The Enduring Laughs—and Life—of Harold Ramis | Chaz’s Journal

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Roger enjoyed other directorial efforts by Ramis including 1995’s “Stuart Saves His Family,” a vehicle for Al Franken’s titular “Saturday Night Live” character, which the critic hailed as “a genuine surprise: A movie as funny as the ‘SNL’ stuff, and yet with convincing characters, a compelling story and a sunny, sweet sincerity shining down on the humor.” Roger also favored Ramis’ 1999 mob comedy, “Analyze This,” which teamed Robert De Niro with Billy Crystal. He wrote that Ramis “is presented with all sorts of temptations, I suppose, to overplay the De Niro character and turn the movie into an ‘Airplane!”-type satire of gangster movies. I think he finds the right path–allowing satire, referring to De Niro’s screen past, and yet keeping the focus on the strange friendship between two men who speak entirely different languages.” Of Ramis’ somewhat more straight-faced 2005 crime film, “The Ice Harvest,” Roger wrote, “it finds a balance between the goofy and the gruesome, as in a rather brilliant scene in which a mobster who is locked inside a trunk is nevertheless optimistic enough to shout out muffled death threats.”

When Ramis passed away on February 24th, 2014, from autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, our frequent contributor Peter Sobczynski penned a heartfelt tribute, writing, “What made the news of Ramis’ death such a gut-punch, at least from my own personal perspective, was that it meant the loss of not just a great filmmaker but a great Chicagoan as well. After spending time in Hollywood, he moved back to the city with his family. He was a familiar and friendly face on the local entertainment scene who always seemed willing to lend a hand when needed. Over the years, I had the privilege of talking to him several times. He was never anything less than warm, gracious, self-effacing, intelligent, and seemingly without a bone to pick with anyone.”

The following year, I invited the late director’s widow, Erica Mann Ramis, and “Groundhog Day” producer Trevor Albert to Ebertfest for a special Q&A and screening of clips that honored the comedy icon’s life and career. In my open letter penned to Roger, who passed away in 2013, I wrote, “Displayed at Harold’s funeral was a violin that he had made by hand and taught himself to play. It was on a table. But Harold had to first teach himself to build the table in order to have a surface on which to construct the violin. That’s the kind of man Harold was. […] One of the last conversations you and Harold had was about the transcendent nature of Charlie Kaufman’s movie ‘Synecdoche, New York.’ You both saw a higher meaning in every frame.”