"Yes, it’s true. This man has no dick."
Today is National Ghostbusters Day. Thirty years ago, Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters took theaters by storm by introducing an irreverent band of failing scientists who poured their passing interest in the paranormal into a fledgling Manhattan business. "We’re ready to believe you," they promised in their low-budget television ads, and audiences were ready to support them. By the end of the year, Ghostbusters had packed enough theaters and sold enough tickets to earn $229 million at the domestic box office.
I was personally responsible for at least two of those tickets. I’ve regretted it ever since.
Not for the reasons you might assume. I adore Ghostbusters. It’s one of those formative comedies from my particular childhood, a movie that helped shape the type of movie lover that I am today. I acknowledge that it doesn’t quite hold up today, that the effects are frozen in their mid-1980s limitations like a spirit snared in a Ghostbusters trap. And the less we say about the misconceived sequel, the better. (Sorry, Kelly.)
But when I think of Ghostbusters, 30 years after it totally dominated the movie landscape, I can’t help but remember the screening that – I believe – turned my mom off of movies.
My parents aren’t huge movie fans. I’ve yet to figure out where my passion for film comes from, as my folks largely tolerate movies because they realize they are important to me. Which is terrific. That small sacrifice means the world to me, still.
In the summer of 1984, though, I was over-the-top obsessed with every major movie reaching theaters. I was 10, riding a bus to school and listening to my friends talk about what happened in The Karate Kid or Sixteen Candles. I started begging my parents to take me to movies, and my mom played along. I can remember being the only ones in a theater for the conclusion of The Karate Kid, and actually standing up to cheer when Daniel completed the crane kick. God, it was joyous.
Ghostbusters had been out for weeks when my mom finally got tired of my daily requests for a trip to the theater. Off we went. By then, I thought I had most of the movie memorized. Harold Ramis’ script for Ghostbusters was one of the most quotable screenplays, and kids at my school incessantly spouted lines they’d memorized from multiple screenings.
"All right, this chick is toast!"
"He slimed me."
"We came, we saw… we kicked it’s ass!"
Harmless, right. Except, it wasn’t. Language, for whatever reason, has always been an obstacle for my mom. She’ll do Disney films all day long. And nothing makes her happier than a weekend-long marathon of Lifetime movies. That’s her speed.
Ghostbusters is not a Lifetime movie. Bill Murray wants to show this "prehistoric bitch" how they do things downtown. Later, Venkman comes up with the brilliant plan to get Mr. Stay Puft laid. (He’s a sailor, after all!) There’s a not-so-subtle blowjob joke.
And the thing is, 30 years ago, I was getting those jokes. I understood that calling someone "dickless" was hysterical. Movies that repeatedly used "shit" and "asshole" were still pretty new to my 10-year-old ears (and it was glorious). OK, I didn’t get the blowjob joke then, but there was more than enough "understanding" happening in that theater that day that my mom realized, ever so slightly, that a tiny sliver of my childhood was seeping away on that day, during that movie. And she took me to it.
I realize this because, 30 years later, I’m going through this exact tug-of-war myself. My oldest son, coincidentally, is 10 years old. Unlike me, he doesn’t beg me to see movies. I’m fairly confident it’s because movies have been such a part of his landscape that they are not mysterious or unattainable. His interests have gravitated elsewhere, and that’s awesome. But he has asked about a few films that I’m waiting to show him. Gremlins (which has a vicious Santa Claus joke I’m overly sensitive about). The Monster Squad. Am I being overly protective? Perhaps. But if I can help keep him a kid, just a little bit longer, then it’s the right decision. Right?
Ghostbusters changed me that summer. There’s no question. I can remember the moment that I started using the jokes I learned in that movie (as well as in Splash, Romancing the Stone, Police Academy, Beverly Hills Cop, Revenge of the Nerds and everything else I could sneak on HBO) in my every day life. It remains a watershed summer in my movie memory.
But Ghostbusters changed my mom that summer, too. I think, anyway. She became more selective of what she watched. Not what she let me watch, but what she chose to watch, herself. I didn’t notice it until recently, and it’s a realization that has stuck with me ever since.
I wonder if she even knows it. I wonder if she has a similar memory. And I wonder what movie, 30 years from now, my own son will remember as the one that chipped away at that invisible barrier between safe, friendly kid movies, and the ribald comedies that help turn us into who we are today?