Whenever anyone mentions Ghostbusters, it’s usually filled with fondly remembered nostalgia that’s; the logo, Ecto-1, the proton packs, the iconic one-liners (“There is no Dana, only Zuul”), and of course, the unmistakable soundtrack. You would have to be living on Mars if you didn’t recognise the signature theme song by Ray Parker Jr.
There’s an element of good timing when it comes to Cleanin’ Up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters. 2020 sees the release of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, tapping into that famed nostalgia as a continuation of the franchise, and considering this documentary was twelve years in the making with various delays, Kickstarter initiatives and a mammoth editing task to make a cohesive exploration, Anthony and fellow writer Claire Bueno’s documentary acts as a faithful companion piece (even if it stylistically feels more like an extended DVD extra than anything remotely cinematic).
When something like Ghostbusters has been ingrained in the cultural zeitgeist, there’s somewhat a missed opportunity to further explore its cultural impact and legacy. Bueno’s documentary doesn’t stray too far away from its straight-forward narrative bubble that mostly introduces yet skims passes information. While you don’t expect a deep-dive exploration behind the various spin-offs and cartoons, the subsequent merchandise or even the 2016 film (which brought out the worst of toxic fandom culture), Ghostbusters, in its original form started something unprecedented. It was made on a $30 million budget and ended up being something that kids wanted to dress up for Halloween (which Stranger Things tapped into for its second season). It spawned sci-fi comedy films that followed in its wake such as Evolution (which is somewhat its spiritual successor) and even Men in Black. Superficial as that may sound, but it helps to bear some understanding as to why over thirty decades later, we keep returning to the classic.
And of course, one of the obvious answers is because it is a great film! Its signature comedic beats fuelled by the cast and fantasy action are a neat balance to the real-life mystical (and family) inspirations that writer and star Dan Ackroyd based it upon. There’s also an element of ‘lightning in a bottle’ that the documentary captures, where fates aligned to appear in the right place at the right time to create movie history. While the production didn’t have the turbulence of something like Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (and all of its various cuts for instance), Cleanin’ Up the Town understands that this was a gamble that paid off.
Its shortcomings can be forgiven though; Cleanin’ Up the Town is the first chapter with the making of Ghostbusters II in the pipeline. It may not be as close to a definitive outlook (the rumoured first cut was around 3 hours instead of the 96-minute theatrical cut heading to cinemas), but Anthony Bueno’s documentary is a solid effort nevertheless that lives up to its celebrated intentions – a fan-rewarding ‘love letter’ for a cinematic underdog of 1984.
But depending on your knowledge, it presents the familiar with something new. One case scenario involves the casting of Sigourney Weaver, with the honest admittance by Ramis of trying to find balance in the ‘boys club’ mentality of 80s comedies. But one of the most prominent aspects is how it frames the difficulties and challenges during its production. Ernie Hudson’s story stands out in particular at how his role was being re-written and reduced (where at one point he had ‘the best lines’ which were subsequently given to Bill Murray). You immediately sense the disappointment and frustration hidden behind the smiles, but it’s not something the documentary seems particularly invested in challenging besides partaking in the glossy vibe of ‘everything worked out well in the end’.
But the genuine highlight is the innovation behind the film, spending a generous amount of time with an area of the industry that deserves more love and attention – the crew. Celebrating them as the unsung heroes, it spends dedicated time with the crew as they offer up anecdotal insight and deep-dive technical detail in their creations be it the ghost in the library, the optical effects in creating the proton stream or something iconic like Slimer or the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. There’s an ingenuity the documentary fundamentally respects, and it’s an insight which ultimately feels like a re-discovery of lost art or skill that we’ve taken for granted in the current digital age.
And like all good documentaries, it serves up enough imagination and interest as a fitting tribute. Its limitations are noticeable, but the effort and its buoyed enthusiasm are plentiful. And before you know it, you’ll probably be saying “I ain’t afraid of no ghost.”
Dir: Anthony Bueno
Scr: Anthony Bueno, Claire Bueno
Cast: Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, Ivan Reitman, William Atherton
Prd: Anthony Bueno, Claire Bueno
DOP: Anthony Bueno
Music: Dave Phaneuf, Jamie Evelyne Thompson
Runtime: 96 mins
Cleanin’ Up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters is released in cinemas on 7th January 2019, followed by a VOD release on 25th January 2019.