"Tonight, is for Harold Ramis," Jason Reitman declared upon taking the stage at yesterday's Film Independent at LACMA Live Read.
Reitman, whose father Ivan Reitman, collaborated with Ramis on "Animal House" and the "Ghostbusters" films, chose an earlier draft of the "Groundhog Day" script for the performance -- a much darker draft in which Bill Murray’s character, Phil, actively counts the number of times he has re-lived February 2, Groundhog Day.
As previously announced via Reitman's Twitter, the roles of Phil and Rita were performed by Jason Bateman and Elizabeth Reaser, while Jeff Ross and Mae Whitman provided the voices for WPBH-TV9 cameraman Larry, Nancy Taylor and a host of other supporting characters.
Stephen Tobolowsky's participation, however, came as a pleasant surprise. Tobolowsky, who originated the role of "Needlenose" Ned Ryerson, reprised his role onstage for last night's live read with just as much gusto as ever. His initial entrance prior to the start of the reading, as well as his performance of Ned's first few lines in the script, were met by cheers and thunderous applause.
The audience’s reaction to Tobolowsky, as well as their enthusiastic reactions to each and every cast member’s performance last night, is not only indicative of Harold Ramis’ unparalleled ability to write strong characters — both leading and supporting — but also speaks to the greater issue of how Hollywood copes with loss.
Loss has been woven into Hollywood’s mythos. Whether it be suicide, murder, an accidental drug overdose or just natural causes, death is merely a climax — one that propels the survivors into the final act of loss.
In Hollywood, awards show tributes are customary; although the sheer number of people included, or not included for that matter, in the tribute montage projected at the Oscars, oftentimes denigrates any one person’s worth.
Besides a WireImage still photographer, last night’s live reading was not documented. Film Independent makes a point at each of their live readings to not only forbid the audience from recording the event, but also impressing how they do not employ a professional video crew for that purpose.
Without the pressure of cameras, the delight shared by Reitman, the cast and the audience suggests that perhaps the screen — the “putting on airs” — is getting in the way of Hollywood’s ability to heal from the loss of great talent. Perhaps for Hollywood, the screen is akin to the puddle Phil keeps stepping in at the beginning of “Groundhog Day” — the one Ned Ryerson so aptly calls a “doozy.”