Chad Comello

libraries, culture, typewriters

Tag: Back to the Future (page 1 of 2)

Which movie changed you?

On Being—a top-5 podcast for me—has a new offshoot podcast called This Movie Changed Me, with “one fan talking about the transformative power of one movie.” So far they’ve featured Star Wars: A New HopeEternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and You’ve Got Mail.

It made me think about what mine would be. The quick and easy answer would be Back to the Future, if only because of how much I’ve written about it on this site. But I think there are other candidates. Some that come to mind, all for different reasons, include It’s a Wonderful LifeHigh FidelityOnceToy Story, and Unbreakable.

I don’t know. I have to think about this. What’s yours?

Update: I want to include some of the replies I’ve gotten to this query:

  • “Oddly enough, Snowpiercer. While it’s a terribly chaotic movie, man, it haunts me every day. The ignorant frivolity of the front car compared to the ruthless survival of the back cars…way too real. I probably think about it every day. Because I’m one of the front car a**holes.”
  • “It’s A Wonderful Life. Each Christmas Eve we watch it I learn something from the movie that is applied to my life; courage through hardship, wisdom of God, love of family and friends, mystery of life. It’s amazing how this movie has been intertwined with me on a small yet profound level.”
  • “Cloud Atlas. I frankly had a spiritual experience in the theater. It articulated my worldview in a way I hadn’t really seen before (or at least to that extent). Uneven as it may be, it floored me.”
  • “While I look at it quite differently now, Chasing Amy had a huge impact on me. Her monologue about sexual freedom and independence is feminist AF and it was like finally having my thoughts and feelings validated.”
  • Do the Right Thing made me aware of how I process anger as a white person.”

Adventures in portable television studios

Stumbled upon this video explaining the groundbreaking visual effects in the Back to the Future trilogyI knew ILM’s work on the films was innovative, but I didn’t understand specifically how the technology worked until seeing this. It’s cheesy and a little long, but worth the watch:

P.S. Happy BTTF Day!

BTTF 4 is here!

2016-04-27 12.13.44.jpg

Anyone pining for a Back to the Future IV ought to just read IDW’s ongoing series of “Untold Tales and Alternate Timelines” comics. Co-written by Bob Gale, they weave in and out of the trilogy and its characters with new backstory (my favorite so far being Clara’s story in #5) and “extended universe” stories.

I don’t think I’ve ever read comics before, at least nothing outside of the Christian subculture I grew up in. Not sure how these compare to the best of them in style and substance, but as a BTTF nerd I find them delightful, and a much better alternative to an actual Part IV.

A Reader’s Guide to Back to the Future

I noticed a motif of paper, reading, and the written word throughout the Back to the Future trilogy. Perhaps that’s much more common in movies set in pre-Internet times, but I thought it was especially prevalent in the Holy Trilogy:

Part I:

Part 2:

 Part 3:

 

Closing the Almanac

Marty_almanac-1955

On the Fandom-Industrial Complex and Moving Forward from Back to the Future

The day Back to the Future fans have waited for is finally here. The thirty-year countdown to October 21, 2015, one of the most well-known dates in movie history (despite how often it has been incorrectly reported on the interwebs), is over [1]. There’s been an ongoing celebration of the trilogy on the internet and in real life: this Wired dispatch by Jason Tanz, “Fandom Eats Itself at New York Comic Con,” spotlights the kind of reception a widely loved favorite like BTTF gets in the more insular (yet quickly expanding) world of nerd culture:

The rowdiest panel I attended was about the film Back In Time, a documentary about Back to the Future fans. The documentarians presented themselves as Back to the Future fans, but also as fans of other Back to the Future fans, like the guy who spent more than $500,000 to buy the original DeLorean time machine. The audience greeted the documentarians as celebrities too, making them fans of fans of fans of Back to the Future.

Fandom is eating itself, but from the tone of the article and the culture at large you wouldn’t think this is a bad thing. Tanz describes the end of the panel, when the documentary filmmakers give away replicas of the specially produced Pepsi Perfect bottles featured in Part II to everyone in the audience. “Before the event,” he writes, “I had rolled my eyes at the promotion, a two-decade long-con of corporate sponsorship. But here, surrounded by red-vested Marties, whooping and stampeding toward the back of the hall, I couldn’t help but feel a begrudging thrill as I grabbed my goddamn bottle of Pepsi Perfect. What can I say? I guess I’m a fan.”

