Despite its place on the pantheon of contemporary pop culture, I confess I never responded to 1984’s Ghost Busters with the kind of adoration so many seem to feel for this particular movie. I certainly enjoyed it, but I never really loved it, not even when I was a child.
Part of this Ghost Busters’ agnosticism comes from the peculiar fact that, even though I’ve watched the film several times, I can hardly ever remember any image from it. The only visuals that have had any sort of staying power have been some of the ghostly apparitions, conjured by a marvellous achievement of Oscar nominated Special Effects, and, of course, the glittery glamour of Sigourney Weaver’s possessed self in the second half of the narrative.
Perhaps this had less to do with the film’s considerable formal modesty and more with my usual lack of focus on its more cinematic aspects. For this time around, I actually watched it through the prism of my search for a best shot and I was delightfully surprised by the film’s subtle accomplishments in the imagery department, not counting with the supernatural elements which I’ve always admired (with one glaring exception, but let’s try to stay positive).
It’s fair to say that Ivan Reitman is certainly not the reason for this newfound appreciation. While his ability to mix wildly different moods and tones, from family friendly horror to black humour, to a relaxed buddy comedy, is admirable, his formal sophistication is severely lacking. The compositions of the shots being of particular note with its uninspiring prosaicness. No, the people responsible for the relative visual panache of the movie are these two talented gentlemen:
As I said before, the management of wildly different tones is Reitman’s greatest achievement in the director’s chair but this directorial feat owes much to the fabulous work of Laszlo Kovacs and John De Cuir.
With the exception of the building that turns into a gateway to another dimension by the film’s third act, the spaces of Ghost Busters are realized with a wonderful eye for detail and subtle opulence, with innocuous objects and architectural lines filling the frame with a visual richness that give the world of the film a strange but pleasing dramatic realism. With a filmography filled with lavish period pieces that garnered three Oscars, it’s no surprise that De Cuir’s work would be admirable (this was his last film, by the way).
The sets’ visual power is only exacerbated by the beautiful lighting, creating an elegant look for the film. This formidable symbiotic relationship allows for a certain cinematic elegance, conjuring sequences like the opening of the film where the camera glides through the shelves of a library in such a way that it’s difficult to think we’re watching a comedy and not a horror film.
Or the entire scene inside Dana Barrett’s apartment where we see her arriving at a shadowy home, only illuminated by the ever-present lights of the city at night. The darkness is suddenly substituted by light that reveals the set’s comfortable atmosphere. Then, when she starts a phone call, the camera circles her, with a light coming from the kitchen becoming increasingly threatening, until all hell breaks loose and she is careened into a blinding light, ready to be possessed by an ancient entity.
And so, despite my best efforts, we return to Sigourney’s enchanting presence. It’s useless to try to deny my love for her and it’s inescapable that my best shot features her in sexy demon mode. Without further ado, here’s my best shot:
To me, here’s a shot that unites everything I most appreciate in the film. Kovacs beautiful lighting that suggests both a noir and a horror piece, and highlights Bill Murray’s facial expressions (the greatest comedic asset of the film). The set design is brilliantly featured with that strange little head (is that a lamp?) injecting a welcome beat of idiosyncrasy into the scene’s imagery. And lastly, Sigourney Weaver in all her seductive glory, standing in the shadows but luminous nonetheless, dressed in bold colours and covered in drag queen levels of war paint, moving with a delicious mixture of farcical sexiness and sincere demonic threat. How could I resist?