Friday, 21 January 2011

88:mph - Marty, The Doc and me.

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

That's right, I look AS ridiculous as I did 26 years ago. Wait, you'll see...

I saw Back To The Future at the cinema in 1985. I was 12 at the time, right at the start of those ‘formative years’. It hadn’t caught my pre-viewing imagination in quite the same way as Star Wars, but by ’85, blockbuster films were commonplace, the marketing machines were in full-swing, and all of my peers were buzzing about this extremely cool looking movie about time-travel.

Back in the day, I didn’t live too close to the cinema, and not having any real disposable-income of my own, at trip to the movies was something you pestered parents for, either for financial backing, or accompaniment. As I wasn’t exactly overflowing with street-smarts at 12, I asked if my dad would take me to see BTTF. My Dad and I didn’t have a long history of seeing movies together, per se, but the previous year, he’d taken me to see Ghostbusters, and (from what I recall) quite enjoyed the experience. Both films were just the kind of thing that weren’t really up my 6-yr old sister’s street at the time, otherwise it’d have been a family trip*1.

Anyhow, within the first couple of weeks of release, me and my Dad took the bus over to the cinema at Low Fell (which I believe is still there) for a Sunday afternoon showing. This was a time before the multiplex took off in the UK, so the fleapit was king, choice of movie was small, and the crowds were bigger for that.


I recall feeling slightly uncomfortable at recognizing people from school (in years higher above me) that were there with their mates, hanging out at the flicks, being all cool, and there was me with a parental escort. That being said, I don’t recall anyone actually acknowledging my presence (as I wasn’t on speaking terms with them anyway), and fuck it: they were essentially a bunch of 13-14yr olds trying to look cool while there were no doubt ‘bigger’ kids there – they had their own shit to deal with.

Anyway, the lights went down and I watched a film that would influence my teenage years almost as much as Star Wars had influenced my childhood*2.

Seriously, how fucking cool is Marty McFly? He rides a skateboard (that was a ‘70s throwback), he wears Aviators (Wayfarers were the thing by then), and a puffa body-warmer (fuck knows), and he’s still the coolest kid in the entire film! Probably because he plays rock-guitar and gets the girl. In fact, definitely because of the guitar and the girl. As modern history has proven, teenage boys will put themselves through ridiculous hobbies, fashions and grooming if they think it’ll improve their chances with the opposite sex*3.

So that was that, I wanted to be Marty McFly. Unlike the story of Luke Skywalker, it strays from classic mythology somewhat. Marty (farm-boy) is pulled from his life, effectively losing everything around him apart from the counsel of the Doc (the wizard), who guides him though his quest to restore (and improve) the lives of the one he loves, and get back to Jennifer (the princess). The black knight’s present in the form of Biff, only Marty doesn’t really have to deal with him, that’s George’s quest.. And Marty doesn’t really ‘find himself’, or ‘prove himself’, or undergo any of the tests usually assigned to the hero (again, that’s more George). No, Marty’s role really seems to be: 1) Be a little bit cool in 1985 2) Be cooler in 1955 3) Come back to 1985 and be cool with a sweet 4x4. In Marty’s assistance to George, he’s as much the wizard as he is the hero. The parallel between the Doc and Marty guiding their charges, and Marty and George getting the girl is quite nice and helps to round out McFly junior quite nicely.

Because it’s not that Marty’s an empty-character (and he’s certainly not un-empathic), but he really is just coasting on charm for the most part. What unique quality does he bring other than being fucking cool? It doesn’t really matter, as he’s a regular person in an irregular situation, and he does what needs to be done to fix it.

So, aside from my first serious brush with the concept of time-travel (and all the causality and logic-bending that goes with it), what I imparted from the film was that 1) impressing girls was cool. Even cooler if they end up being actually impressed by your stupid antics. It should come as no surprise that this wasn’t really a viable game-plan for a skinny 12yr old geek. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that the geek-thing doesn’t really work until much later, when (ironically), you have the confidence to pull it off. So, despite my earlier grumblings about skateboards, wayfarers and body-warmers, this is me circa ’85.

