Wait a minute. Wait a minute, Doc.
One movie transcends time and space like no other.
Are you telling me you made a time machine…
It transcended the ’80s.
Then it went back and transcended the ’50s.
And ever since its release, it has been transcending every time period since.
…out of a DeLorean?
And I don’t have anything specific to say about it. But let’s talk about Back to the Future!
Michael J Fox
Zemeckis started shooting Back to the Future with Eric Stoltz cast as Marty McFly before deciding to turn back the hands of time and do a redo with a new up-and-comer who displayed a more youthful joy-de-vivre in his acting, Michael J Fox. And thank Scott he did…
Back to the Future is a great movie for many reasons, but without Michael J. Fox, it is easy to imagine the movie falling into rank with a bunch of other fun ’80s classics like War Games, Breakfast Club, The Goonies, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and the like… all of which are great movies, but movies we lump together as the ultimate display of an era of film. But Back to the Future doesn’t usually get placed in that grouping. It is usually placed in the ‘Greatest Movies of All Time’ grouping, and Michael J. Fox, especially considering the way he received the role, could be considered the scale-tipper.
But it is not just that he was the late addition that put the movie over the top. He also put together an all-time performance and created a character for movie lore. He embodied Marty McFly and his complicated relationship to his parents, young and old. And his delivery and, maybe more importantly, his facial expressions, deliver re-watch after re-watch after re-watch.
When I think about the greatness of Back to the Future, I remember how fun the story is and certain scenes that are unforgettable (hard to forget a mom jumping her own son in a parked car). But upon watching it recently (Okay…I watched it twice) I kept thinking about how killer certain shots were.
Some are iconic, like the flames jetting between the legs of Doc and Marty, but there are more subtle shots as well. I love the view of Marty skateboarding next to Einstein right before the DeLorean is revealed. I also love the over-the-TV shot of the picturesque ’50s family watching television at the dinner table.
There are also shots that are funny, like when Biff stands in front of Marty after being tripped in the soda jerk, and we only see Marty’s eyes peak over Biff’s massive shoulder, widening with surprise at the size of the man. Or as Marty’s face slowly appears next to George McFly’s, after he realizes it is his father… as a teenager. Or even the hard cut from debating whether Marty could play guitar at the Enchantment Under The Sea Dance, to him methodically strumming the red guitar. The movie is full of ‘em…
Johnny B. Goode
Although John Mulaney may have ruined some of the humor of this scene- well he ruined most of the humor in the entire movie- with his Back to the Future bit (If you don’t know what I am talking about, you need to leave this post immediately and look it up. Then watch all three of his stand ups on Netflix- don’t bother with Sack Lunch Bunch. I’ll wait…) this scene is still a classic.
The scene is funny, as Marty woodenly strums his guitar, and tense, as Lorraine is taken from George’s grasp (Although I feel like they went to the well one to many times with a guy grabbing/groping Loraine. Couldn’t they have come up with another way to do this?).
And then, in a moment of levity after a huge conflict is resolved, Marty let’s rip Johnny B. Goode, which is, for some unknowable reason, the exact song he should have played in that moment. I get amped every time he preps his band, “Alright guys, let’s do some blues riff in b, watch me for the changes, and uh, try and keep up, okay?” Then the opening riff hits, and away we go into movie magic.
And then white people steal the song in a bit of cultural appropriation, but I digress…
Timeless Story of Love…
Ever since Oedipus did the dirty with his mom, Freudian pscho-analysts have had a field day with hot moms and the poor sons they birthed. And just when people thought the story couldn’t have another derivation (only repetition), Back to the Future swoops in and gives us Lorraine and Marty.
Their interactions are equal parts painful, hilarious, and cringey, shaken and served in a martini glass with lime. But this storyline, that could so easily become unenjoyable because of everything mentioned above, remains innocent and fun in the hands of Zemeckis.
Not only that- or maybe because of that- this plot-line also creates some terrific commentary on family life in the ’80s and ’50s. It pokes holes in the apple-pie-view that children of the ’80s had of their parent’s teenage years, smeared with the grease of wholesome good times and innocent adventures. But when Marty goes back in time, he sees the foundation, for his world of the ’80s in his parent’s world of the ’50s. He sees the way his parents became who they were (and who they could have been), the rebellion that was brewing under the ‘square’ establishment that was telling them how to live, and the beginnings of the disconnected families that so defines the ’80s, including families sitting together, but not together, while watching TV at the dinner table.
All of these stories are told through the love struck eyes of Lorraine as she navigates her feelings for her own son.
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