We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Punxsutawney
Around these parts, we don’t devote much time or attention to the Groundhog Day celebration that seems to fascinate the rest of the nation.
Nope, we devote our time and attention to a movie about Groundhog Day that fascinates us.
The Hollywood Of Northern Illinois
Hereabouts we take pride in, promote, and celebrate the fact that Groundhog Day, a pretty darn good 1993 movie1 that supposedly took place in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, the ostensible residence of one Punxsutawney Phil,2 that mythical Marmota monax specimen that plays the leading role in a pseudo-holiday based on folklore which doesn’t even make sense,3 was actually filmed in Woodstock, Illinois (10 minutes down the road from Heck Of A House, my current location).
For the three folks who haven’t seen this flick, Bill Murray plays an obnoxious TV weatherman who, covering the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, re-lives the same day over and over and over again, eventually transforming from a hedonistic, self-important jerk into a heck of a guy worthy of Rita’s (Andie MacDowell’s) love.
Celebrate, Celebrate, Celebrate, …
Here in northern Illinois, we’ve been celebrating everything about the movie version of Groundhog Day ever since.
We even have our own official Groundhog Day groundhog, Woodstock Willie, who, of course, pushes the hot sauce named after him.
It is not clear to me why one would intuitively respond to a hot sauce named after a groundhog with the thought, “Got to get me some of that,” but then I’m an aficionado of neither hot sauces or small varmints.
A few years ago, there was been a new twist in this beloved local event that I reported to my correspondents thusly,
According to the local newspaper, The Northwest Herald, Woodstock Willie, our very own ersatz Punxsutawney Phil, has gone Hollywood on us — figuratively; geographically, he has actually gone New York on us. Rather than star in Woodstock’s Groundhog Day celebration, Willie has opted for the big time — a guest appearance on the Today show in New York. Before we go further, let me assuage your anxieties; the Woodstock festivities will go on; that fair city’s Celebration Committee has received an offer from “Samantha’s Amazing Animals,” which The Herald describes as “a private educational zoo and animal rental agency,” to hire out their resident groundhog, one “Warner” by name, for the modest cost of “three oatmeal raisin cookies.” One of the committee members is, in fact, enthusiastic: “He sounds delightful. He even wears hats. Maybe we can dress him up with one of our derbies.” Warner, for his part, is said to be “very excited about it” and has “promised he’ll be on his best behavior.”
I am, however, apprehensive about Willie. Oh, nibbling snacks in the Green Room on the Today show is well and good, a treat our local star no doubt deserves. And, as the inevitable choice to serve as substitute host for Letterman, he’ll enjoy some deserved fame. But then it’s the old story. A star is discovered, feted, and then discarded as soon as the next pretty groundhog comes along. I fear that Willie will go from Big Mammal On Campus to a Little Vertebrate In A Big Pond.
The next gig Willie gets is a WB network version of Montel; then he’s turned down for that cameo in “Lethal Weapon 6.082;” and Hollywood Squares honors their commitment for a week’s work but places Willie in the lower middle box that no contestant ever tries to claim. He gets tossed off the set of the Made for TV Movie, “The Horse Whispers: Fury Loves Flicka” after his co-star, Dennis Rodman, complains of Willie’s increasingly unprofessional behavior.
Pretty soon, Willie is wandering Times Square undercutting medical students to serve as a paid volunteer for preliminary clinical trials of combination weight loss—genital enhancement—wrinkle reduction potions and hawking weather predictions purloined from Al Roker’s previous day’s forecasts to raise cash to buy cheap varmint snuff porno and the occasional past-due date bags of Purina Groundhog Chow.
His letters to Bill Murray begging him to finance Willie’s latest scheme to get back on screen, this time as producer, host, and star of the Fox Network’s newest reality show, “America’s Most Violent Videos Involving Groundhogs and Machines Pulled by Farm Tractors,” go, of course, unanswered. And pity for a fellow mammal precludes my full description of the humiliation and pain heaped upon Willie as the result of his brief gig as a celebrity impersonator (little more than a blatant attempt to cash in on the popularity of his namesake, Willie Nelson), which was brought to a violent end when Waylon Jennings, finding himself, as the result of a clerical error, paired in the headline act of the Tulsa State Fair not with his Outlaw musical colleague, the worthy Mr. Nelson, but with McHenry Country’s once proud featured creature, took umbrage into his own hands, pounding Willie into a reasonable facsimile of this metaphor’s pulp.
Yep, drugs, dames, and destitution have done in (you would think) more than one good-looking, fast-predicting Illinois groundhog who bravely ventured into New York. Belonging to a nocturnal species does not guarantee one will thrive in the city that never sleeps.
- According to Wikipedia, The film is number thirty-four on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Funniest Movies, and Roger Ebert has revisited it in his “Great Movies” series. This film is number 32 on Bravo’s “100 Funniest Movies.” In Total Film’s 1990s special issue, Groundhog Day was deemed the best film of 1993.In 2000, readers of Total Film magazine voted it the seventh greatest comedy film of all time. As of January 2007, it was number 168 on the Top 250 Movies of all time, as rated by members of the Internet Movie Database, with an 8.0 rating out of 10. No so shabby. [↩]
- A groundhog living in the a town that has the same name – What are the chances of that? [↩]
- It’s an early spring if it’s a cloudy day so the groundhog does not see its shadow or it’s six more weeks of winter if the groundhog does see its shadow because that day is sunny? [↩]