Ivan Reitman is one of the pioneers of modern comedy in Hollywood. He passed away peacefully, in his sleep on the 12th of February. He is survived by his wife Genevieve and three children. This is including fellow filmmaker Jason Reitman, who was the director of the recent Ghostbusters: Afterlife.
Born in 1946 in Komarno, Czechoslovakia, his parents were both Jewish. His mother was a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp, and his father fought in the Czech resistance. They emigrated to Canada as refugees when Reitman was 4 years old. He later attended McMaster University, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Music in 1969.
After university, he worked at local TV station CITY-TV – also the first announcing gig of future friend and collaborator Dan Aykroyd. After a short stay at the station (he was fired in his first year) his first commercial film opportunities came in producing two early David Cronenberg films, Shivers (1975) and Rabid (1977).
Comedy Director & Gamechanger
Reitman’s big break in Hollywood came when he produced National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978) and directed breakout star Bill Murray in Meatballs (1979). Following on from this was a string of comedy hits that cemented Reitman as an in-demand director, such as Stripes, Ghostbusters, Twins and Kindergarten Cop.
His muse in the early days was definitely Bill Murray. In fact one could make an argument that without Reitman, Murray’s career wouldn’t have been anywhere near as successful, as they had a unique working relationship where they understood each other’s processes – until they had a falling out, which was fortunately patched up before Reitman’s passing.
Reitman continued to direct in the 90s and early noughties, with films like Evolution and My Super Ex-Girlfriend. He took a step back from directing in this period though, those films being three-four years apart. He also produced a lot of successful films during this time, like Space Jam, Road Trip and Old School.
Reitman leaves behind an impressive body of work. He leaves behind some of the biggest comedy moments of the 20th century. Animal House – along with Airplane – are something of a blueprint for comedy films up to forty years post-release. Reitman’s involvement in these projects speaks to his vision.
Ghostbusters, which might look to be a disaster project on paper, combines the odd confluence of factors to put forward a really effective film. The blend of horror and comedy is a tricky line to walk for any filmmaker, with the potential to trip up filmmakers with the best of intentions. As a result, many entries into the genre fall flat, leaning too heavily into one direction or the other. However, Ghostbusters is still very fondly regarded and manages to neatly walk the tightrope between the two disparate genres.
Ultimately, Reitman leaves behind a legacy of laughter. His many fans will mourn his passing. His films are cultural touchstones for many viewers, nostalgic reminders of their childhoods. Tributes have poured in from celebrities, such as Ernie Hudson and Dan Aykroyd, as well as Arnold Schwarzenegger calling him “comedy royalty”.
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