When people ask me what my
favorite movie is, I shudder. I hate that question. In fact, don’t ever ask me
what my favorite anything is. The things I love in this world have a depth of
variety and a multi-faceted nature that make it impossible to anoint one as “the
best.” Ask me what “some of my favorite movies” are, however, and I will
eventually tell you Groundhog Day.
As anyone who loves this
sometimes romantic, sometimes black, always clever comedy starring Bill Murray
and directed by Harold Ramis will tell you, there are hundreds of reasons Groundhog Day is a great movie.
Personally, I’m always fascinated by high-concept stories that require a suspension
of disbelief and defy logic in order to explore big ideas. Groundhog Day leaves us no choice but to ponder what we would do if
we were forced to relive the same day over and over again.
Sometime after falling in love
with Groundhog Day, I was surprised
to learn that despite taking place in Punxsutawney, Penn., the movie was filmed
in Woodstock, Ill., but as a Chicagoan and suburbanite my whole life, I assumed
any town in Illinois I’d never heard of was “down south,” a long ways away with
the rest of non-Chicago Illinois. As it turns out, Woodstock is 60 miles northwest of the city, just an hour and
20 minutes away, and it turned out I knew someone who not only lived there, but
also whose dad chaired the town’s annual Groundhog Day committee.
Yes, Woodstock, Ill. has an
annual Groundhog Day celebration on Feb. 2 during which a real, living
groundhog is asked to report on the appearance of his shadow, all of which
occurs in the very town square where Groundhog
Day was filmed. Walking tours are offered and famous locations from scenes
in the film are marked all throughout town, from the inn where Phil Connors
(Murray) wakes up each day (which is now reportedly for sale) to
the doozy of a puddle he constantly steps in while crossing the street.
In other words, it’s a movie
nerd’s dream. Ok, this movie nerd’s
dream, and one he didn’t know he had until he and his girlfriend were cordially
invited to stay in Woodstock that weekend to witness the Groundhog Day
In front of the “Cherry Street Inn” where Bill Murray’s character stayed in the movie.
We drove in the night before and
went bowling at the alley that appears in the film, then woke up at 6 a.m. (our
alarm set specifically for that time) to be in town for the prognostication at
7:07 a.m. After learning we’d have six more weeks of winter (duh, just look
outside), we partook in a community breakfast attended by screenwriter Danny
Rubin and actor Richard Henzel, who voiced one of the radio DJs that Phil wakes
up to every morning. Henzler, a yearly attendee of the Woodstock festival,
proudly did a live performance of the words for which he will forever be
Walking around downtown Woodstock
that day (Groundhog Day no less) was like being in the world of the movie, and
when we went to the free screening at the local theater, I felt a whole other
level of connection to the film. There is definitely something spiritual about
being “on the set” of one of your favorite films. Forgive the lofty comparison,
but it was a lot like setting foot at the Western Wall for the first time, the
recognition that the place where you stand once played host to something
awesome, something bigger than yourself, something you treasure.
Just before the Groundhog Day prognostication in Woodstock, Ill. the morning of Feb. 2, 2014.
A complete outsider might laugh
at the town of Woodstock for milking its one (and likely only ever) claim to
fame, but seeing the townspeople and the tourists who flocked there, many of who
say they have seen the film at least 40 times, the Groundhog Day celebration is
clearly about more than perpetuating a city’s 101 minutes of fame. Attending
the sold-out breakfast with polka musicians and a Woodstock Willie mascot as
entertainment, you quickly understand that it’s about the community and
togetherness that something as simple as a movie can create.
When Rubin, the screenwriter, was
asked to speak on a couple occasions that morning, you could see his humility.
A screenwriter never imagines that his work will be honored and preserved in
this way, he said. Even when he probably first learned his script had been
picked up and drawn the interest of the director of Vacation and Caddyshack,
he still could not have imagined that this little idea for a story in his head
would ever become an entire town in northern Illinois’ pride and joy. That’s
testament to the power of movies.