The bridge between young and old. Film fan and cinephile. Cynic and optimist. Bill Murray is a thespian anomaly, a personality who has no comparisons or predecessors.
From the quick-snapping Ghostbuster to the stoic faded star of Lost in Translation, his versatility knows no bounds. Whilst he can traverse a vast array of roles, his humour is rarely lost, even in his more rigid roles.
So, in anticipation for another year of Murray and as a celebration of the sarcastic uncle of Hollywood, we’ve compiled a short list of some of his lesser-known moments.
Coffee and Cigarettes
The first of his growing list of collaborations with director Jim Jarmusch, Coffee and Cigarettes details a vignette of stories all-encompassing the famously coupled drugs.
Appearing alongside GZA and RZA of Wu-Tang Clan, and under the story titled ‘delirium’, Bill Murray plays himself, a caffeine junkie and a lost soul. If you wanted a perfect micro-analysis of Bill Murray as an actor and personality, this 10-minute performance does a very good job. Told of the dangers of coffee and smoking, Murray stares back with a vacant sarcasm. It’s a surreal, self-referential scene that plays out much like the vignette’s title.
When Tim Burton isn’t trying his best to muddy a brightened scene and give a gothic makeover to anything he gets his hands on, he can use his use a delicate touch to create something very special.
Ed Wood details the true story of the director of the same name, whose pure passion and self-proclaimed talent for filmmaking led him to cult success in ‘Plan 9 from outer space’. Murray plays Wood’s friend and co-worker, playing the alien leader in the slap-dash sci-fi. In one scene where Ed and several co-stars agree to get baptised to improve their relationship with financers, Bill Murray showcases his ability for subtle comedy as he splutters and splashes in cinemas most clumsy baptism.
Murray channels pure Murray in this unconventional sports movie, and cinema’s best film about bowling.
Seeking revenge for a betrayal which led to the loss of a limb, Roy Munson, played by Woody Harrelson, sets out to dethrone the current bowling champion, Ernie McCracken, a greedy, selfish narcissist whom, with the help of Bill Murray’s charm, you can’t help but love. McCracken has none of Murray’s usual stoicism, he would neither know nor care what the word even meant, this role is Murray’s to play with, and play with it he does. Releasing a pure charm offensive, Murray manages to make the irredeemable McCracken, really rather endearing.
Both Murray’s second Jarmusch picture on this list and in real life, his role as Don Johnston in Broken Flowers could be seen as a direct continuation of his character in Coffee and Cigarettes, as he plays a broken man who embarks on a road trip to find his previously anonymous son.
Stoic, quiet and hilariously sarcastic he is the complete antithesis to Kingpin’s Ernie McCracken. Whilst the Bill Murray synonymous with Wes Anderson is quirkier and in many ways funnier, he is also rather one-note, a self-made stereotype. Jarmusch seems to channel Murray’s most honest performances, more akin to Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. A man fragile and lost but somehow wise, trusting and resilient. Broken flowers is a trip through a man’s past and it’s subsequent interaction with the present, Murray observes and reflects. It just might be Jarmusch’s best.
Widely observed as one of the best cameos of recent memory. Bill Murray’s cameo in Zombieland is a champion in meta-comedy and a touchstone reminder of his pop-culture importance. A straight-talking, quick-witted cynic, a double-act rolled into one. Both straight man and comic. The group’s visit to Bill Murray’s mansion in Zombieland blends fact and fiction as when he appears, dressed as a zombie to ‘blend in’, he details his joy of how he’d walked on to an empty golf course to play 9 holes. It seems obvious, you hardly even question his appearance as he effortlessly glides into the film and to the front of the billing.
Oddly enough, as if a sequel to Zombieland this year with both Bill Murray and Ghostbusters co-star Dan Aykroyd wasn’t good enough, (presumably playing zombies themselves) Jim Jarmusch’s 2019 slated zombie comedy ‘The Dead Don’t Die’, also stars Bill Murray. A reunion of Murray and Jarmusch, as well as Murray and his relationship with the undead, sounds like a match made in heaven (or hell) and we can’t wait.