Combustible Celluloid

Film Books: The Art of Being Bill

Bill Waters Run Deep

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Art of Being Bill: The Many Faces of Awesome
By Ezra Croft and Jennifer Raiser
Race Point Publishing
October 25, 2018

When I was a kid, in movies like Stripes and Ghostbusters, Bill Murray was a super-cool guy who could remain slightly outside of a situation, hovering just above it all while delivering hilariously flip commentary. About ten years later, his status became elevated with Groundhog Day, a strangely perfect concoction, and a secretly spiritual movie in disguise as a Hollywood romantic comedy; that movie's mythology continues to grow with each passing year. Ten years after that came Lost in Translation, with a genuinely great performance, a piece of acting that could compare with Chaplin. In the years since, Murray's transformation to guru became complete as he appeared in a series of supporting roles in arthouse movies, basking in the alternativeness of it all, but almost always stealing whatever scenes he was in.

And thus we have the marvelous new book The Art of Being Bill: The Many Faces of Awesome (Race Point Publishing, $25), by Ezra Croft and Jennifer Raiser. Very simply, it's a large collection of paintings and artwork of Bill, sometimes inspired by certain roles in certain movies, sometimes inspired by other artists or styles, or just by the essence of Bill himself. In-between, Croft and Raiser provide breakdowns of Murray's essential movie roles, from Meatballs (1979) — "it just doesn't matter!" — to the voice of Baloo in The Jungle Book (2016). Each one is accompanied by a behind-the-scenes factoid. The book makes no apologies for less-than-satisfying movies like Rock the Kasbah, assuming that, because it has Murray in it, it's worth something.

The artworks are divided into chapters approximating Murray's many moods, ranging from "The Jester," "The Thinker," and "The Charming" to "The Intense," "The Exasperated," and "The Melancholy." Toward the end, we get "The Complex," and then, simply, and appropriately, "The Legend." Truthfully, though I consider myself a lifelong fan, and I feel that I've frequently come to his defense when other, fair-weather fans have abandoned him (Broken Flowers, especially), The Art of Being Bill makes me feel like an amateur. It digs deeper, has spent more time and effort thinking about him, than I could ever dream of doing.

Murray himself is said to be a strange duck, operating almost entirely outside the standards of Hollywood fame. He has no agent and apparently uses a secret voicemail with which to obtain new scripts. (Sofia Coppola used all of her connections to get Lost in Translation to him and nearly failed.) He makes surprise appearances in random places. But otherwise, he's reclusive and not at all easy to nail down. The thing I've always heard about him is that, though he can make all of us laugh effortlessly — he seems to always be on, to always be Bill — he himself does not laugh so easily.

It's this mystery that makes him so endlessly fascinating, and makes him worthy of such a book. Indeed, I can't think of another person alive that would be able to fill out so many pages with so many different adoring portraits, so many artists attempting to crack the secrets behind this legend, and ultimately, not changing a thing. And we, and likely Bill, too, would have it no other way.

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