Groundhog Day was one of the greatest scripts ever written. It didn’t even get nominated for an Academy Award.” — Bill Murray

Yup. (It’s Murray’s birthday today.)

I have often said that it’s interesting to consider what films made today might be considered classics to future generations. Something like Casablanca was not a “prestige picture”, it was not filmed with a ponderous eye towards posterity. It’s a couple steps above a potboiler. But LOOK at what has HAPPENED with that movie. I guarantee that the films that will last from our day and age won’t be the expected, won’t be the ones carefully tailored to address How We Live Now … because How We Live Now will date by next week. The ones that last have something to say about How We Live Always. And for me, top of the list of contemporary-and-future classics, is Groundhog Day. Groundhog Day is the It’s a Wonderful Life of the late 20th century, and it will last long after we are all dust.

I “fell in love” with Bill Murray at age 13, 14, 15, when I was old enough to stay up late to see him on Saturday Night Live. I wasn’t watching SNL in grade school. How DID he come on my radar when I was so young? He seemed more childlike maybe than the other actors, definitely more childlike than Chevy Chase (whom I also harbored a crush on), but he also had a wink-at-the-camera sincere-un-sincerity which was ironic-adult-in-nature but I – a kid – got it. There was something attractive about a grownup man lampooning HIMSELF in some way even I could perceive. It was Murray’s nerdy “Todd” who really got to me, got under my skin as a kid, perhaps because Todd was an awkward high school kid, and I was also in high school. Huge crush.

I wrote about all this and more some years back in a guest-post for Jeremy Richey’s great site Moon in the Gutter: Bill Murray’s performance in Lost in Translation, and how the karaoke scene (in particular) summed up his career – but also transformed it into something else. One of my points was that Sofia Coppola saw what I (and many others) saw: Murray was not just a character actor, he was a plausible leading man.

Side note: As I am sure is well-known, Bill Murray headed to Memphis to attend Elvis Presley’s funeral in August, 1977. He just started on Saturday Night Live at the time. He wasn’t that famous yet. Murray was not friends with Elvis, and was not particularly a fan (although he did like him, and used him as inspiration in a lot of his work.) But he felt the enormity of the event, and wanted to be there to pay his respects, and bear witness to the exit of this enormous force of the 20th century. So off he went.

This, to me, is classic Bill Murray.

Here’s a picture of Murray at the funeral. It’s almost too good to be true.


Bill Murray told the story of attending Elvis’ funeral and grave-side ceremony on The David Letterman Show. There’s only audio, but it’s well worth checking out.

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10 Responses to Groundhog Day was one of the greatest scripts ever written. It didn’t even get nominated for an Academy Award.” — Bill Murray

  1. Bob Herz says:

    Wonderful. Really good piece. You captured how he could be be both in and beyond the character we know, not an easy thing. (I like the characterization of your piece as poetic — it is!) But there was something else here: The affectlessness of Murray’s character was new in that film, and it was something I hadn’t seen before. The Murray character I am used to is always invested in the moment, one way or the other: taking charge, driving it, repelling it, laughing at it: something. He’s different here, yet I didn’t feel at sea, or lost about him, but rather that this is another part of that character I know.

    • sheila says:

      Thanks, Bob!

      // in and beyond the character we know //

      That’s a REALLY beautiful way to put it.

      // The affectlessness of Murray’s character was new in that film //

      YES. And in the context of that film, that “affectlessness” becomes romantic – as opposed to distancing or sour. The distance and sour-ness is still there – but there’s an openness too that provides the possibility of deep deep feeling – which of course is what happens.

      It’s very very true work, and you never feel him “working” (which is also always true in his roles, comedic or otherwise.)

      I just get so excited when he’s in anything!

  2. Bob Herz says:

    I like that: we never feel him working. Hadn’t thought about it that way before, but is is true, isn’t it, of some stars, but not all. John Wayne, absolutely true of him. Ronald Coleman, a wonderful actor, not so much. Interesting category, new for me. Want to think about this more.

    • sheila says:

      // Ronald Coleman, a wonderful actor, not so much. //

      Excellent observation – Coleman is wonderful, you are so right – but it’s a different style of acting, with echoes of the late 19th century focus on gesture and vocal intonation. He was a MASTER at it.

      Totally different thing from Wayne or Murray or those “persona” actors – as I call them – who have such a strong inherent personality that THAT is what they bring to the screen. They can play with it, modulate it, bring other aspects forward – Wayne could highlight his bitterness/anger, or he could highlight his humor/softness. Whatever the part required.

      It’s fascinating – those who are good at it are few and far between!

  3. Stephen Whitehouse says:

    Sheila, if you have not seen it, I wanted to recommend the recent interview of Bill Murray by Christina Radish in Collider. He affirms so many things you say and appreciate about acting and references John Wayne, among others. One wonderful quote “You know, it’s harder than you think to be yourself. Why don’t you try it sometime?”

  4. Murray always seems slightly bemused by whatever absurdity is happening around him at any given moment. At least that’s how I tend to see him. And that tends to be a part of every character he inhabits, no matter what project he’s doing. (And I don’t mean that in a “He always plays the same character” sense, like the jape often aimed at John Wayne.)

    Interesting and evergreen observation, too, about the movies (and art in general) that does manage to pass the “test of time”: we don’t always know what’s being made as entertainment that will endure as art, do we? That’s one thing I’ve learned loud and clear from all my time in the world of classical music and in literature…but it’s movies, too. I just read an article the other day about MY COUSIN VINNY, a movie that was clearly intended as a legal comedy and nothing more than that…but now it’s a classic for many reasons, one of my favorite being that lawyers have embraced that movie for decades because it turns out to be one of the most accurate depictions of the mechanisms of trial law!

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