.

Beyond the philosophy and humor, Ramis brings several cinematic structures to the film that demonstrate advanced movie making. There is the quick cut repetition from day to day that strings together days into a single scene. There is the filming of the digital alarm clock as the numbers turn from 5:59 to 6:00 am signalling to Phil and to us the rebeginning of another Groundhog Day.  He also makes each day seem the same and yet just a little different. You begin to feel Phil’s personal hell.

Andie Macdowell is attractive as always and her minimalistic acting style is the perfect counter to Murray. My favorite Andie MacDowell moments are when she begins to smile, pulls it back and then smiles again.  

Clearly in 1993 Bill Murray is somewhere as an actor between Meatballs/Stripes/Caddy Shack and Lost in Translation. This is some of his best work as an actor and comedian.

It is a movie that you can enjoy watching over and over and over again.

4 Stars.

Profile Of A Courageous Life

We label people. Typically one to three adjectives at best and done. No more that we need to know  about what makes that person a whole human being. They are defined.

To a large degree this is necessary. So many people, so little time to discover and limited storage space. Unlike computers we cannot just add another memory card. So we make shortcuts. Labels.

 It becomes rare that we have an opportunity to discover how right or wrong our labels are. If  lucky, the opportunity arises to find out that the person was so much more than our label. That happened to me this week. It was at his funeral.

As some of you know I am still in mourning  over my Mom. I do not do very well with death but I have such huge sympathies for those left behind that I make it a point  to pay my respects . So I went with my wife and sister-in-law to the ceremony for their cousin.

Mark had just turned 60 this past October so he left at a relatively young age though that was not part of the label I had developed for him. When we first met about 15 years ago he was a slightly built, very quiet guy with a weak handshake. (the labeling begins early). He seemed to be what we in the Jewish community would call nebbishy. (The first word of his label). I do not remember having a conversation with Mark beyond hello, how are you. I know that I did not try very hard.

Mark came with a wife (a school teacher who was pleasant enough but not overtly warm) and two preadolescence kids, one of each. I do not have a memory of what Mark did for a living though he may have  worked in a family business.  Did not know, did not care.

Not many years after our first meeting the label added too new words–sick and poor. Now it was poor, sick, nebbishy Mark. All that I needed to know.

The sick was a double whammy of Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases. Nothing like a couple of degenerative diseases that impact movement and to cause your brain to break down. As with all serious, long-term diseases  these take a toll on the family as well as the patient. Oh, to top things off, the daughter had a couple of serious medical conditions as well.

The different reactions to crushing life circumstances range from anguish/self-pity/melancholy leading to giving up to anguish/resolve/courage leading to getting and giving the most from what you have. (Anguish has to be there–what you feel and do next  are the differentiators.)  I never really knew which direction Mark , his wife and kids had taken.

My wife was not close to these cousins and so I would see them only every few years at family gatherings as the kids grew up and his conditioned worsened. I suspect that if I had paid attention I would have noticed that there was not a drop of self-pity in the room with them. 

They got by on a teacher’s salary since for a long time Mark was either underemployed and then unemployed due to his conditions. So the “poor, sick” parts of the label continued. The nebbishy faded into the background a bit– at least it was never voiced again out loud– in respect of the devastating impact of the diseases.

I was at the funeral to be respectful. By the end I was amazed and moved. Mark was eulogogied by the rabbi, his son, his daughter and his wife in that order.  My label did not do justice to this man.

Risk taker. My best friend. A caring and involved parent. Lover of the arts. Sports enthusiast. Lived life to the fullest. Did what he had to do. Always found ways to get the most out of life despite the illnesses.  Lover of current events. Transformed me. Made me what I am today. Was always there when I needed him. Worth any sacrifice I made for him.

Story after story. Laughter and tears. Much love.

He left behind two fine, young adults who will do honor to him and bring good to the world. 

No, my labels may have been accurate (or not) but at a minimum they were woefully incomplete. Too bad I found out after his life was over.

Don’t wait. Found out more now. You are likely to be amazingly surprised.

Missed It By That Much

The voice in my head Wednesday night night was that of Don Adams as Max Smart delivering one of his famous lines.

The Plan. Monday through Wednesday 6 planes, 4 meetings, 4 cities.

Made 5 of 6. Missed it by that much.

Monday. Up early to head to O’Hare. A call and then a flight to NY. Work all day, client dinner. 

