Tuesday, July 13, 2010

It Ghost To Show You

It hasn't been a full year since Patrick Swayze died of pancreatic cancer. That anniversary is still two months away.

While it was truly tragic that he died at the age of 57, it would have been nice if he could have survived for another 10 months.

Because today is the 20th anniversary of the theatrical release of what is arguably his most memorable performance. Sure, some people will tell you that they think of Johnny Castle in "Dirty Dancing" or Orry Main in the TV miniseries North and South when they think of Swayze, and those were both solid performances.

But I tend to think of "Ghost" — which was released on this date 20 years ago.

And I do so for reasons that really have nothing to do with Swayze or anyone else connected with the movie.

Actually, I thought the story was good but not great — certainly not, at least in my opinion, worthy of the Oscar it won for Best Original Screenplay. The acting, I thought, was rather pedestrian. In fact, I thought there were minor supporting actors and actresses in the cast who did more with less.

And then, lo and behold, Whoopi Goldberg up and won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance.

But that isn't what I remember about "Ghost."

What I remember is that I never saw it at the theater. I saw it about 15 months later. I was wrapping up my work on my master's degree in journalism, and I had taken a few days off from work to study for and take my comprehensive exams.

From time to time, I would take a break from my studying, which usually included switching on the TV. And "Ghost" was playing a lot on cable at that time — seemed like it was on every time I switched on my set.

Anyway, I watched it in pieces and out of sequence that week. I don't think I ever saw it from start to finish — and that, I suppose, is why, to this day, I still think of various parts of "Ghost" when I think of topics from my comprehensive exam — and vice versa.

Even when I was taking a break, I suppose, my mind was still going over the material I had been studying.

Of course, there is more to remember.

Like, for example, the fact that it was directed by Jerry Zucker, who participated in the production of "Airplane!" and "The Naked Gun." With that kind of background, you might expect more of a slapstick kind of a movie. But, while it had its humorous moments, "Ghost" was astonishingly restrained. Therefore, I guess you would have to say that the virtual absence of that sort of thing was a welcome surprise.

And I would say that Swayze was something of a surprise, too. I wouldn't exactly call "Ghost" the swan song of his career — he was involved in film and television projects for the next couple of decades — and I'm not sure you could call it his masterpiece, but it was certainly an improvement over the two films he made the year before — "Next of Kin" and "Road House," both of which earned Swayze "Worst Actor" nominations from the Razzy Awards.

I guess it goes without saying that, before "Ghost," the expectations for Swayze were not terribly high.

But he was back on the map after "Ghost." A few months after it was released at the theaters — and was well on its way to earning more than half a billion dollars — Swayze hosted Saturday Night Live and joined Chris Farley in a memorable sketch in which the two auditioned for the Chippendales.