I like Bill Murray
If you miss the last train in Osaka then you may as well hole up in a karaoke booth and sing out the night waiting for the first train in the morning. You may as well order chu-hai on the intercom and lounge around on the leopard skin print vinyl bench seats flicking though the phone books of songs while your friends wail the tunes of their youth. Every all night run in Osaka seemed to start in beautiful restaurants, and spiral into one room bars, before ending in a karaoke booth where someone is mumbling Sinatra at 4am while the neon lights outside on the streets are fading into the hard unflattering, makeup-less light of dawn. Which is why I love those scenes in Lost in Translation that drift from some club, to some person’s house, to a karaoke booth ending in “nothing… more than this”, and probably there isn’t; much more than that – the cracked, out of tune voice wavering over a 4am song. My numbers were sometimes reasonable versions of London Calling, or There’s a Light That Never Goes Out. Sometimes unreasonable. A peach chu-hai too far.
Take me out tonight
Take me anywhere, I don’t care
And in the darkened underpass I thought “Oh God, my chance has come at last”
(But then a strange fear gripped me and I just couldn’t ask)
The Regent Theatre in Manners
Mall Street had gold fittings and red velvet curtains. I wound up having semi-defining pop culture moments at the Regent. I saw The Doors there and sat on the steps afterwards knocked out by the vision of a poet rock god and decided that a poet rock god was what I wanted to be, and it was in the foyer of the Regent that a girl called Emma told me that Kurt Cobain had died. Less defining, but more enjoyably, I also saw Groundhog Day with M there. I hadn’t wanted to go because I thought that Bill Murray was Chevy Chase and I didn’t like Chevy Chase because… well, if I have to tell you why then we are on different pages so I won’t bother. Anyway, Groundhog Day was good. I actually couldn’t believe how good it was and kept waiting right to the end for them to stuff it up, but they didn’t. It made me wonder why I had thought that I didn’t like Bill Murray, but then I didn’t see anything with him in it again until Ed Wood, and by then he had become 100 times better.
The Royal Tenenbaums is a minor role for Bill Murray, but it has one of my favourite Bill Murray scenes in it. Bill, realising that the love of his life doesn’t really love him anymore, says – sitting at a table with a very nice tea service and a plate of biscuits – “Well, I wanna die” and then brings a biscuit to his mouth, and then hesitates, realising, perhaps, that he doesn’t want a biscuit or, maybe, that someone who has just declared a desire to die probably shouldn’t immediately have a biscuit. It is that exact gesture and expression that explains why I like Bill. It is the pained existentialism undercut by wanting a nice biscuit. Which is exactly the same thing with the same director in The Life Aquatic when his character feels humiliated by young men laughing at his too young earring and, dejectedly sitting on the street afterwards, he throws it away but – we can tell – almost immediately wants it back.
The reason I didn’t want to go and see Groundhog Day was because of Ghostbusters. This doesn’t make any sense because I had loved Ghostbusters at the time it came out. I had loved Bill, and the logo, and the song, and the hooplah, but when you are young you rapidly shed tastes, and like to pour scorn on the preferences of your former self in order to demonstrate your present level of maturity and sophistication. This is what I did, I think, with Ghostbusters and Bill Murray only to discover in Groundhog Day that Bill Murray had grown up a little too.
I’m not sure why The Life Aquatic bombed. Cathy and I went to see it at the movies and immediately wanted to see it again. A lot of that was to do with the fact that Wes Anderson crams his backgrounds full of things, or allows characters to handle detailed, complicated objects like journals or illustrated letters, before quickly discarding them, and you want to linger over the bits and pieces and admire them. The other reason we wanted to see the movie again was Bill – Bill trying hard to re-inflate a punctured dream and keep a straight face. It’s not that he’s keeping a straight face to stop himself from laughing (although it is sometimes that), but that he is trying to wall off the absurdity or the lack of dignity in a situation and act like nothing untoward is happening. This creates romantic heroism when he pulls it off (getting rid of pirates), otherwise it is simply failing to face reality and hurting people’s feelings.
The older Bill Murray is a recognisable male character to me. Funny, charismatic, wise, but also incompetent, lazy and sad. I like his persona immensely and like to think that he might be a lot like that persona, and that what I like in him people will like in me, and what people tolerate in him they will tolerate in me.