I’m going to go ahead and go on record that the summer of 1985 was VERY good to me. I was eight years old, wrists full of jelly bracelets and sticker collection full of Garbage Pail Kids. I had a bike, the ice cream truck stopped on my street and it took less than 5 minutes to get to both Pizza Hut and a movie theater. Clearly, I was living the dream.
The euphoric feeling of weeks of no school stretched before me making movie trailers all that more intoxicating and each release date loomed like a giant in the distance. By the time June ended, Goonies already had me searching the woods behind our house for treasure and I had gathered all the green tchotchkes in the house into one room thanks to Return to Oz.
Mom seemed skeptical of the PG-13 rating for Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, so my July film excitement hung on Back to the Future and I couldn’t wait. Going into the theater, I was pretty confident. I hadn’t been let down by many films yet and though Robert Zemeckis hadn’t made it into my personal lexicon, I trusted Steven Spielberg, purveyor of Indiana Jones and E.T., implicitly.
When the theater went quiet and the ticking clocks and camera pans of the opening sequence demanded attention, I didn’t know what any of it meant, but I was rapt. The moment that truly sucked me in at that first viewing, and still does to this day, is when the headphones go on, ‘The Power of Love’ kicks in and we first see Marty McFly’s skateboard skills. I am not afraid to admit that was the beginning of my love affair with Huey Lewis and the News and my friend Karen Thompson’s older brother who had freckles like Henry Thomas and a blue Nerf skateboard.
Admittedly, both relationships have fizzled over the years, but that was the first time I remember connecting a specific song (that wasn’t a piece of score) to a movie and the concept was intense. We take song association for granted now, but when I couldn’t hear that song anymore without thinking about Marty skating around Hill Valley, that was powerful everyday magic for an eight year old.
It’s easy to dismiss a film like Back to the Future as a comedy romp, and while it is a really fun film to watch, it was surprisingly topical at the time. Growing up in the eighties was full of terrorism worries, scientific exploration and a lot of talk about the future. Being a kid, I wasn’t sure of the details, but I knew vaguely what was going on in the world from what Ronald Reagan told me and what I gathered from movies, though I absorbed the knowledge in my own way. Back to the Future was no exception.
For years my sister and I referred to any Volkswagen Bus as a ‘Terrorist Van’, therefore up to no good, and I was convinced that the government was secretly working on a time machine because even though Doc Brown was fictional, NASA could literally do ANYTHING.
(Note to self: Research possible connection between Dharma Initiative and Plutonium)
To me, Back to the Future is a film that will always be more about the story and the imagery it provides than about technical film making. It was from the time before everyone was using CGI willy nilly and there seemed to be more substance to film. Realistic in its simplicity with the use of aging makeup and a dressed up DeLorean, everything seemed so real. Terrorism was happening, there were cars with doors that opened like hatches and who knows what was going on at NASA? Even the characters and quirky understatement of the performances added credence. Michael J. Fox fumbled through his parents’ youth in a way that was relatable and Crispin Glover and Lea Thompson seemed to make my own parents, both born in 1940, all the more human. I was transfixed and when the VHS finally arrived at Erol’s Video, I got butterflies when I saw this:
No movies will ever come close to the ones that impact you as a child, and it’s a shame that we can’t approach them as wide-eyed as we once did. I can’t wait to see it on the big screen again this Saturday for the first time since that summer when my worries were few, my excitement for the future was huge and I maybe spent a little more time over at Karen Thompson’s house.
BACK TO THE FUTURE screens this Saturday at our Alamo Drafthouse in Winchester, Virginia. Tickets can be found by CLICKING HERE. Happy 30th Anniversary!
Christy Broy is the one who gripped you tight and raised you from Perdition. She occasionally emerges from the depths of Fandom to expound on issues of character and imagery in your favorite film that you just read about in the post above.
She makes Great Art Which is Found Here.
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