Time is relative right now. The jury’s still out on any semblance of a summer movie season. Thus, the Midwest Film Journal is celebrating — at least in the astronomical sense — Endless Summer. In this intermittent series, which will run through the autumnal equinox on Sept. 22, we’ll look back at summer films from seasons past. Big, small, light, heavy, wild successes and weird misfires. Our multiplex is full and open for Endless Summer.
Adam Baidy is the biggest Serena Williams fan you’ll ever meet. Playing trivia, watching movies and spending too much money in St. Louis takes up most of his free time. He’s also trying his best to forgive and move on, but he’s still really angry with Olivia Colman.
I am sure I did not see Ghost in the theater. My aunt would take me to see movies often, but I can hear her saying to 14-year-old Adam: “I’m not taking you to see that.” It wasn’t until long after Ghost had left theaters that I saw it, likely on my mother’s couch. Why has the film carved a permanent spot in my brain and why am I still quoting the movie to this day?
This essay could be truly short. I could call Ghost a soap opera, say I love soap operas and be done. Indeed, Ghost serves up Agnes Nixon 101 — great love, great loss, sweeping romance, cunning villains …and yet there’s more. Underneath the melodrama, Ghost is a party crasher — a bust-through-the-door, silence-the-crowd death drop of a movie that feels a little underappreciated 30 years on.
Who drops a love story about a murdered banker named Sam (Patrick Swayze), his heartbroken girlfriend, Molly (Demi Moore) and a questionable psychic named Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg) who helps the two reconnect across the astral plane in the middle of summer? July 13 wasn’t exactly the prime summer real estate in 1990 that such a date would be today. The studio suits at Paramount Pictures knew they were swimming in movie-star capital with that cast. But I don’t believe any of them realized just how skillfully Ghost balanced its tones, shifting back and forth between tense mystery, supernatural fantasy and dramatic love story — very distinct styles whose compelling, intertwined presentation make Ghost both easily digestible and endlessly filling.
I bet Paramount thought Ghost would be a modest hit … not the highest-grossing film of 1990.
OK, Ghost. You are a big ol’ hit. You turned the box office upside down. What else ya got?
We gonna crash Oscar season.
Fourteen-year-old Adam loved soap operas. But he loved the Oscars more. And what he loved even more than those golden statuettes was an Oscar intruder — one that storms in and makes all those powdered-wig, evening-gown movies turn up their noses. Leading the charge was Goldberg winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. I realize now that seeing a Black woman — at the time the first Black woman to win an Oscar since Hattie McDaniel — win an acting award was thrilling to me even though I was too young to appreciate it.
Goldberg turns Oda Mae into the scene-stealing thunderstorm we all love, so her win was not all thatsurprising. But that Oscar win for Best Original Screenplay — sorry, Woody Allen — is one crazy jaw-dropper. As the young’uns would say: “The powdered wigs got snatched.”
How can I talk about Ghost without mentioning the song and that scene? We did not listen to the Righteous Brothers — more of a Temptations kinda house. I do not believe, until I saw Ghost, that I had ever heard “Unchained Melody” but I cannot imagine another song capturing the sexiness and sensuality of Molly and Sam’s relationship. It is another gem of genius used by director Jerry Zucker to fully immerse us in the passion between these doomed lovers. Haunting and hypnotic, “Unchained Melody” stirred something up in those who treasured the song previously — for how many weddings, proms and otherwise enchanted evenings did it serve as the soundtrack — and the new folks, like me, were treated to a perfect movie moment.
Going back to Ghost today, now on my own couch … well, I’m still unprepared for the gut punch that is the ending. I’m never ready at all for all that dust that gets in my eyes. Like all great movies, Ghost saves its greatest trick for last. The love we have for Molly and Sam’s own doomed love for each other is heartbreaking enough. But Zucker and company expertly add a double whammy of the emotional wallop in answering the film’s central question: What happens to us when we die? This juxtaposition uses your own emotions and experiences against you, and I suggest you have the tissues ready if you also decide to revisit the film.
I could have made this essay short. But that wasn’t an option. Ghost deserves more than a simple description. It needs more than an easy label. Most importantly, had I gone the lazy route, the message from Nick would’ve been “Molly … you in danger, girl,” and we’ve all seen enough of that quote.