Documentary Review — “Cleanin’ Up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters”

If you have any fondness at all for the movie, the myth that was “Ghostbusters,” here’s the definitive “How we made that” documentary about the comic blockbuster of 1984.

Me? I got the warm fuzzies for actor and co-writer Harold Ramis, who died after “Cleanin’ Up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters” was finished but who is the sympathetic, frank and charming heart of the movie — then, and way back in ’84.

Filmmakers Anthony and Claire Bueno use clips from the Ivan Reitman comedy, still shots, animation, storyboards and fresh interviews with cast members — stars, co-stars, supporting and bit players — as well as producers, visual and sound effects wizards and master puppeteers to give us a Compleat History of this seminal piece of ’80s cinema.

The nostalgia isn’t just for Ramis and the movie itself, which was quite sweet for an undemanding high-concept all-star farce. The effects team reminds us that all these ghouls and oozing ectoplasm, beasts and “terror dogs” were created before “digital effects” were around.

Sculpted models, tactile tactical ghostbusting gear, cards flying out of a library’s card catalog, rubber claws grabbing and groping Sigourney Weaver once she gave the effects crew permission — “Go ahead, make my day!” — “Ghostbusters” and this documentary remembering it are practically a museum exhibit on the art of optical and practical effects.

That final rooftop scene set was Cecil B. DeMille scale. But nothing was tougher than getting the Stay Puft Marshmallow guy — a character performer in a big foam rubber suit — right.

Weaver recreates her “New York theater” style comic audition. William Atherton recalls, with some chagrin, the way schoolkids would holler “Dickless!” at him, an insult improvised by Murray on set. Ernie Hudson recalls with “I’m over it, NOW” annoyance at how his character was originally written, then stripped down rather than let him have as many funny moments as the other original ghostbusters.

Tracking down the bit players who played the college kids Bill Murray’s Dr. Venkman is “testing” and shocking in an early scene is a coup, and makes up for the absence of Murray and Rick Moranis, the only two principals who didn’t sit down for interviews. Here’s Alice Drummond, that first spooked librarian, and many other single scene stars show up.

We hear how John Candy “agented himself” out of the role eventually taken by Moranis, see audition tapes of Darryl Hannah and Denise Crosby (“Star Trek: The Next Generation”) and are told how “Slimer,” the most distinctive blobby ghost, is a tribute to another planned co-star, John Belushi who died before Dan Aykroyd’s original futuristic sci-fi comedy pitch was bought by Columbia. Akyroyd, Ramis and director Reitman then rewrote it into the comedy that owned much of 1984 at the box office.

The title comes from a tune by the Bus Boys (seen in Walter Hill’s cop-buddy picture “48 Hrs.” from the era) used in the film. Not as famous as Ray Parker Jr.‘s title song, but another piece of the picture’s tableaux.

And to think it all started in Dan Aykroyd’s head, grabbing a piece of family lore — his great grandfather Samuel Aykroyd was a Kingston, Ontario dentist and “psychic researcher,” something that his descendent fixated on, dug into, embraced the research and memorized the jargon of that world long before ever getting the idea that maybe that could be a movie.

Rating: unrated

Cast: Harold Ramis, Dan Akroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Ray Parker, Jr., Ivan Reitman, Ernie Hudson, Richard Edlund, Sheldon Kahn, Annie Potts and William Atherton

Credits: Directed by Anthony Bueno, scripted by Anthony Bueno and Claire BuenoA Screen Media release.

Running time: 2:08

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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