Whether it’s my podcast-heavy diet or baby-induced reduction in mental bandwidth for extended concentration, I haven’t been doing much book-readin’ lately. Which is OK, as not reading is finetoo.
That doesn’t stop me from trying. While browsing the new releases at a neighboring library I spotted Ian Doescher’s Get Thee Back to the Future, a complete retelling of Back to the Future in Shakespearean verse.
It’s an incredible literary feat. What plays in the movie as this…
DOC: Are those my clocks I hear?
MARTY: Yeah, it’s 8:00.
DOC: They’re late. My experiment worked. They’re all exactly 25 minutes slow!
MARTY: Wait a minute. Wait a minute, Doc. Are you telling me that it’s 8:25?
MARTY: Damn. I’m late for school!
…Doescher turns into this:
MARTY: Alas, what ringing! Why hath this commenc’d,
The tintinnabulations of the bells?
DOC: Peace! Count the clock.
MARTY: —The clock hath stricken eight.
DOC: A-ha! Then mine experiment hath work’d!
They run as slowly as a tortoise gait,
Behind by minutes counting twenty-five!
MARTY: What shocking words are these thou speak’st to me?
What presage of mine own delay’d arrival?
What prelude to a future punishment?
What fable of a race against the clock?
Is’t true, what thou dost calmly say to me?
The time is verily eight twenty-five?
DOC: Precisely—science is not lost on thee!
MARTY: O, fie upon it! I must play the hare,
And skip most jauntily upon my path,
For I am caught up late for school—again.
DOC: Godspeed, then Marty, on thy merry way!
And so on for the entire film. It’s essentially a funny gimmick that Doescher takes to the extreme. Such an endeavor requires an intimate knowledge of and skill with Shakespearean style, which consists of a lot more than just adding the occasional “hath” and “thou”.
Wait a minute, Doc. Are you telling me you built a time machine… out of LEGO?
While rearranging the apartment in advance of Baby, I was sorting our small games collection and stumbled upon the unopened LEGO Back to the Future set my dad got me a few years ago. I gotta say, it was super fun to put together:
I haven’t encountered LEGOs in years, maybe decades. Even a relatively small project like this one had several bags with hundreds of small pieces. But following the directions made it come together pretty quickly. Much respect to the engineers who create these designs.
“Come on, Doc, it’s not science! When it happens, it just hits you. It’s like lightning.” – Marty McFly, Back to the Future Part III
A couple nights before my buddy’s wedding, I was at his house with a bunch of other guys for a time of toasting, roasting, and advice-giving. One thing I shared was how immediately evident it was to me that the couple was The Real Deal, and how a similar certainty hit me like a bolt of lightning when I first met my future wife.
Later on, the wedding reception was held at Ace Eat Serve, a ping pong hall in a converted auto garage serving pan-Asian cuisine. (Loved the amazing food and the novelty of playing ping pong at a wedding.) The ping pong tables outside were made of concrete and had metal nets with Ace’s lightning logo cut through them, which in the sunlight looked like this:
It’s almost as if I was at the temporal junction point for the entire space-time continuum. On the other hand, it could just be an amazing coincidence.
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 Hope, Eternal 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 Life, High Fidelity, Once, Toy 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.”
Stumbled upon this video explaining the groundbreaking visual effects in the Back to the Future trilogy. I 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:
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.
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:
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 . 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 bookThe 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 . 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.
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.
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.