Tuesday. Awake at 5:30 est  for6:30 client breakfast. 7 AM start on a  2 hour meeting with a short window to get to Newark for a flight to Orlando. Meeting goes long. Panic. Make the flight. Long plane ride, get to meeting. 2+hour meeting. Go to hotel by airport. Answer emails. Dinner in room. Try unsuccessfully to get boarding passes. Sleep.

Wednesday. Up at 4:30 est. Dress, get boarding passes, security. The plan is 4 planes, 2 meetings and return home at midnight. Second to last plane was delayed due to weather in last city before home. Arrival gate is last gate at E terminal, the last plane is at furthest gate at B terminal. Two most distant points in airport. Run, fast walk. Sweat, a lot. Plane left 8 minutes ago. Missed it by that much.

Hour on phone  with travel agent. Flight next morning confirmed head to fleabag airport hotel (name brand). First room has electrical problem. In second room at 11:30.

Thursday. Up at 5:30 est. Why all this reference to est? Because I live in cst which makes 5:30 am 4:30 am by the time I get home.  I get home.

Sleep for an hour. Get up and work. Would have loved to have made this a 3 day instead of a 4 day trip. But from a work perspective if I had to miss 1 plane this was the one to miss…by that much.

Be Careful What You Ask For

Be sure that if you are asking/praying/hoping for something, ask/pray/hope for all you need.

Monday through Wednesday I am on 6 planes through three cities not including one layover city that I pass through twice.  A key part of this trip is getting from an early morning meeting in NY to an 11 am plane at Newark in order to get to Orlando for an afternoon meeting. On to Kingsport, TN the next morning. There is only the one flight that leaves NY late enough and gets to Orlando soon enough. If my NY meeting ends on time I have 45-60 minutes to make the airport. Google Maps estimated 45 minutes but said with traffic it could be an hour and 10. Miss this flight and my entire itinerary gets shot to hell, I would not get to Orlando, I am at the wrong NY airport to get to TN and my tickets to TN all assume that I am in Orlando.

So of course the meeting runs late by 20 minutes. I run to a waiting car. The traffic in Manhatten is stop and go. I start to ask/pray/hope. The whole focus of my request to the powers that be is to get to the airport on time.

Surprising, I make it. That is when I realize the needed to ask for more. I did not ask that the plane leave on time or that I get something other than a middle seat for this 2.5 hour flight. So I got neither.

From now on I am asking/praying/hoping BIG. I want it all.

Pleasant Surprise

Monday in NY. Big meeting Tuesday morning. First of 4 big meetings over two days in three cities.

Originally for Monday night dinnerI expected to have a small, fun gathering of two of my favorite client folks and one of my young consultants. We typically laugh alot when we are together.  At the last minute we all were invited to join the entire board of directors for dinner. I thought this would be dull. Wrong.

Depressing…at first.  Several of the directors, who would know, talked about how long and deep the economy would be in recession. But then over normal dinner conversation all sorts of interesting banter ensued. It turned out to be a small jewel of an evening. Glad I was there.

Technology Workaround

My wife has been home with the flu and it has taken her voice. She had something important for me to know while I was at work so she sends an email. No big deal. Then I get a text asking why I did not reply to her email. Text back, “because it did not show up.

She does it again. Another text. Same reply. She tries my GMail account. still nothing. By now she is not just sick but fuming. I send an email to her hoping that she can just reply to it. Nope.

She is not in the mood and I do not have the time to walk her through various potential fixes. I call. Does the Internet connection work. Yes, she says in that small flu-voice.

OK. Here is what we will do. Go to 48facets and put the email in the form of a comment. Works. Respond. Rerespond. Communication happens. Problem solved.

Later on I am home and I get a text. Not a usual occurrence. It is my wife. She is upstairs. I think in the prehistoric times of my youth we used to use a bell. I kinda like old technology.


Flat On My Back

… is not how I had planned to spend this Sunday. But After doing some mild stretching for the first time in weeks, I was just getting dressed and as I reached for something i felt and heard the “Snap”.

I have had back problems on and off for 20 years. At least 20 years ago I worked for my herniated disk. I had played 90 minutes of squash and had shown up at the gym too late to warm up. I laid down after I got home and when I woke up I could not move. It took three months of physical therapy to get over that one.

I know I should stretch every day or at least every week. Somehow the weeks got away from me. I have no idea how I will survive at work. It hurts to sit, stand or walk. On my back with my knees up is the only position without pain. Even a day on a heating pad did not help.

I am so screwed. And it hurts…in case I forgot to mention that.