Nostalgia for New York: Rewatching Ghostbusters 2

The festive season at the end of 2011 seems to be pounding home an unstoppable onslaught of good old fashioned film nostalgia. From the late-year release of Tintin, a fun spectacle bringing back memories of the intrepid, investigative comic book star from my own youth, to JJ Abrams’ Spielberg-ish romp Super 8 (which I have previously reviewed on Moon Under Water here). Not that Spielberg controls the nostalgia market (I am watching The Goonies out of the corner of my eye as I write this…) but the emphasis is not lacking.

Nostalgia is an uncontrollable thing at the best of times. I recently sat down to re-watch Ghostbusters 2 – a sequel that was critically slammed and a movie that I had not watched since I was pre-teen. Ghostbusters 2 is certainly nothing to smile about too broadly, a hack sequel that is as cynical as anything that Hollywood churns out these days with little in the way of character, script or plotline to shout about. Essentially it is just a remake of the first film with a new bad-guy, the creepy Vigo the Carpathian trapped inside a painting and looking to get free.

However, when I was younger Ghostbusters 2 was the untouchable epic – the river of slime (see video below), the dark and scary Vigo, Janosz Poha (Peter MacNicol’s wormy Eastern European underling to Vigo) – all of these things made Ghostbusters 2 spooky and scary and a roller-coaster for a 5-10 year old who loved Ghostbusters. Plot-holes were overlooked for the precious nature of the four phantom fighters being back in action against their most aggressive foe yet.

Being a child of the 80s, it was a strange thing to re-watch this pretty dreadful film with young eyes in the run-up to Christmas. I watched both Ghostbusters and its sequel in quick succession and I was overcome with that sense of happy belonging, the aforementioned nostalgia. Although the first film was the one that made me giggle uncontrollably, the second was the one I remembered with more mystery and fore-bearing (even if that mystery was just in figuring out the answer to some of the more glaring plot issues). Either way, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the sequel and remembering the butterflies and bubbles of my own youth that I associated with Ghostbusters 2.

Why this film did not trigger my “for fuck sake” sensor and make me detest it terribly I would imagine had a lot to do with the timeline – the film is set in 1989 as the villain Vigo attempts to make his impact on the world in the new millenium by inhabiting the body of a child in the late 20th century. This specific placement in time helps the film to remain frozen at a certain point – unlike today’s blog-fuelled world where news moves faster than light, Ghostbusters 2 rests in one place. The intriguing site of New York as an angry and hateful mish-mash of human irritation is also relevant, as it puts Ghostbusters 2 squarely in that timeline of the good old days of New York when “it’s messy, it’s crowded, it’s polluted, and there are people who would just as soon step on your face as look at you”.

Something about Ghostbusters 2 seems to signal the end of an era in New York; i.e. the era of Woody Allen’s decrepit conurbation of tri-state areas and the homeplace of Travis Bickle’s scum-filled streets. People were soon to become happier, more kind to each other, and from the ashes of Old New York would rise the real New York with Sex and the City and co. the frontrunners of this adjusted metropolitan idea of the metropolis.

So I guess I miss the stories of dirty old NYC. There is something dream-like about the spoiled history of the gang-torn drug-riddled dock town that had some delinquint or debaucherous story on every block from Harlem to Brooklyn, two modern day cultural hotspots. As long as you didn’t live there, New York seemed like a cool place to read about and watch movies from, and even living in Ireland the grubby force of the city in the 80s, where many an Irish relative or friend flew to find work, it was a city full of promise, but more accessible than California or Philadelphia due to its dreary, approachable character and dark (and often Irish famine-associated) past.

And that brings me back to nostalgia. Christmas is always a time for nostalgia in film. Hook, The Goonies, Time Bandits, Labyrinth and all the other Christmas favourites (including Romancing the Stone but I’m still not sure why that one gets annual its Christmas foray). The happiness in being led back to an earlier idea – something that was controllable or safe, or fun or adventurous, or whatever it is that you originally wished to view can shape your opinions and ideas uncontrollably. Cynical as Ghostbusters 2 may be, I will continue to enjoy it unimpeded, although it might take some time for me to bring myself to watch all 90 odd minutes again.

Funny that I still have not heard Fairytale of New York this Christmas season. But it seems fitting:

More to follow on this nostalgia trend with a review of Tintin in-bound.

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