February 2 is Groundhog Day, which reminds us at Washington University of the extraordinary alumnus who brought us one of the greatest American films: Harold Ramis.
Groundhog Day (1993) was written and directed by Ramis, who also either wrote, directed, starred in or produced dozens of films over the course of his long career.
“Animal House,” “Ghostbusters,” “Stripes,” “Analyze This,” “Caddyshack” — these are just a few of the hits he created, and he continues to influence filmmakers today.
Ramis returned to his alma mater several times to meet with performing arts students and to give Assembly Series addresses (most recently in 2009). He also served two terms on the Board of Trustees.
Ramis, who died in 2014, freely acknowledged that his first major hit, “Animal House,” was based on his college days here as a member of Zeta Beta Tau.
Here’s an excerpt from his 2009 talk…
“Great comedy is inherently revolutionary. Its essence lies in its ability to subvert order, the status quo, to provoke change. It teaches us to question and by extension, it teaches us to revolt against authority. We may laugh at the comedy’s absurdist tactics, but the lesson is very clear: sometimes it’s necessary to resort to extremes, and employ humor, farce – as a means of overturning something patently unjust or impervious to human reason. The essence of comedy, I’d contend, is contained in overturning absurd, destructive authority…and by revolting against irrationality, it shows us the way toward a more civilized, humane behavior.”
For the 2009 Assembly Series talk, professor of performing arts, Henry Schvey introduced Ramis:
In film after film, as actor, screenwriter, director and producer, tonight’s distinguished alumnus has explored through comic means the ways human beings can be cured of their fixed ideas and irrational obsessions. Whether it’s Animal House, Caddyshack, GhostBusters, or Stripes, the enemy seems to be an authoritarian, often military system that imposes an unreasonable order on people. Since the Dean Wermers of the world are inflexible and can’t be reasoned with, our heroes must undermine and explode their authority, resorting to the kind of chaos and anarchy (TOGA PARTIES!) which are necessary to restore order and remake the world. Ramis’ films’ revolt is as much against an inflexible organization as it is against unyielding individual psyches (as in Groundhog Day and Ice Harvest). Some of our guest’s first practical lessons in revolting against authority were developed right here at WU. It’s possible too that it was here where he began learning to forge that anarchical spirit into works of art. His career includes some of the most popular and influential films of our time. He’s a deep thinker and is a man constantly engaged with ideas.
From the university archives: