CLEANIN’ UP THE TOWN: REMEMBERING GHOSTBUSTERS (2019)
The cast and crew of Ghostbusters discuss the making of the beloved 1984 supernatural comedy and its impact on popular culture.
The 1980s gave us the greatest action movie in Die Hard (1988) and perfected the blockbuster post-Jaws (1975). That film’s director, Steven Spielberg, was in ascendance by the mid-1980s, so his sequel Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was expected to be the biggest release of 1984… until Ghostbusters happened.
Columbia Pictures’ supernatural comedy surpassed everyone’s expectations. Grossing a staggering $238M at the box-office, Ghostbusters became the highest-grossing comedy of the decade. Created by Saturday Night Live alumni Dan Aykroyd (The Blues Brothers) and Harold Ramis (Caddyshack), Ghostbusters become a cultural phenomenon that spawned a hit theme song (Ray Parker Jr.’s “Who You Gonna Call?”), action figures, books, and beloved animated series The Real Ghostbusters (1986-1991).
Beginning in 2008 as a homegrown project for siblings Anthony and Claire Bueno, Cleanin’ Up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters is a definitive behind-the-scenes look at 1984’s smash hit. In 2016 they began a Kickstarter campaign in an attempt to raise £40,000 to complete their documentary. Featuring over 50 interviews with some cast and crew, many of whom had never been interviewed on camera before, their campaign was successful. And now, over a decade in the making, the Bueno’s passion project is finally released on home video.
The documentary starts at the beginning with Dan Aykroyd explaining the inspiration that led to the script. The actor’s great-grandfather, Dr Samuel Aykroyd, had a deep interest in the paranormal and supernatural, compiling a substantial amount of research he’d pass down to later generations. This gave Aykroyd the inspiration for a horror-comedy that played within a world of ghosts and ghouls. Although his script was impossible to bring in to fruition, director Ivan Reitman (Stripes) recognised its tremendous potential. After bringing Harold Ramis on board to help refine the story, Columbia Pictures agreed to make the feature on a $30M budget. However, with an unmovable release date of June 1984, Ghostbusters had to be ready in a single year.
The structure of the documentary is formulaic and easy to follow. Interviews and archival footage are neatly tied together with animations and storyboards. However, the interviews with Aykroyd, Ramis, and Reitman are just the tip of the iceberg. One of the documentary’s main strengths is that it goes way beyond the main cast of Ghostbusters. The filmmakers manage to capture stories from the kind of crew members that are usually overlooked. In particular, a personal favourite is with VFX wizard Steve Johnson, who sculpted the librarian ghost and the iconic character Slimer. Since Ghostbusters, Johnson’s worked on many classics including Big Trouble in Little China (1986) and The Abyss (1989). He’s such an animated and enthusiastic person, the way he shares his experiences makes him an absolute joy to watch.
So much of the interview content comes from the crew, that it gives one a really comprehensive insight into the film’s production. It’s amazing to get a sense of the innovation and creativity behind the making of Ghostbusters. Given that it really stretched the bounds of the technology available at the time, we find out the majority of the VFX was trial and error. Optical effects like the proton streams had to be hand-drawn on each frame, creating an animated beam of energy. Sculptor Randall William Cook also gives interesting insights into the challenges he faced bringing the Terror Dogs to life. Working from Thom Enriquez’s art designs, the statues had to be hand made from scratch, and creating the giant and miniature-sized puppets resulted in the crew working around the clock, seven days a week, to finish the final designs.
There’s a deep-dive into the technical detail of the practicality that’s also admirable. A large amount of the documentary is focussed on the invention and execution of the iconic Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. The costume designers hand-made 18 costumes (17 of which were destroyed), created out of fibreglass and giant sheets of foam. The production designers even made a life-like miniature version of Central Park for him to destroy. The entire finale had to be filmed and edited within three weeks before the scheduled release date. Although these nuggets of behind-the-scenes magic may be nothing new for die-hard fans, Cleanin’ Up the Town remembers Ghostbusters as a piece of iconic filmmaking, serving as an insight into a lost art or skill that we’ve taken for granted in the current digital age.
As a decades-old project, the Bueno’s were able to get interviews with cast members who are sadly no longer with us. Cleanin’ Up the Town deftly weaves heartwarming memories from Alice Drummond as the frightened librarian, and David Margulies as the New York mayor, that will raise a smile. We’re also treated to one of the final interviews done with the late Harold Ramis (who played Egon Spengler) who passed away in 2014. Seeing new footage of him joyously reminiscing about his time donning the famous proton pack is utterly heartbreaking.
The elephant in the room is the absence of Bill Murray (Moonrise Kingdom) and Rick Moranis (Honey I Shrunk the Kids). As one of my favourite comics, it’s disappointing not hearing Murray’s account of his time on set. One can only imagine the extra character his dry-wit he would’ve added to this documentary. However, the participation of Sigourney Weaver (Alien) does make up for it. She expresses delight in being offered the role of Dana, offering some hilarious tales and trivia—like how the idea of her character being possessed was originally hers! She reminisces howling like a wolf in front of Reitman before being asked to tone it down, too. Another highlight is from William Atherton (who played Walter Peck), who’s spent years dealing with accusations of “having no genitals” from random people after Venkman’s infamous quip.
The documentary was clearly produced with love and admiration for Ghostbusters. We’re bombarded with a great deal of trivia that’ll intrigue even die-hard fans. Did you know the late John Belushi was set to play Peter Venkman? As a tribute, the actor’s portrayal of his character John Blutarsky from Animal House (1978) became the inspiration for the design of Slimer. With a 128-minute runtime, the filmmakers manage to cover most of the bases. Title changes, production mishaps, and early reactions to the final product are all examined closely. However, some stones remain unmoved. It fails to include the cultural response after the release of the film. The Real Ghostbusters cartoon and the mountains of merchandise go sadly overlooked. Despite these nitpicks, Cleanin’ Up the Town serves as a glorious love letter to the talent and personality that went into a modern film.
As a child, I played my VHS copy of Ghostbusters until the tape wore thin, and as an adult, I once visited the real-life Ghostbusters firehouse in Manhattan, New York City. So watching an entire containment grid filled with archival footage on a personal favourite was indulging. Anthony and Claire Bueno have created a superb documentary that every fan of Ghostbusters should see. I’m eagerly awaiting the follow-up documentary Too Hot to Handle, about the making of Ghostbusters II (1989).
UK | 2019 | 128 MINUTES | 1.77:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH
director: Anthony Bueno.
writers: Anthony Bueno & Claire Bueno.
featuring: Dan Aykroyd, Ivan Reitman, Sigourney Weaver, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson & Annie Potts.