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Bill Murray on Religion, Canonisation and the Liturgy

2 February, 2015 0 Comments

Like the new pope, he walks among us.

By Lyle Dunne

I’ve never been sure about Bill Murray. Ghostbusters was fun, Groundhog Day very clever, but Lost in Translation seem a more apt title than its makers intended, even on a re-watching after a visit to Japan. And I haven’t seen St Vincent.

And he’s a bit, well, weird. Even by Hollywood standards, ie even apart from what could best be described as a complicated moral life, and marital history.

Murray at Cannes in 2012. Photograph: Dominique Charriau/WireImage

Yet the truth can emerge from surprising places. In a free-ranging interview of Murray by Catherine Shoard of The Guardianthe question of religion came up:

His parents were Irish Catholics; one of his sisters is a nun. This conspicuous religion adds to his broad church appeal (there’s a citation from the Christian Science Monitor on his golfing memoirs). You don’t need to ask if his faith is important to him. He talks about how 19th-century candidates risk not getting canonised because the church is keen to push ahead with the likes of John Paul II and Mother Teresa. “I think they’re just trying to get current and hot,” he smiles.

Not everyone could get away with that, especially in The Guardian. (“Hot”?) Shoard did make the point, however, that Murray is now treated with such exaggerated respect that he can get away with almost anything:

Thing is: if you’re Bill Murray, every day is Bill Murray Day. Every day a Groundhog Day of being treated like a deity.

Deification is a recurrent theme, but it may tell us more about The Guardian’s attitude to God than anything else.

It doesn’t seem like Murray buys into this attitude, though: quite the contrary, his eccentricity seems to satirise it. And yet it almost seems as though the less seriously he takes himself, the more seriously his fans, and especially the media, take him.

Shoard posits a rationale:

…off-screen, the closer to average Murray gets, the less we want to be like him. It’s the frank and freewheeling real-life guy we worship, the one who rollicks about dressed like a jumble sale, whose irreverence hasn’t been curbed.

So why does he connect quite so deeply? Cameron Crowe, who’s just finished shooting a movie with him, thinks Murray’s detachment from the star system alters his affinity with an audience. Like the new pope, he walks among us.

(Well, a bit like. Maybe Pope Francis should try dispensing cocktails along with impromptu relationship advice.)

There’s a bit of a sense that Shoard too is being tongue-in-cheek – unlike some of the people she describes. And it seems that Murray himself is quite self-consciously walking through the “fourth wall” – while acknowledging that it’s there even in his day-to-day life, thanks to the cult of celebrity that forms so much of our popular culture.

Perhaps this goes some way toward explaining his dress sense, which is eccentric even by the standards observable at the intersection of Hollywood and Golf.

Murray at the Ryder Cup, 2012. Photograph: ERIK S. LESSER/EPA

What about Liturgy?

But what about Liturgy, I hear you ask? Didn’t you promise us liturgy? I mean, this is Oriens, it’s not as if we’re just reading this because we’re interested in Hollywood gossip, and anyway they’re aren’t any shots of Scarlett Johansson…

OK, this followed the quote about canonisation, and you’re right, I have been holding out on you:

One new saint he does approve of is Pope John XXIII (who died in 1963). “I’ll buy that one, he’s my guy; an extraordinary joyous Florentine who changed the order. I’m not sure all those changes were right. I tend to disagree with what they call the new mass. I think we lost something by losing the Latin. Now if you go to a Catholic mass even just in Harlem it can be in Spanish, it can be in Ethiopian, it can be in any number of languages. The shape of it, the pictures, are the same but the words aren’t the same.”

Isn’t it good for people to understand it? “I guess,” he says, shaking his head. “But there’s a vibration to those words. If you’ve been in the business long enough you know what they mean anyway. And I really miss the music – the power of it, y’know? Yikes! Sacred music has an affect on your brain.” Instead, he says, we get “folk songs … top 40 stuff … oh, brother….”

Yikes indeed. (I guess he meant “effect”, but we can probably blame The Grauniad – as they’re known because of their notorious typos – for that one.)

And somehow, despite the possibly self-parodying language, there’s an idea conveyed in those words that I at least struggle to communicate in too many carefully-phrased sentences, perhaps because it’s about something almost the opposite of verbal logic, in a place where you have to let go of the words and focus on the Word.

Try it on a young person sometime. (No, it doesn’t matter that Bill Murray is older than you, and dresses like a cross between Hunter S Thompson and Ace Ventura: he’s certifiably cool. Trust me on this.)

Maybe he is a genius – if not exactly a role model.

Maybe I should give Lost in Translation one more try.

It does have Scarlett Johansson, after all.

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