With the release this week of Rock the Kasbah, what better time for Standard Issue to present the best of Bill Murray?
“Never in my wildest imagination did I think I would have sons like these.”
OK yes, Rushmore isn’t really Bill Murray’s film. And yes, his character is essentially the same as about a dozen others he’s played: a deadpan, confused, dissatisfied man with a cigarette hanging from his mouth, a seeming lack of concern about what the world thinks of him and the steadfast belief that the solution to his problems might well be in the bottom of a bottle.
But when Herman Blume sits on the sideline of a wrestling match with his new best friend, eccentric teenager Max Fischer (a cracking turn by Jason Schwartzman), watching his meathead children roll around on the floor, it’s clear no one but Murray could play this role. And blimey, does he take the opportunity and run with it – on one wonderful occasion, literally.
Rushmore was the start of a fruitful series of collaborations with Wes Anderson, but it remains my favourite, partly for the sheer Bill Murray-ness of it all, be it him striding across the screen carrying the destroyed bicycle of his young friend or that unselfconscious plunge into the filthy swimming pool at his sons’ birthday party.
And partly, of course, because it has the best play with a screenplay ever – Max Fischer Players’ take on the Vietnam War. If you haven’t, you should watch it – you won’t regret it.
Scrooged might not seem like the obvious choice for ‘favourite Bill Murray’ film and to understand my love for it, you might have to understand that the watching of it, which first occurred by chance over in Chez Offord many moons ago, has long been a Christmas tradition for my big brother and me.
Like It’s a Wonderful Life, it’s a modern adaptation of, as the name suggests, A Christmas Carol. It’s got all the key components of any good A Christmas Carol adaptation: a bastard boss, a nod to the poor and needy, some beef with capitalism. But unlike the latter, it has dancing girls, mice with antlers, and a cameo from an Olympic gymnast who went on to be all Republican and weird (in life, not the film).
It’s got a kid much cuter than that saccharine Angel-wing creature, and has been known to reduce both me and my brother to tears – SOBER. When did the Angel-wing kid invoke any feeling other than nausea?
Best of all, it’s got Bill Murray who is in turn hilarious, slapstick even, dons an incredible mullet but is also (in places) every bit as moving as Lost in Translation. How can it be that he can say so much with his eyes? I know that’s technically acting, but even I’ve undervalued this, admittedly crucial, component of the film until now.
For me, Groundhog Day is the gut-feel winner. It’s one of those beautiful movies which passes the repetition test: if it’s on, I’m watching it, no matter how far in – usually with Ned Ryerson quipping his immortal line “…it’s a doooooozy.”
It’s a near-perfect film with no wasted scenes, which given it’s about a man repeating the same day over and over (and I daresay, co-starring Andie “Is it raining?” MacDowell) is saying something. The film is a blazing showcase of Murray’s comedic delivery, and boasts one of the best feel-good endings ever. (“Let’s live here! We’ll rent to start.”)
Murray nails his deadpan delivery (“too early for flapjacks?”), yet manages to hammer home the film’s message of personal redemption with complete believability. Groundhog Day is about shelving cynicism and learning to become a better person, a message which won’t age – and neither will the movie. “Today is tomorrow.” Wise words, Phil.
Coffee & Cigarettes
Basically Bill Murray is a prisoner in his own face, so it’s no wonder he spends his every waking moment acting rebelliously. If he wasn’t off playing ‘shotgun golf’ with Hunter S Thompson, he’d be trolling his own best friend (“It was funny the first few hundred times”), and that’s just off camera.
This charming black and white film from Jim Jarmusch is a series of caricatured vignettes largely set around a gingham table-clothed diner with all JJ’s usual cohorts in small, invented scenes, each as beautiful as still photographs but as daft as a cartoon.
So we see Iggy Pop and Tom Waits acting like goofballs missing lessons, these seasoned hedonists excited about quitting smoking and grinning about drinking too much coffee. We have immaculate film star Cate Blanchett meeting her angry, unimpressed goth rocker “cousin” who takes her down a peg or two and is also Cate Blanchett – suck on that, Tom Hardy.
There’s Jack and Meg White, Jack, true to style, showing off a “Tesla Coil” he’s supposedly made, with Meg reacting with all the enthusiasm she’s known for. And as with the best bills, the A-listers are at the end, so vignette 10 is Bill Murray playing a waiter, who is actually also Bill Murray, serving two of Wu-Tang Clan, who are drinking caffeine-free herbal tea to avoid bad dreams. RZA and GZA give Bill Murray advice on how to live more cleanly: “Lay off the dairy products, chill on the citric acid. Caffeine is ridiculous right now, man. Give you the SHITS… You can trust us, Bill Murray.”
Our hero drinks straight from the coffee jug and lights a cigarette with an oven lighter, so I am not sure he’s taking this in.
It’s a very sweet film, one you’d ideally like to hang on your wall as much as watch it, and Bill is the biggest rock star of them all.
“Back off, man, I’m a scientist.” Peter Venkman, leader of the Ghostbusters, is Bill Murray’s finest role. A bold statement? Not really. The classic 1984 comedy (and cinematic ode to NYC) about three parapsychologists who start a ghosthunting business remains eminently watchable, quotable and whip-smart 31 years on, with huge props going to Murray’s semi-improvisational performance as Venkman for making the movie a pillar of pop culture.
A chancer and a charlatan, Venkman relies on devilish charm, cynicism and sarcasm to win hearts and defeat the bad guys. OK, he has a little help from the nuclear reactor strapped to his back on the bad guy front, but the pitch-perfect one-liners he fires out are (almost) as powerful. He’s the Murricane after all.
And this is Murray’s film. All hail Peter Venkman: he couldn’t give two shits about science and isn’t really clued up as to how his kit works, but he’s a bona fide New York hero who kicks supernatural arse and tells it like it is: “Yes it’s true… This man has no dick.”
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