It’s not an exaggeration to say Back to the Future has been a foundational element of my life. I don’t remember when exactly I watched the trilogy, but middle school was when it caught on with a fury. Since then it’s embedded itself into my identity so thoroughly that I’ve heard from several friends and acquaintances that I’m the first person they think of to send BTTF-related articles, parodies, fake product announcements, and news bites of every stripe. It’s a distinction I’ve willingly cultivated over the years, what with my effusive writings on the subject, my collection of homemade and gifted memorabilia, my eager attendance at meet-and-greets with cast members, and my delight at two separate encounters (both arranged by my very accommodating father) with cosplaying Doc Browns.

So when I read articles like this, at the tail end of decades of brand-sponsored fandom, I’m conflicted. The incipient parade of new Star Wars films and its adjacent subculture has helped me see this phenomenon of superfandom from the outside. I’ve never been much of a Star Wars fan. This might be due to not watching them at an impressionable young age as I think was the case with many of its proponents. But, separating my impression of it from its iconic place in film history, I also don’t like them all that much. So when every scrap of news from the now Disney-owned Lucasfilm universe is alternately drooled over and dissected, I get that “uncanny valley” feeling of seeing another version of my BTTF-loving self that doesn’t quite feel right, that I’m prone to criticize or roll my eyes at without realizing how much it looks like me.

In a post called “Withdraw Into Yourself Forever,” Fredrik deBoer criticizes what I’ll call the fandom-industrial complex, the natural outgrowth of a cultural landscape littered with infinitely rebooted Superhero Brand franchises and their surrounding ecosystems that encourage you to keep on loving and buying it in perpetuity, and blur the lines between those two things. “It’s the creation,” deBoer writes, “of an economic, social, cultural, and even political infrastructure to convince you that your urge to dive deeper into the stuff you already like is always the correct feeling. It’s an ideology of taste that is totally unfettered by anachronistic compulsions to be more widely read, or to try new things, or to acquire a cultural literacy other than the stuff that you have always loved.” And it’s a phenomenon perfectly encapsulated in Wired’s dispatch from Comic Con.

I’m not advocating for consuming only new things or for abandoning the things you love simply because other people like them (nor do I think deBoer is). Rewatching favorite movies, or going back to an album that perfectly scores a moment or mood is a unique thrill—and that in our time is unbelievably easy to do. But I still try to subscribe to the tenets Alan Jacobs lays down in his great book The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, which I’ve adapted for moviegoing here:

  • Whim: Watch what you want, when you want to, without shame.
  • Aspiration: …but don’t get stuck watching the same stuff—branch out and seek to be a better watcher.
  • Upstream: Seek out the older works that inspired your favorites and be challenged to “swim upstream.” It might be challenging sometimes but the rewards will be greater than just coasting downstream.
  • Responsiveness: Don’t be afraid to take notes and respond to what you’re watching—make moviegoing matter.
  • Slow: You’ll miss the little things if you view moviegoing as simply uploading information. Slow down and you’ll absorb more.

Jacobs meant for these to be an approach to reading books, but taken together they work just as well for a more balanced and thoughtful approach to consumption of whatever culture you’re into. They’re also a challenge for myself, and a reminder of what other good I could be missing every time I return to Hill Valley, however weirdly charming it is.

I’m not breaking up with BTTF. I married a Jennifer, for Doc’s sake. In 2015 no less [2]. Our first dance was to the movie version of “Earth Angel,” which was immediately followed by a group dance with our bridal party to “Power of Love.” I think I’ve fulfilled my density. The trilogy will always be there for me to enjoy. But the hegemony it has enjoyed over my identity has begun to wane. I don’t want to withdraw into Back to the Future forever. I’m so grateful for its place in my cultural biography and for its fraternity of enthusiastic fans, but I’ve got the same blank page Marty and Jennifer got at the end of the trilogy when Doc says their future hasn’t been written yet, that it would be whatever they made it.

It’s time to explore a new future, and today is as good a time as any to begin doing so.

 

Footnotes
1. I think November 5, 1955, is the more important date, but who’s asking?
2. Believe it or not, this didn’t dawn on me until a few months before the wedding, which unfortunately didn’t happen in the Chapel O’ Love.

