I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that, after the drily wild Bill Murray SBIFF tribute evening on Friday night, I had a powerful hankering for La Super Rica’s enticing and famous #16, the Super Rica Especial (always my go-to). To start at the end… veteran critic Leonard Maltin’s virtual interview—officially called the “Maltin Modern Master” award — with the great American cultural icon Murray (what else to call him — a mere comedian, a mere movie star?) closed with the honoree briefly spinning off the rails. That’s why we love him. Or one of the reasons.
After director Sofia Coppola (whose work with Murray includes the timeless gem Lost in Translation and his currently Oscar-nominated role in On the Rocks), joined by her brother Roman, zoomed in for the ritual award-presenting duties, Murray deadpanned, “I’d like to say a few words before sentencing… it’s really an honor to receive the Maltin Milk award. When I heard I was involved in the award, I was taken by surprise, thinking that you had passed way. I had worked up so many nice things to say about you. But I was very happy to hear you were still alive. That’s my happy-sad moment.
“Like you, I had to get Sofia and Roman to sit in front of a computer for more than an hour. I’ll have to pay for that down the line. It’s documented, It exists. It’s not in the real world. It’s in the virtual world.”
Murray, now in his classic left-of-center groove, continued, “Leonard, I congratulate you for 31 years of doing this. I can only imagine how many times you’ve ordered the #16 at La Super Rica. It’s the 16. You gotta get it. I’ve had a lot of fun in Santa Barbara. I was always interested in the place: In the ‘60s, they burned down the Bank of America…” Actually, it was 1970, but who’s counting when Murray’s on a roll?
We knew something eccentric was up from the outset, when Murray appeared in a badly-framed shot, with scrappy sound. Should we have expected anything less from one so invested with a love-hate relationship of Hollywood norms or show biz slickness? Contrasting Maltin’s cozy perch before a fireplace in his El Encanto suite, Murray seemed to be beaming in from some undisclosed gonzo location, with color-uncoordinated garb (and wearing shorts, we realized when he switched angles midway through). As he drolly explained to Maltin, “I’m in a Screen Actor’s Guild safe house. I’m ok. I’m sort of medicated, so to speak.” (He later professed to imbibing only Honduran Coca-Cola).
Referring to an opening montage of Murray clips through the decades, the actor admitted “that collage was fun to watch… it was a greatest hits. You eliminated all the bad stuff.”
As to the oft-remarked observation that Murray is one of those screen icons who make it look easy, he noted that “someone said in the last movie, ‘oh, you’re just playing yourself.’ Well, you know, ‘it’s harder than you think to be yourself. You ought to try it sometime.’” Speaking of early heroes, he cited Jack Benny, John Wayne, and Cary Grant as deceptive naturalists.
The SNL-launched Murray’s mainstream cultural cred stems from box office smashes like the Ghostbusters franchise, the newly relevant Groundhog Day, Meatballs, Caddyshack and the like, all of which were showcased in the tribute. But it has been his work with Coppola, Wes Anderson and Jim Jarmusch (such as the great Broken Flowers, strangely left out of this discussion) that has made him a more complex and artistically fascinating figure in the cinematic sphere.
During the SBIFF tribute, Murray wavered between clarity and obliqueness, and often focused on his respect for others rather than his own work, including comedian Chris Elliott and, attesting to his love of cinema’s visual element, cinematographers Laszlo Kovacs and Bill Butler, and director (and Montecitan) Ivan Reitman, with whom he’ll be doing a special zoom celebration of the 50th anniversary of Stripes next week.
Asked about his deep connection to improvisation, from his seminal days in Chicago’s Second City comedy troupe to improv moments in his film work, Murray addressed the lag time difference between the live and movie experiences. In a film, he said, “you tell a joke, and no one laughs for nine months. Then when you go to the movie, you hear the audience laugh, and its satisfying.”
Speaking of the perennial popularity of Groundhog Day—especially in the pandemic lockdown atmosphere, Murray quipped that “People say ‘I’ve seen the movie many times.’ I say ‘did you actually see it that many times, or does it just feel like it?’ It has a spellbinding quality. You can see it on Groundhog Day every year. I’m very glad to have cornered that holiday. I’m covered one day of the year.”
Ironically, our disappointment in having to experience the long-sought-after SBIFF toast to Murray in the virtual living room, vs. the public forum of the Arlington Theatre gave rise to a unique virtual, and slightly surreal experience. Gets my vote for one of the most memorable moments of “Modern Masters” award history.
SATURDAY DAY-AND-NIGHT AT THE MOVIES: Recommended fare for Saturday’s SBIFF program, at home or at the drive-in (free, but requiring reservations, www.sbiff.org): the dark but potent Finnish film The Last Ones—one of the best of the fest–the Brazilian film Bruddah’s Mind Brazil (Déo Cardoso), and the delightful Swiss twister One-Way to Moscow.
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