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January 1, 2012

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How Ghostbusters Shaped My View of Cinema

by RISHI AGRAWAL

I strongly feel that tastes, though they are refined later in life, are formulated in childhood. I think my love of postmodern and self-referential literature was sparked by the fact that my favorite book as a child was Sesame Street’s The Monster at the End of this Book, where lovable furry Grover warned the reader not to turn the page due to the book’s proclamation that there was a monster at the end of the book. The monster did, in fact, turn out to be Grover himself, but I still read the book multiple times, despite the fact that I knew the ending.

If I had to pick my favorite movie as a child, I would probably go with Ghostbusters (1984). I was a little young for the Star Wars phenomenon and even as a kid, I thought E.T.: The Extraterrestrial was sappy and manipulative. I love movies that show me something that I had never seen before, and although I am sure there are predecessors, Ghostbusters was one of the first times I recall something that effortlessly melded horror and comedy (discounting Scooby-Doo).

Although I think that most people consider Ghostbusters to be purely a comedy, there are definitely some terrifying moments in the film. In an early scene, Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) has a paranormal experience in her kitchen, watching eggs crack and fry while they are sitting in the carton on the counter. She then discovers an extra-dimensional gateway in her refrigerator, which sounds humorous, but the scene is played completely straight without a hint of comedy. In the opening scene, a New York Public Library worker is confronted by floating books and an exploding card catalog. The film is not as scary as I remember from when I was ten years old, but the scenes definitely take their cue from horror movies.

In fact, the first moments of comedy we see is when Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) is performing an experiment testing for ESP with two university students. He administers an electric shock to the male student every time he gives an answer while Dr. Venkman flirts with the female student. This is another element that is consistent in a lot of the movies I enjoy: complicated characters. Dr. Venkman is one of those characters that is definitely meant to be a hero, but with a questionable sense of morality. Though I will admit that none of the other characters exhibit Dr. Venkman’s complexity, he is the most magnetic character (discounting Sigourney Weaver’s physical charms).

And this becomes one of the most important aspects of the film: the juxtapositions and contradictions. As I mentioned, the film effortlessly blends horror, comedy and action into one cohesive narrative. But beyond that, we have high-tech pseudo-scientific equipment that is created out of junk (e.g., a brain scanner that is obviously made from a colander). Furthermore, the image of the cartoonish form of a giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man wreaking havoc on the populace is almost surrealistic. Although Ghostbusters is an extremely plot-driven film that is governed by its own internal logic, I appreciate the strangeness for its own sake.

Although there are a lot of things about Ghostbusters that seem dated to today’s audiences, it is still a film I love. I wouldn’t call it my favorite film, but it had an incredible influence on what I loved about movies and it’s a film that I would happily watch any day. It all boils down to one mantra: Show me something new. What’s new to a ten-year old in 1984 is dramatically different than what’s new to me today as an adult, but it’s still my standard by which I judge all films.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jan 4 2012

    I knew your predilection for newness, but it’s interesting to learn it goes back so far. I gave the general question some thought and have to admit my taste for movies that have a lot going on (drama, comedy, romance, action, music- you name it) also stretches back to childhood.

    More immediately, you’ve made me want to watch “Ghostbusters” again.

  2. Jan 4 2012

    ‘Tis a great classic after all. :O)

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