Another Groundhog Day has come and gone but this past one was special and not just because the little bastard finally gave us some good news for once. It also marked the 20th anniversary of one of the greatest movies of all time (released today in 1993), based on a holiday that celebrates a fat, hairy rodent. No, not Chris Elliott.
Groundhog Day seemed to first enter the public’s consciousness as just another comedy vehicle for Bill Murray to simply be Bill Murray but it took root in film history as a great comedy and deeply spiritual vehicle for self-discovery and the blessing of existence. It’s also goddamn hilarious and nothing is healthier for the soul than that.
1. It only took the screenwriter a couple of days to write it
Screenwriter Danny Rubin took a great deal of time to brainstorm and prepare the groundwork for his groundbreaking comedy but the writing itself only took a relatively short amount of time.
Rubin said in an interview with the website BigThink that he began brainstorming an idea for a movie about someone who lived forever and how such a bizarre power could change them. Once he brainstormed the basics of the movie and “figured out what the rules were,” it only took him “three or four days” to actually write it. I’m secretly hoping that’s because some bizarre rift in the space-time continuum allowed him to repeat a couple of those days.
2. An earlier draft explained why the days are repeating for Phil Conners
Sci-fi-esque comedies that try to explain why a certain weird thing is happening to the protagonist tend to spoil the entire experience. It’s like learning how the sausage is made except it doesn’t make you hungry for sausage.
According to actor Stephen Tobolowsky, who played the annoying Ned in Groundhog Day and now hosts the public radio show The Tobolowsky Files, Phil Conners insults a woman at the TV studio where he works at the beginning of the movie and she uses her voodoo powers to curse him with the bizarre time warp for the rest of the film. Rubin explained that he and Ramis wanted the reason to be ambiguous because it would change the focus of the film from escaping the time warp rather than using it to change him for the better.
3. Bill Murray was notoriously difficult on the set
The greatness of Murray may have made him one of the most sought after actors of his day but he can also be difficult to work with. Murray had many good moments on the set with the cast and crew (he once bought a buttload of danishes and donuts for the crowd of locals watching the first day of filming) but his stubbornness also reached similar highs. He became very difficult to reach for shoots in between takes and when someone suggested he hired a personal assistant who could make things easier for him, Murray came up with a genius “F#*$ you” to everyone working for him by hiring someone who was deaf and could only speak through sign language. No one on the set could speak to him–well, they could if they only used a certain finger.
4. They constantly had to film every scene over and over to deal with the weather
It sounds like a simple idea for a movie but it was actually quite a technical challenge. Since Phil experiences the same day over and over again, that means the weather had to cooperate with the filming during a tumultuous winter season. According to Tobolowsky, they had to shoot almost all of the movie’s scenes in different types of weather to deal with the changes since even a legendary movie star like Bill Murray can’t reason with God (he probably tried to more than once after starring in Garfield: The Movie.)
5. The ice hole he kept stepping into has been immortalized
The town of Woodstock, Illinois served as the setting for the legendary Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania during principal filming. It’s iconic town square became a pilgrimage for movie buffs looking to stand on the same spot as their favorite celebrities in movies. The spot where Phil Conners repeatedly stepped in a cold, ice puddle isn’t hard to find. The town installed a plaque on the spot because it’s better for tourism than putting a plaque on the spot where Murray hired a personal assistant nobody could communicate with.
6. The diner from the movie is now a Starbucks
Sadly, not all of the movie’s familiar places have been preserved. The diner where Phil Conners spent a good deal of time stuffing his face with the entire dessert menu and feeding a homeless man who he knows will die was acquired by Starbucks. I suspect the movie would have ended much differently if Phil had to go to a Starbucks every day. For instance, the part when he kills himself would have started a lot sooner.
7. The movie completely changed after the director cut one of the most expensive scenes
Even though the two had a long working relationship, Murray and Ramis had a fundamental disagreement over what they thought the movie should be during filming. Murray thought it should have a deeper philosophical tone while Ramis wanted to focus more on the comedy and as it turned out, the best move was a happy medium between the two. Tobolowsky said in an interview that one of the original scenes involved Phil proving to himself that he’s stuck in a time loop. Rather than just breaking a pencil like he does in the film, he actually trashes his hotel room by spraypainting the walls with graffiti and cutting the room in half with a chainsaw. The crew had to make two identical rooms to make it appear that the room was back to normal the next morning. Ramis cut the scene and it instantly changed the movie’s tone and focus, despite the fact that it cost millions to build and film.
8. Harold Ramis and Bill Murray haven’t talked since they worked together on ‘Groundhog Day’
Ramis and Murray have a long history of working together on some of the greatest comedies known to modern man like Stripes, Caddyshack and Ghostbusters. Unfortunately, it seems they’ll never be able to top or even match them because they haven’t seen much of each other since then. Apparently, the disagreement between Murray and Ramis was pretty heated because, according to Ramis, the two haven’t spoken to each other since they finished working on Groundhog Day over their disagreements about the nature of the film. Something tells me Murray and Ramis could benefit from living together through the same day over and over again. God, get on that. I really want another Ghostbusters. Also, cure cancer already.
9. It has become one of the most religiously significant films of all time
If you asked the average person on the street what they thought is the most religiously significant film of all time, they might respond with some kind of movie about Jesus, Moses or Buddha (Guess which one was the lead character in How to Kick a Man’s Ass Into His Head). Groundhog Day has joined that list of culturally significant films. Rubin said he received several letters from religious leads of all kinds praising the film, believing that he had their faith in mind when he wrote it.
10. Stephen Sondheim refused to do a musical version of it
Fans have been worrying for years that Groundhog Day would get stuffed into Broadway’s sausage grinder for a musical treatment (damn, I’m hungry for sausage again for some reason). Musical giant Stephen Sondheim actually was approached with a pitch to turn the movie into a stage show but he refused to do it because “It cannot be improved; it’s perfect the way it is.”
Danny Gallagher is a freelance writer, blogger, humorist and reporter as well as a freelance writer, blogger, humorist and reporter. He can be found on the web at www.dannygallagher.net and on Twitter @thisisdannyg.
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