We Don’t Need Roads

Caseen Gaines, author of Inside Pee-wee’s Playhouse: The Untold, Unauthorized, and Unpredictable Story of a Pop Phenomenon, leads this year’s deluge of commentary honoring the Back to the Future trilogy’s 30th anniversary with a wide-ranging and lovingly crafted retrospective on the development, production, and long afterlife of the 1985 time-travel classic. Built upon extensive interviews with cast, crew, studio executives, and even Huey Lewis (who wrote the movie’s famous theme “Power of Love”), the book explores the treasure trove of trivia usually reserved for hardcore BTTF buffs.

Like the futuristic DeLorean itself, Gaines flies over lots of fascinating territory, dispelling myths (no, hoverboards still aren’t real), revealing production snafus (how a stunt almost turned deadly), and explaining the curious case of casting Marty McFly. We Don’t Need Roads benefits from the detailed recollections of the trilogy’s co-writer Bob Gale and director/co-writer Robert Zemeckis, but not from the onslaught of clichés and Entertainment Tonight-style copy Gaines unfortunately succumbs to. (It pains me to say this as a longtime BTTFhead.) Nevertheless, equal parts celebration and exposition, it’s a well-informed ode to a beloved series that casual moviegoers will enjoy as much as dedicated cinephiles.

The Plutonium Plot: An Ode to Doc Brown

Remember, remember, the fifth of November,
When Doc bumped his head and made it so tender;
He could not recall his singular sight:
Capacitors fluxing and time circuits alight.
Calvin the sailor with life jacket steady
Inquired, ‘Hey Doc, are you now ready
To freeze space-time in the tower-clock?
Banish the thought of paradox.
Not now, you see, but hither they come,
Your days on the continuum.

Composed on the occasion of November the 5th, not in honor of Guy Fawkes Day but for Doc Brown Day.

DDC 310-319: “Sports statistics… interesting subject. Homework, Tannen?”

A Teach Me How To Dewey production

This Is How We Dewey:

  • 310 General statistics
  • 311 No longer used—formerly Theory and methods
  • 312 No longer used—formerly Population
  • 313 No longer used—formerly Special topics
  • 314 General statistics Of Europe
  • 315 General statistics Of Asia
  • 316 General statistics Of Africa
  • 317 General statistics Of North America
  • 318 General statistics Of South America
  • 319 General statistics Of other parts of the world

Man… some slim pickin’s here. Besides the series of World Almanacs that go a few years back, literally the only other books my library has are the two other ones featured below. (Not even the Grays Sports Almanac? C’mon library!) On the one hand, this reveals the woeful lack of interest in statistics, which are fundamental tools for understanding our world. On the other hand, statistics are super boring (if you aren’t a Nate Silver acolyte at least), so I’m hardly weeping here.

Does anyone else’s library have a paucity of statistical representation in the stacks? And does anyone care? I’m not trying to be flippant here; public libraries have a obligation to the reading habits and desires of their local citizenry and not necessarily to a completist’s quest for ALL THE INFORMATION. So if that means, skimping on the stats, then so be it. More room for cooler stuff like history and… really anything that isn’t statistics.

The Dew3:

The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 2014
By Sarah Janssen
Dewey: 310
Random Sentence: “Illinois electricity use/cost: 770 kWh, $90.80.“

America’s Ranking Among Nations: A Global Perspective of the United States in Graphic Detail
By Michael Dulberger
Dewey: 317.3
Random Sentence: “In 2011, India had 12 times the population density (persons per square mile) as the United States.”

The Unofficial U.S. Census: Things the Official U.S. Census Doesn’t Tell You About America
By Les Krantz
Dewey: 317.3
Random Sentence: “But in the end, even Stephen Hawking says time travel is probably not going to happen.”

Living In Dystopia

I kind of have a thing for the end of the world.

That tweet from Lexicon Valley (one of my favorite podcasts, by the way) merely validated a feeling I’ve had for a while: that I’m a sucker for dystopian films.

I’m still not sure exactly what draws me to this kind of story. Maybe it’s because of the infinite re-viewings of the Back to the Future trilogy, specifically Part II, which focused on people seeing hellish versions of their past or future and fighting to fix them. Perhaps it’s because dystopian films often confirm the fatalism I occasionally feel about our country, culture, and world. In Alfonso Cuarón’s stunning Children of Men, for example, the abject dreariness and totalitarianism that permeate the Great Britain police state of the future appear not only possible but increasingly inevitable given the seemingly hopeless state of political and economic current affairs.