Told you, didn't I? See?

…ye-e-e-ah. The skateboard isn’t in shot, but it’s there. Needless to say, no-one was impressed. What I wish I had imparted from the film was 1) Skateboarding’s harder than it looks, 2) The guitar is harder than is looks*4, but less dangerous than the skateboarding, 3) If you’re in your teens, girls are impressed by neither, really.

That said, I had fun on my skateboard being blinded by the internal glare from false-wayfarers, but padded with a bodywarmer to stop any broken ribs when the aforementioned ‘deck’ came within 3 feet of a single piece of gravel and I put the knee out of another pair of jeans (and, indeed, out of my actual knee).
So, skateboards made a comeback (and haven’t really gone away since), wayfarers are now permanently cool again (if you can carry them off), and most importantly, just about everyone acknowledges the greatness (if not the cultural importance) of the film Back To The Future.

Last year, around the film’s 25th anniversary, it enjoyed a cinematic re-release. Obviously, I went to see it. I’m afraid I didn’t take my dad with me*5. I took my 16yr old nephew, though. He’d seen the film before, but not for some years. While it didn’t have the same impact that it had on me, he enjoyed it for its fun-action-romp aspect, and I don’t think it’s dated at all in that respect.

Back To The Future: Because you can't riff on Star Wars ALL the time...

What’s interesting about it is the cultural implications. My better half overheard a woman walking to her teenage daughter after the film saying “I suppose for me it’s half nostalgia, because I remember 1985, but for you it must be different as you don’t ‘remember’ either of the time-frames in the film”. While that’s true to some extent, I don’t think the un-reality was quite what Marty McFly experienced. If BTTF was set today, the protagonist would jump back to 1981. While the technology’s different, and there would certainly be some cultural differences, I don’t think it would be anywhere near the difference between 1985/1955 seen in the movie. We seem to have leveled out since the 1980’s in terms of society. A case in point is the BBC series Life on Mars and its spin-off/sequel Ashes to Ashes. The culture-shock suffered by the respective lead characters is nowhere near the same, even if Alex in A2A kind-of knows what’s going on when she jumps back to 1980. We just haven’t moved on from the age of excess, greed and bright colours yet. I’m not entirely sure that we will.

I shall end by saying that Back To The Future parts 2 & 3 are also firm favourites of mine. Obviously, they had nowhere near the impact of the first installment, but I see the three films as one unit, much the same as the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films (yes, including the new ones, for both).

So don’t just let BTTF gather dust on your shelf now that the anniversary’s passed. The next time you feel like watching something lightweight but engaging and fun, pop it into your machine and relive your youth, whatever decade that happened in.

Tonight we’re going to party like it’s 1985.

Where we're going, we don't need... speed restrictions put in place to save lives.

*1 Although I like to think, retrospectively, that my 6yr old sister refused to be seen in a cinema with me after I cried at ET in 1983. More than she cried, if I recall correctly. Mind, she was 4 then, what the hell would she know about emotional depth compared to a 10yr old? Hmmf.

*2 Not in terms of merchandise, but in terms of social behaviour and trying to fit in.

*3 Fact: Girls in their teens are all after boys 2-3 years older than them at that point, and while you’d think that’d give carté blanche to boys to go after younger girls, it’s just fucking creepy. No teenage boy with any morals really wants to date a girl 3 years younger than him, it’s just wrong. The age thing doesn’t really matter once you’re in your 20’s of course. Although past 22, it’s still wrong to date a teenage girl (okay, 18 at the outset). This wrongness increases the older you get. Unless you’re fucking loaded, then you can have as many 18yr olds as you want, apparently.

*4 My guitar-playing can't be soley attributed to BTTF, unfortunately. Bon Jovi had slightly more to do with it.

*5 Although I DID take both my parents to the 1997 re-release of Star Wars, to say thank you for introducing me to that life-changing film.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organizations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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