Notes From the Ashtray


Dylan Gyles

The 1984 Ivan Reitman film Ghostbusters still holds up.

The script, co-written by Dan Aykroyd, Canadian born actor and vodka distiller, and the late Harold Ramis is brilliantly written and perfectly toes the line between comedy and horror. The practical effects used for the ghosts are purposefully cartoony, but they look and feel more authentic than the CGI more often used today. The only thing that dates Ghostbusters is the constant cigarette smoking.

The Ghostbusters all hold PhDs in parapsychology and smoke like 1940s doctors. Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), and Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) all smoke while performing their exorcist duties. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) is the only one we never see lighting up; Ramis had recently kicked the habit when filming began. Smoking is not limited to the stars of the film though; cops, hotel guests, construction workers, criminals, random passers-by and Larry King are all seen with cigarettes, both indoors and outside.

It is interesting that a film which contains so much tobacco use does so on an unconscious level. The Ghostbusters are not hard boiled or unhinged or cowardly or smooth womanizers (though Bill Murray comes close), or any other archetype smoking usually epitomizes. They are goofy, sarcastic, realistic scientists and they smoke cigarettes simply because it seems natural. Smoking isn’t used to lend atmosphere or set the mood of a scene, it doesn’t serve any particular purpose, it is simply there.

In most instances, we don’t even see the cigarettes being lit. When the Ghostbusters are on their first ghost hunt in the Sedgewick Hotel, Ray begins stalking the halls in one shot and already has a cigarette going by the next. Peter returns from a successful trapping with a lit cigarette dangling from his lips. Winston is smoking while driving the Ghostbusters hearse-ambulance, the Ecto-1, over the Brooklyn Bridge. These spirit-obsessed scientists are haunted by their nicotine addictions more so than any ghost.

In an interview, Ramis points out that the constant smoking is the only thing that cements Ghostbusters as an 80s movie and, he jokes, to stay contemporary in Ghostbusters II, released in 1989, they should have all been doing ecstasy. He also laughs at the scene near the end of the movie, after the Ghostbusters blow up the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, when Ray strikes a prolific pose and lights a celebratory cigarette. “The heart of 'The Ghostbusters',” says Ramis, “the Marlboro man.”


Dylan Gyles

Dylan Gyles is a writer and barista. He writes short fiction and creative non-fiction. He is originally from Winnipeg and now lives in Vancouver.


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