Friday, October 21, 2016

And now back to my future

Almost exactly a year after I wrote a post in which I explained why I hadn't watched my second favorite movie of all time in more than a decade, I finally ended that drought.

The occasion was my 43rd birthday, which passed on Thursday.

An appropriate time to be considering "the future," though I'd say it probably stops at that superficial level. Sure, Back to the Future has some angst about what a person will become in their own future, but the occasion of my 43rd birthday does not happen to be bringing such angst upon me myself. Maybe it should be, but it isn't.

This is a resumption of a tradition of watching a favorite movie on my birthday, which I wrote about here. The tradition had to be skipped last year when I had a meeting scheduled for the night of my birthday, after which I saw a movie in the theater (Black Mass, bad choice). However, this year I was home with the family, with a Mexican dinner and with margaritas, so the tradition was back on.

Pulp Fiction -- another favorite I have not seen in more than ten years, really more like 15 years -- was considered, but my wife vetoed it for reasons of length. (We'll watch it soon, though, she promises.) So Back to the Future, shorter by an hour (is Pulp Fiction really three hours??), won out.

As I always am with these sacred cows, I was worried that I'd find something in Back to the Future this time around that just didn't sit well with me. Something that knocked it down a few pegs -- or more than a few pegs -- in my estimation. Yeah, I'm still a bit traumatized from my unexpectedly poor most recent viewing of The Empire Strikes Back.

Fortunately, Back to the Future was just as good as it ever is. In fact, it was so good that I spent the movie with my body in a constant state that can be described as somewhere between humming and chills. And I don't think it was just the margaritas.

Some isolated thoughts ...

Oh those rapey 1950s

My wife was only first introduced to Back to the Future by me in 2005, which was also my last viewing. She has never been a huge fan of it (for some reason she always compares it to Big, which I also introduced her to and which she likes much better), and so I probably shouldn't have been surprised that I'm never really going to bring her around to that opinion. Fishing for words of praise at the end got me some polite answers but no real enthusiasm. Fair enough. I can't recreate the experience I had of it, which was seeing it in 1985 when I was 11 and having my noodle fried.

One of the things she was most eager to discuss was Biff's assault of Lorraine in the car, and how gross it was. "So he was basically raping her," she pointed out, a bit discomfitted by the fact that the movie doesn't take it more seriously.

I'd probably dispute whether the movie makes light of it or not, but it is a curiously heavy -- to borrow a word that recurs in the movie -- development in the story. I mean, both of them are fully clothed, but do we really want to know what he was doing with those big meat hooks?

The moment I find stranger, however, is when the "Scram McFly, I'm cuttin' in" guy thinks nothing of some casual, open dance floor, Donald Trump-style rapey behavior. There are a couple odd things about this moment. For one, for no good reason, it almost entirely saps George McFly of all his confidence. You'd think that after just knocking out Biff and just being asked by Lorraine when he would kiss her, he'd have plenty of bluster. Yet instead he looks for a moment like all the gains he's just made have been lost, and all because he's obeying some outmoded form of dance floor gentlemanly protocol that requires you to relinquish the dance even when some totally creepy guy tries to cut in.

Then there's the absurdity of his behavior. He starts cackling like a supervillain as yet another man at this dance tries to breach Lorraine's inner sanctum. That's not sexy, man.

I think I excuse this on the grounds of the moment taking on a sense of surrealism and fantasy. The score becomes frenzied as Marty's hand begins to disappear up on stage, and the ridiculous cackling seems to be emblematic of how little hope there is that he won't straight up fade from existence right there. So, not quite as egregious.

I wonder what would have happened, though, if Marty had faded entirely from view, and then 15 minutes later George had gotten his nuts up and knocked that ginger out. (No offense to red-headed people, I'm just writing saucily at the moment.) Would he have been granted an abrupt physical reality once again? And would that still have been time enough to get to the clock tower?

I could go down a conundrum rabbit hole here but I won't.

Oh those murdery 1950s

The two consecutive attempted rapes may be one thing, but what about Biff actually trying to murder Marty?

Because that of course is what the outcome would be if you drive a human being on a skateboard into the back of a truck filled with manure.

Biff only describes it as "ramming" him, but "squashing/crushing" him would probably be more accurate.

Which sets up my next topic ...

The tremendous physicality

On this viewing I really appreciated how successful the physicality of this movie is -- both the physical comedy, but also just how the physical body is used as a dynamic object in general.

In that previous scene it would have been Marty stepping through the open convertible to emerge on the other side atop his skateboard, but the choreography in general is just magnificent in this film. I'll delineate it as thoroughly yet as briefly as I can:

- The great shot of Marty falling over while trying to pull up his pants

- Lorraine repeatedly turning toward the camera ("My God, it's my mother!" "Isn't he a dreamboat?")

- Doc's every spasmodic movement, but even his quieter moments, like slowly slumping down on the shrouded Delorean as he realizes their task to break Marty's spell on Lorraine will be ever more difficult than he guessed

- Marty's two incidents of bowling over spectators, first as he's leaving the diner and he dominoes Biff's henchmen, then a few minutes later when he skateboards into a couple professionals carrying and armload of papers

- Marty's tremendous stumble backwards into the barn after Old Man Peabody has taken a shotgun blast at him -- and the perfectly timed blasting of his mailbox a few moments later

- Doc's Harold Lloyd act as he tries to reconnect the downed lightning bolt conductor on the clock tower, specifically when that sharp bit hanging on his trouser leg tears the fabric and inches ever closer to falling, thereby ruining the whole enterprise

- And pretty much any moment involving Marty uncertainly running -- he is pretty much the king of uncertain running

Insufficient warning

"I've got a time machine, I've got all the time in the world! I can go back early and warn him. Ten minutes should be enough."

IN WHAT UNIVERSE WOULD TEN MINUTES EVER HAVE BEEN ENOUGH? (And actually, he randomly selects 11 minutes.)

Not the only funny bit involving the time circuit in the Delorean. At the start, Doc introduces it by saying "This is where you're going, this is where you are, and this is where you were." I may not have the order exactly correct there, but neither did they -- Doc lists which one is which incorrectly. As it of course didn't matter, they just left it -- if they even noticed it at the time of filming.

The teary moment

I've been finding when I go back and revisit these old favorites, I almost or actually cry in a moment where I had never noticed doing that before. (Raising Arizona is kind of my standard for that.) In this viewing it was the moment when George McFly punches Biff out and then delivers that quivering "Are you okay?" to Lorraine. She doesn't even need to answer.

What's your hurry?

At the end of the movie -- and this is probably a good time to wrap up this post -- it seems truly absurd that Marty, having just walked back from a near unsolvable time conundrum into a life that is a hundred times better than it was before, would be so eager to immediately leave that life and go jump into a time machine again. I mean, maybe at least take the truck out for that camping trip first?

Still love it though.

As the movie does give us that direct bridge into Back to the Future II, I wondered if I might put a viewing of II and III -- both of which I've seen only once -- on to my schedule.

But I think I'll hold off for now. I don't want to mess with the humming chills the movie gave me.

Though, I suppose, I could just drink some more margaritas.

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