Pennsylvania Polka by Frankie Yankovic (press link to play song)
Happy Groundhog Day. As always, Punxsutawney Phil has again prognosticated if we will have an early spring. If he sees his shadow, we get six more weeks of winter.
Even though the official website claims Phil has been the same groundhog all those years, I am not sure I believe them. According to historical markers around Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, German immigrants began observing the day as early as 1886. The tradition arose out of a European custom to predict winter’s length by the weather on the ancient Christian holiday of Candlemas.
I cannot think of Groundhog Day without thinking of the wonderful movie with the same name. One of the most surprising discoveries about Groundhog Day (1993) the movie, courtesy the DVD commentary, is that Bill Murray and Director-Actor Harold Ramis had a big falling out during the movie.
During the making of the film, Murray wanted to make a more serious movie while Ramis wanted the movie to be more of a comedy. That disagreement provided a lot of growing tension during the filming of the movie. They continued not speaking to each other for a long time. The two men eventually met again and worked to heal the old wounds when Ramis was dying from autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis. The director died in 2014.
The separation was sad, not only because the two created good work in this movie, Stripes and Ghostbusters. The division is so contrary to the theme of the excellent Groundhog Day. One of the lessons of the movie is that the best cure for the existential crises and the miseries in your own life is to forget yourself and concentrate on doing good for others. Yet, in creating a wonderful movie with such a beautiful theme, the two strong creative forces involved in the movie lost their friendship.
Maybe it was because of that sharp creative tension that they were able to make such a perfect movie. The film walks an exact line, never straying too far either way toward light-hearted comedy or seriousness.
One of the funniest scenes in the film features Stephen Tobolowsky as Ned Ryerson. Ryerson has discussed how mad Bill Murray was during the scenes where he had to repeatedly step in the deep puddle of water in the cold weather. Here is another interview with Tobolowsky about the movie and the famous scene. It’s a doozy. Bing!
As Groundhog Day nears its conclusion, you understand what Phil Connors meant when he explained in Groundhog Day, “When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn’t imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.”
May the rest of your winter be without animosity and be full of warm hearths and hearts.