Similarly, in the film adaptation of the graphic novel V for Vendetta, Great Britain (poor old England can’t catch a democratic break) has been taken over by draconian despotism à la Orwell’s Oceania in the preeminent dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Or, if robotic uprisings are your thing, the film version of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot tells the tale of formerly subservient anthropomorphic robots who become self-aware and start killing humans.

But the flip side to all this bleakness is the other key component to many dystopian films, the factor that draws me in: what happens at their end. Theo, the protagonist in Children of Men, fights his apathy and regains his spirit enough to save the last hope on Earth. In V for Vendetta, the formerly timid Evey conquers her fears and helps V complete his rebellious (if terroristic) acts in order to expose the regime’s villainy and inspire the oppressed proletariat to rise up against the corrupt government. I, Robot has Will Smith saving the day (as he is wont to do) by conquering the supercomputer VIKI with the help of a specially programmed, friendly robot.

In all of these dystopian worlds the worst things may happen, but these things are not unconquerable. In stories as it ultimately is in real life, freedom conquers slavery; good triumphs over evil; the will to live outlasts the will to suppress. These may be old-fashioned tropes, but they keep bringing me back even to the darkest of tales if only to see how the light arrives again.

Some dystopian films I’d recommend: Minority Report, Children of Men, V for Vendetta, I Robot, WALL-E, District 9, Looper, Dark City. Wikipedia also has a more extensive list.

Science Blows My Mind

Like many English majors, science and mathematics were two subjects that gave me trouble throughout my primary, secondary, and college education. I think it was geometry class sophomore year of high school where I hit a wall and everything after that was a blur. Ditto with chemistry that year (what in the name of Walter White is a mole anyway?). But that didn’t hinder me from being wholly fascinated with science and nature, and more particularly with the people who know way more about those things than I do.

I just finished reading Jennifer Ouellette’s Black Bodies and Quantum Cats: Tales from the Annals of Physics, a collection of short essays on various topics within the world of physics. Ouellette, also a former English major and self-professed “physics phobe,” adapted the essays from her column in APS News, a monthly publication for members of the American Physical Society. She tackles scientific topics from the earliest and most fundamental – like DaVinci and the golden ratio, Galileo and the telescope – to more recent discoveries like X-rays, wireless radio, and thermodynamics.

True to her writing roots, Ouellette manages to take what can be very esoteric and labyrinthine scientific concepts and make them fascinating by linking them to things we regular people can understand: how Back to the Future explains Einstein’s theory of special relativity; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde representing the dual nature of light; induced nuclear fission as seen in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. These connections are lifesavers for right-brained humanities majors like me, who instead of seeing “SCIENCE” blaring on the cover and fleeing get to experience an “A-ha!” moment nearly every chapter.

But here’s the thing: I love science. I don’t love it like a scientist does, by learning theories and experimenting. I don’t love it because I understand it – Lord knows that’s not the case. Rather, I love it because of what it does. I am consistently flabbergasted by what have become quotidian occurrences in our 21th century lives. Telephone technology is so quaint these days, but the fact that I can pick up a small device, speak into it, and instantaneously be heard by someone thousands of miles away blows my mind. The fact that I can get inside a large container that will propel itself through the air and arrive at a destination relatively quickly blows my mind. The fact that we can send a small, man-made vehicle into outer space and have it land on another planet blows my freaking mind.

Science has improved our lives and advanced our knowledge of creation in a million ways. I’m simply grateful for the multitudes of geeks who have labored in that noble cause of discovery. Because of you, we have cell phones and airplanes and cameras and Velcro (did you know that term is a portmanteau of the French words velours [velvet] and crochet [hook]?) and Mars Curiosity and lasers (an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) and automobiles and Xerox machines and countless other inventions, many of them engineered by the men and women Ouellette spotlights in her book.

And that’s just physics. Think about what we know of biology, chemistry, geology, astronomy, and every other sub-category of science. If my mind hadn’t already been blown away earlier, it would have exploded now just thinking about what we know about our Earth and the things that it contains, and also what we have yet to discover.

Though our country is in turmoil, the Curiosity roves a distant planet. Though we often disagree about basic scientific principles, we still seek to discover. As Carl Sagan said: “For all our failings, despite our limitations and fallibilities, we humans are capable of greatness.” As a sci-curious liberal arts nerd, I can’t wait to see what else we can achieve.

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