When I first met Ivan Reitman, the most successful commercial filmmaker Canada ever produced who has died at the age of 75, it was back in the dark days when he was producing low-budget exploitation movies.
I have this memory of going up a narrow flight of stairs into a rabbit warren of rooms above a Yonge Street storefront where Ivan occupied an office.
He had produced David Cronenberg’s first movie, Shivers, which had infamously brought on the wrath of columnist Robert Fulford (“a disgrace to everyone involved with it!”) and howls of outrage in Canada’s parliament.
Perhaps because of all the criticism, he already seemed deeply suspicious of the press. That suspicion (distaste?) was always present whenever I encountered him over the years. Cool and remote, careful not to give too much away, it was hard to warm up to him. But then again you got the impression he couldn’t be bothered warming up. He could have cared less.
I was somewhat surprised when he directed a low-budget comedy called Meatballs which introduced the movie world to Bill Murray. The low budget didn’t surprise me. The fact that it was a comedy, did. Ivan never came across as a laugh-a-minute kind of guy. Just the opposite in fact.
But then the next film he produced, Animal House, built on Meatballs’ outrageousness and changed the course of movie comedy history, not to mention making a movie star out of John Belushi. Ivan had discovered that not only could you get away with raucous, below-the-belt, anything-goes youth comedy, but you could also make a fortune doing it.
But nothing Ivan ever did had quite the cultural impact or the box office success of Ghostbusters. Hardly a raucous teen comedy but when Ivan was finished with the rewrites of Dan Aykroyd’s original script, it became a very smart and funny piece of commercial filmmaking, the best thing he ever produced and directed.
Even before the movie was released, there was a sense that Ivan had a huge hit on his hands. At the end of the Ghostbusters New York press junket, I spotted him standing alone and walked over to shake his hand and tell him how much I enjoyed the movie.
As he had over the years of our encounters, he gave me that thousand-yard stare and offered a distracted thankyou. Cool and remote as always.
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