BWW Review: Sedona International Film Festival Features THE BILL MURRAY STORIES ~ Urban Legend Extraordinaire!
If showing up is 80% of life, then Bill Murray has exceeded expectations. That's quite clear from the depth of his success and the universality of appeal that he has commanded for the last forty-three years. His status as a comic force, launched in 1976 on Saturday Night Live and blazing a blockbuster trail on the big screen, would be enough to grant him legendary status.
Murray lays claim, however, to legendhood for another rather fascinating reason. It turns out that he pops up, unannounced, in the lives of everyday people, in a way that is, well, transformative.
The seemingly tall tales about his appearances (perhaps more accurately described as interventions) attracted the attention of Tommy Avallone (the director of I Am Santa Claus) who wanted to know more about, if not verify, what Murray was up to when he was off the film set.
The result is a wildly entertaining and inspiring documentary ~ THE BILL MURRAY STORIES ~ LIFE LESSONS LEARNED FROM A MYTHICAL MAN. (The film is one of the features at this year's Sedona International Film Festival.)
After failed attempts to connect with Murray directly, Avallone resorts to meeting the people who have experienced the close encounters of the Murray kind. Without exception, everyone he meets is over the moon about their experience ~ for reasons that extend beyond the thrill of meeting a celebrity.
In a film seasoned with celebratory accounts of surprise visits by the "mythical man," Avallone unreels an impression of a spiritual Bill Murray that transcends the earthbound Bill Murray.
Murray is revealed as a quixotic traveler trafficking in the zen and art of people maintenance. And, that's where the "life lessons" come in.
As Avallone's odyssey takes him to cities across the country ~ from Charleston, South Carolina where Murray crashed an engagement party to Austin, Texas where he suddenly tended bar at the Shangri-La and to New York's Battery Park City where he read poetry to construction workers at Poets House ~ we learn that Murray is doing something that is "beyond cool."
Avallone unearths the reality that, in every random interaction, with authenticity and egolessness, Murray is giving regular folks an amazing experience that stays with them well beyond the moment and, in the process, emulates a way of life. (The point is accentuated in an interview with Rolling Stone contributing editor Gavin Edwards, the author of The Tao of Bill Murray).
Murray, the happy wanderer, by his spirit of spontaneity, models lessons about the value of living life on auto-pilot, the thrill of being fully engaged in life and embracing the moment, and the surprises that come with connecting with strangers. This is the soul of the tao.
Lee Briccetti, the executive director of Poets House, crystallizes the essence of Murray's random interactions and acts of kindness as a means of "magnifying the random particulars." Murray is the champion of carpe diem, urging observance of and respect for the particulars in life that are "matters of consequence."
Indeed, if there is another revelation that derives from Avallone's journey, it is, in this reviewer's mind, that Bill Murray is St. Exupery's Little Prince grown up, fully living the fox's truth that love comes from investing in other people.
The why of Murray's actions is interpreted further in interviews with friends, commentators, and mentors.
We learn that Murray's training with Del Close, the improv guru, imbued in him the challenge of being in the moment.
Most intriguing is David Allan's take on the meaning of Bill Murray as it is expressed in his films. The CNN writer of The Wisdom Project discusses the thematic threads ~ enlightenment, moving on to nirvana, redemption ~ that weave consistently through comedies like Meatballs, Caddyshack, Groundhog Day, and Scrooged and even the drama, The Razor's Edge.
Avallone has packed into the documentary a marvelous chronicle of Murray's peregrinations. It's revelatory, engaging, and inspiring.
Be advised, by the way, to remain seated after the credits for a sweet postscript.
For my part, I'll be on the lookout for Bill to appear...out of nowhere...for a moment that will last well beyond his departure.
Photo credit to Tommy Avallone ~ Bill and Tommy, who finally got to meet Murray at a Charleston River Dogs baseball game!
Sedona International Film Festival ~ https://sedonafilmfestival.com/ ~ 928-282-1177
Saturday, February 23rd through Sunday, March 3rd
Purchase passes at https://sedonafilmfestival.org/purchase-passes/
Multiple venues: Mary D. Fisher Theatre, 2030 W. Highway 89A; Harkins Theatres, 2081 W. Highway 89A; Sedona Performing Arts Center, 995 Upper Red Rock Loop Road